Mind the Gap: How to Assess Sales Performance Gaps to Achieve Execution Excellence

April 15, 2024 – 6 min read

Commercial leaders are constantly seeking ways to enhance their team’s performance. It’s not just about meeting targets and KPIs; it’s about maintaining a competitive edge in an ever-changing landscape and setting up sales reps for success. Navigating the maze of challenges in this sector requires a good understanding of sales performance gaps in order to drive continuous improvement.

Understanding Sales Performance Gaps

A performance gap refers to the difference between the current performance level (present state) and the optimal or desired performance level (future state). These gaps sometimes aren’t just crevices; they’re chasms that can hinder your company’s progress and profitability. Assuming you’ve adequately onboarded all your sales reps—instructing them on product knowledge, sales process, market dynamics and competitors, technology usage, industry regulations, and so on—they should be well-prepared for the dynamic world of life science sales. Essentially, they know what to do because you’ve trained them. The question is, are they doing it? This is the knowing/doing gap.

The knowing/doing gap refers to the disconnect between what we know we should do and what we actually do in practice. The gap may be due to various reasons, such as resource constraints, lack of motivation, resistance to change, lack of commitment, or leadership.  

As a sales leader, it’s your role to help get to the root cause of the knowing/doing gap for individuals on your team. To increase performance, you need to identify the specific obstacles that are hindering your reps’ performance and provide them with the necessary resources to overcome them.

As a sales leader, you need to identify the specific obstacles that are hindering your reps’ performance and provide them with the necessary resources to overcome them.

Identifying Leading Indicators

By focusing on and improving leading indicators, your sales reps can positively influence their overall performance. Depending on the product you sell and your process, these leading indicators will vary. The point is to identify the leading indicators so that you are able to track lasting improvement.

Leading indicators are metrics that should be shared and agreed upon with your sales reps so they understand how their performance is being measured, understand the targets, and understand the pathway to success.

Red shoes standing over two path options, negative and positive

Observed moments of truth define those key moments where a sales rep’s choice of behavior can make or break the outcome. The combination of leading indicators and observational behaviors paints a clearer picture of performance gaps.

Leading Indicators and Observational Behavior—What to Look for

While leading indicators provide a measure of performance based on a certain activity, how do you know that activity is being performed with quality to elicit the intended performance result? Observational behavior or qualitative metrics paint a more detailed picture of performance.

Here are examples of how leading indicators and observational behaviors interplay.

New Customer Acquisition:

  • Leading Indicator: Number of new customers acquired
  • Observational Behaviors: The quality of new client relationships built, the effort invested in understanding client needs, and the adaptability in addressing customer concerns to foster long-term relationships

Sales Cycle Length and Velocity:

  • Leading Indicator: Average length of time it takes to close a sale and the velocity of sales cycles
  • Observational Behaviors: The sales rep’s agility in navigating sales processes, the level of engagement maintained throughout the sales journey, and the ability to identify and overcome obstacles to expedite sales cycles

Customer Engagement and Satisfaction:

  • Leading Indicators: Number of customer interactions, feedback, and satisfaction scores
  • Observational Behaviors: The sales rep’s demonstrated attentiveness to customer needs, the effectiveness in building rapport and trust, and the commitment to resolving customer issues promptly to enhance overall satisfaction

Attitude and Aptitude

Just as sales leaders measure leading indicators and observe behaviors to identify performance gaps, they should also evaluate the attitude and aptitude of sales reps for specific sales functions, such as those mentioned above. Simply put,

Attitude serves as a distinctive gauge of an individual’s internal drive and enthusiasm for their work.

Aptitude evaluates an individual’s capacity to adapt, learn, and evolve within their role.

While observation can provide some valuable insights into attitude and aptitude, they are multidimensional constructs that require additional assessment methods, such as self-assessment or performance evaluations, to understand fully. Enter the Performance Matrix.

Determining Performance Gaps Using the Performance Matrix

When it comes to measuring performance gaps, no other tool is as useful for sales leaders as PDG’s Performance Matrix. It provides a structured framework for classifying team members into one of four quadrants based on attitude and aptitude for any specific sales function (e.g., customer engagement, pipeline management, sales process, etc.). It offers an at-a-glance, comprehensive look into each team member’s unique strengths and weaknesses in each critical functional area you wish to measure.

Even moderate improvement in coaching quality — simply from below to above average — can mean a six to eight percent increase in performance across 50% of your sales force. Often as not, that makes the difference between hitting or missing goals.

Strategies for Closing Sales Performance Gaps

So, now that you understand how to assess performance gaps, buckle up because here comes the secret sauce to bridging those gaps and propelling your sales performance toward execution excellence.

Comprehensive, Tailored Development Programs: With your performance gap assessment insights, you can develop individualized development programs that meet each team member’s performance needs.

Data-Driven Coaching and Feedback: Let’s face it— effective coaching and feedback is the breakfast of sales champions. Analyzing sales metrics combined with observational data provides sales leaders with the needed insights for targeted coaching and feedback and enables continuous improvement and informed decision-making.

Cross-Functional Collaboration: Collaboration between sales, marketing, and other departments capitalizes on collective expertise and resources. Aligned strategies and goals lead to more effective sales strategies and improved customer engagement.

Continuous Performance Evaluation and Adjustment: Remember that gap assessments and course corrections through coaching are not one-and-done events. Regular assessments against KPIs, observational behaviors, and performance evaluation tools such as PDG’s Performance Matrix enable sales leaders to continue to identify challenges and aid in developing proactive strategies and making adjustments to coaching. This iterative approach ensures that your sales reps continually improve toward better alignment with your organizational goals and changing market conditions.

In Sum

Understanding, assessing, and closing sales performance gaps are crucial for optimizing sales effectiveness and achieving execution excellence. By adopting a proactive and strategic approach to tackle these challenges head-on, life sciences sales leaders set themselves, their organization, and their sales team up for success.

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