Agile Selling: Get Up To Speed Quickly in Today's Ever-Changing Sales World (Portfolio/Penguin, 2014) by Jill Konrath discusses basic habits that kill productivity at work, and offers simple solutions for overcoming them. In the following edited excerpt, she advises entrepreneurs to focus on achieving and exceeding their own personal bests.

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Sales is a numbers game, or so the popular saying goes. If you just make enough calls, have enough meetings, and give enough presentations, you'll succeed. Best of all, every 'no' you hear brings you that much closer to a yes. 

If only things were that simple. Unfortunately, sheer quantity isn't the best indicator of future success. When I was at Xerox, I found it fascinating that the top performers actually made fewer calls and had fewer prospects than their average counterparts. How could that be? It defied the very maxims I was hearing about sales success

It took a while to figure out that these top sellers simply focused on targeting better prospects and maximizing each conversation. Their examples started me thinking about creating more meaningful sales metrics--personal bests, or PBs. 

The first time I heard about PBs was when my then eight-year-old daughter joined the local swim team. As a neophyte, her backstroke and freestyle left a lot to be desired. But she didn't fret about losing races because her coach kept her attention on PBs. Each week, her goal was to drop time in her races--not win, but beat her own personal best. Sometimes she only cut one-tenth of a second from her previous performance, but it was an improvement nonetheless and worth celebrating. 

I loved this viewpoint and so did she. Because I'm sales obsessed, I immediately saw its application for salespeople. Instead of just focusing on quantity, we'd be much better off if we emphasized improvement metrics where we could continually strive for personal bests. 

For example, you could work on achieving PBs in the following areas: 

  • Connection Ratio: What percentage of calls/contacts turn into initial conversations? The more calls you can convert to conversations, the fewer calls you'll need to make. 
  • Initial Meeting Conversation: What percentage of your initial meetings have an immediate follow-up scheduled? The higher this number, the fewer prospects you'll need. 
  • Length of Sales Cycle: How long does it take to close a deal? The longer deals are in your pipeline, the less likely prospects are to do business with you. 
  • Closing Ratio: How many of your initial meetings actually turn into customers? If you can close a higher percentage of sales, you'll be much more successful. 
  • Losses to No Decision: What percentage of your forecasted prospects stay with the status quo? Lowering this ratio brings in more revenue.

What's notable about these kinds of goals is that you can sequence them, which is an important factor in rapid learning. For example, in a new sales job, you'd clearly want to start out with your Connection Ratio. If you turn more of your calls into conversations, you'll be assured of a steady stream of new prospects. Don't just measure how many calls you're making or e-mails you're sending. Go deeper. Ask: "What percentage are currently converting?" Once you have a baseline, the logical next question becomes: "How can I get more to convert into initial conversations?" 

With this on your mind, become a student of prospecting. Deconstruct your messages into their component parts: introduction, body and close. Identify factors that could affect your success, such as subject line, length, tone, appearance, and grammar. Every one of these elements could impact your Connection Ratio. What can you do to get a PB? How can you get better results from the same number of or fewer contacts? 

Once you've asked yourself these crucial questions, immerse yourself in prospecting. Read articles about it. Talk to colleagues about what's working for them. Listen in on different people's approaches. Ask for feedback on what you could improve. Then start experimenting. Change things up. And, especially, pay attention to what gets better responses. Your goal is to set a PB next week or next month--and that won't happen if your only focus is on the sheer number of calls you're making. 

Once you're satisfied with your Connection Ratio, move on to improving your Initial Meeting hit rate. From a sequencing perspective, it's the logical next step. One thing at a time. 

By constantly maintaining a PB mind-set, your time to proficiency for a particular sales skill will get shorter and shorter. Before you know it, you'll be really good in that one element of selling and be able to apply that agility and momentum to other parts of your sales process.