HomeBlog Metrics: Leading, Leaning and Lagging, Oh My!

Metrics: Leading, Leaning and Lagging, Oh My!

June 12, 2017 | By Peter Ostrow

  • Sales leaders are constantly debating which metrics tell the most accurate story about their performance
  • Practitioners need to distinguish between leading and lagging KPIs
  • Sales enablement must focus on maximizing the selling time of high-performing reps

Let’s face it: metrics rule our lives. From the number of TripAdvisor stars awarded to our vacation cottage to the ever-changing acronyms we memorize to win our fantasy sports leagues, the amount of data is mesmerizing, confusing and exhilarating all at the same time. And that’s just in our personal lives. Professionally, just about everyone reading this blog – you’re either marketing or selling something – is formally held accountable for a wide variety of KPIs, most of which are probably served up in a beautiful dashboard. Three cheers for the red, yellow and green – right?

A lot of money and calories have been invested in asking this key sales question: What should I be measuring? For us professional prognosticators, it almost feels wrong to provide a simple answer. At the end of the day, though – well, at the end of the quarter, to be exact – most folks in the sales ecosystem tend to care about the following stats:

  • Quota attainment – any way you slice it
  • Reduction in average sales cycle time
  • Increase in average deal size
  • Improvement in lead conversion rate

I was tempted to just write “quota” four times, for dramatic effect. But with our 2017 benchmark indicating that only 70 percent of sales teams hit their number, it would open too many cans of worms. Plus, any good analyst knows that more data is always better, providing for more discussion and interpretation. We have to keep our jobs, right?

The issue with these four metrics is that they are all lagging indicators. They are outcomes of sales activities that cannot be altered by the time they are accurately determined. For top executives in the organization whose plates are so full, these metrics are perfect. Executives need to trust people to do their jobs. Leaders will engage in closer scrutiny only if the final numbers don’t look right. But for the rest of us mortals who try to influence these outcomes, lagging indicators are like a tombstone. They aren’t relevant when we’re currently getting things done, but they’ll live on forever as indicators of how well we did.

So, how do we influence the results? We figure out the leading sales indicators that we can control that stack the deck in our favor in enabling front-line sellers to work more effectively and efficiently.

Two observations should be popping out at you right now: the first five KPIs all start with reduction; and the final metric is nonsense. Let’s get the latter point out of the way. You can’t measure an entire sales enablement function with a single metric – you need the sum of its parts. We can measure the results of a specific onboarding plan or sales asset management deployment, because they are discrete initiatives, but enablement itself is a complex and ever-changing function comprising often disparate sales support needs.

Let’s explore the five leading reduction indicators to understand how enablement leaders can positively influence how they inform the eventual lagging metrics that the C-suite cares about. Four of the leading metrics are about a single commodity: time. The fewer hours reps spend not functioning in territory doing the blocking and tackling work of buyer-facing revenue generation, the better. When we force reps to spend time looking for hidden content, sitting through poorly designed training, or manually culling through email, we are directly impeding their ability to make those lagging indicators look attractive in the future. Ultimately, enablement has the biggest impact on the enterprise by materially affecting a sales rep’s time to competency, quality of execution, ease of execution and length of contribution.

What’s the takeaway, then? Time is money. It’s the most significant variable in maximizing rep lifetime value across the sales talent lifecycle, potentially worth millions for every strong seller we support. But – and this is a potential deal-breaker – enablement teams should never confuse fast with good when it comes to hiring or onboarding sellers. If you wanted to substitute “increase in percentage of new hires who reach a certain achievement level” for “reduction in time-to-hire,” or “increase in percentage of first-time competency test passers” for “reduction in time-to-certification,” I’d be fine with that. Because there’s always room for debate and discussion when you live the analyst life, and you can definitely never have too much data.

Want more on this topic? Check out The SiriusDecisions Sales Metrics Framework.

Peter Ostrow

Peter capitalizes on 20+ years of revenue growth leadership in sales enablement, sales talent management, and operational expertise. Finding a better, faster way to help B2B sales teams beat quota drives just about every topic, company, rep, and channel partner he engages. Follow Peter on Twitter @PeterOstrow


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