The Numbers Game: 2002

By Cindy Waxer

Conventional wisdom used to dictate that if a salesperson wished to generate more sales, he or she must simply make more sales calls. It’s an age-old cliché that Ellen Bristol, president of Bristol Strategy Group, says is nothing more than a miscalculated numbers game.

“The problem is, that math is based on a willingness to accept a very high failure rate…. Consumers are more educated and business buyers are more sophisticated so you can’t be sure that you’ll succeed simply by putting your foot on the accelerator and putting more salespeople out on the road and having them knock on more doors and float more proposals.”

Instead, Bristol says the solution is to convert sales into a strategic function – determining the ideal customer and creating reliable, measurable processes that give management the right numbers to track. No longer can the number of cold calls placed and highways traveled be considered accurate indicators of a salesperson’s proven success.

Rather, the ratio between effort and reward is what truly determines a salesperson’s effectiveness. For example, a salesperson’s success shouldn’t be based on the number of times he or she visits a client’s premises in the course of a month. According to Bristol, it’s far more important to measure the number of visits the salesperson makes against the number of orders he or she produces as a result of these visits.

“Salespeople should make a relatively modest number of cold calls and come back with a relatively high number of reasonably well-qualified candidates,” advises Bristol.

In fact, Bristol says that these ratios should diminish over time. It’s for this reason that companies must design an ideal customer profile. And while money, needs and a willingness to act now might have served as excellent qualifiers in the 1950s, Bristol says that it’s crucial that salespeople determine a buyer’s most desirable characteristics and assess their own strengths and weaknesses in order to play the numbers game in the new millennium.