Thursday, August 6, 2009

Call Reports -- Are They Worth the Hassle?

Dave Brock has an excellent piece on his blog about sales reporting and sales bureaucracy that reminded me of a piece I wrote sometime ago about how much of a waste call reports are for both the salesperson and management.

I think Dave's and my observations are more relevent today than in the past. No one has a minute to waste in today's marketplace, yet we hang on to worthless traditons for the sake of "doing something."

Do you require your salespeople to compile a daily or weekly call report? If you’re like the vast majority of managers, you do.

What do you use them for?

How useful are they?

I’ve spoken with hundreds of managers about call reports and almost to a person they agree call reports are one of the most useless traditions management clings to. The reports are filled with fictitious information, and the information that is truthful is itself useless.

The typical call report will identify who the salesperson met with, if and when the company plans to make a purchase, an estimate of the size of the purchase, and any information the buyer wants from the salesperson. The report may even give an approximation of the likelihood of securing the contract. It probably looks something like this:

Met with John Smith, head of procurement for XYZ Corp. He said they’d be purchasing by the end of the quarter and wants me to re-bid based on a quantity of 5,000 instead of 10,000 units. I told him I’ve had the new numbers to him by Tuesday of next week.”

What does this report tell the manager? Does it:
- indicate why the change in the number of units to be purchased? No.
- discuss why the purchase decision will be made by the end of the quarter instead of now? No.
- indicate the likelihood of closing the sale? No.
- indicate what actions the salesperson plans on taking other than giving revised numbers? No.
- indicate who the salesperson is competing against? No.
- indicate if there are other decision makers in the process? No.

We could go on.

The Problem
Call reports are useless for three major reasons:
1. Salespeople haven’t been taught how to construct a useful call report.
2. Salespeople see no use in the reports. Although they’re told the reports will be used to help them sell more, they believe its real purpose is to keep an eye on them.
3. They believe management is only interested in how many appointments they have, so they pad them with fictitious appointments to keep management off their back.

Salespeople see call reports as a weapon—or potential weapon--in the hands of management instead of a training and coaching tool. And most often, that’s what it’s used for.

The typical call report doesn’t give the manager enough information to be able to help identify the areas in which a salesperson needs training and coaching. Consequently, the most often result of submitting a call report is a response of, “You aren’t seeing enough people. You need to make more calls.”

That response is worthless. It doesn’t help the salesperson in the least. There is no guidance in how to ‘see more people.’ There’s no identification of what the real root problems and issues are.

Call Reports as Real Tools
Call reports, however, can be real tools managers can use for coaching, training, market and competitor analysis, and managing department assets.

The problem with call reports isn’t with the concept, it’s with the execution. Salespeople must be taught how to construct a meaningful call report and managers must be trained how to analyze the report for coaching, training, and market analysis purposes.

A Meaningful Call Report
Call reports don’t have to be massive documents, but each call should be broken into three sections:

Synopsis of the call: a brief summary of the sales call. Who, what, when, bullet points of key information from the call, including the length of the call.

An analysis of the call: a longer discussion that analyzes the call and the sale, indicating:
- who the decision makers are and where the sale stands with each
- what issues must be dealt with before the sale can be closed
- who the competition is
- he salesperson’s best estimate of the probability of closing the sale
- the salesperson should rate each potential prospect as to the long-term value of the account

Moving forward: What specific steps the salesperson intends to take—and when—to move the sale forward.

A call report that follows the format above can be used to help salespeople close more sales. It lays out for the salesperson and the manager what happened, where the sale stands, what is expected to happen, and what the salesperson is going to do to make it happen.

Using the Report
Call reports that summarize, analyze and outline how the salesperson will move the sale forward offer both the salesperson and their manager real information that can be used:

- To spot skill and behavioral issues where the manager can step in to coach and train
- Opportunities where the manager can offer specific help in identifying and addressing prospect needs
- Spot accounts where the salesperson is investing too much—or not enough—time and energy
- Spot buyer, competitor, and product trends within the local market

Some sales performance management technology products and CRM programs make the call report generation process easier and more accurate. They can help turn generating call reports into highly useful tools for helping your sales team members become better sellers, spotting and analyzing changes in your local market, and maximizing both the department’s human and non-human resources.

Whether you are using hand written reports or using a system, you must turn the reports from wasted effort to keep management off the salesperson’s back into a real tool that can improve sales and your salespeople.

Source: All Business.
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