How to get an accurate and focused activity board

It is not rocket science to understand that if you want to reach a certain target or realise a dream you need to focus. You could however discuss how most people behave when then they apply the focus and how that effects their journey to the target and their chances of reaching the target/dream.

Here is a story how we together with a few customers changed the entire way of looking at your activity board and what positive effects it had on their teams.

What is focus

Let us first define what we mean when we say focus: 

When an individual is focused on something, they’re paying attention to that something. 

You could do an analogy with your eyes. When your eyes are focused, they’ve made the necessary adjustments to see what you focus on clearly. 

We also know that what ends up outside the eye’s focus becomes blurry, we perceive the things out of our focus area but they are not clear.

It is the same when we want to focus on tasks or actions, we need to pay them the necessary attention to maximise the outcome of each individual action.

How do we reach targets/dreams

When we set up targets that means something in life we usually break those targets into separate things that needs to happen, we can call them events. 

This is the common way to make it both clear and also possible to reach the target.

Reaching targets is basically only a set of events that happen after each other.

How do we usually behave then…

If its a dream many unfortunately gets stuck in only dreaming about the end stage, i.e. when the dream has been realised, that is good, but it won’t take you any closer. It is the execution of the events on the way to reach the dream that actually gets you there.

In many other parts of life like in sports or in some ancient philosophies (Stoicism) the need to focus on the next is vital to reach the end game.

In football you cannot only think about the final game of the season, where you can win the cup, you need to focus on the next game, next half or even the next 15 min, and always do your best then and there. 

It is that behaviour that increase the chances ot actually reaching the target or dream, not the dreaming and focus on the last step.

This does not remove the need to sometimes raise the head and see the bigger picture, that can fuel your ambition and even make you go the extra mile in the next event/stage.

Disrupt your way with deals and processes

So, when it comes to closing deals and especially working with deals in a process, is there anything different? I would say, no, it’s the same philosophy that applies here.

What is a deal if not a series of events that need to be passed to get to the final stage, i.e. signing the agreement with the customer.

Based on this, is it not strange that all CRMs, most management teams and most sales reps always focus on the final step, i.e. the closure date? Why is it like that?

This originates from a control and forecasting need and it has affected the way most CRMs and sales departments operate. Focus is on the closure and forecasting instead of the next action.

This is one of the biggest reasons to why many sales reps believe, with all rights, that the CRM is only a control and reporting tool for management and not a tool for themselves.

This is what makes CRMs a place you go to report what you have done and not to understand what to focus on next, i.e. a legacy system rather than an Information Hub that helps me focus and make it clear what to do moving forward.

How can you expect to maximise and perform your best if you do not focus on why, what and when to tick the next box but rather dream about the closure date?

Outcome in reality

About a year ago (summer of 2019) we talked with a few customer, independently from each other, and they all had the same issue. 

The issue was most reps continuously had deals with passed closure dates in their processes. The customers asked us if we had any ideas what could be done to get away from that problem. 

They had tried many different strategies like be on the reps backs, give incentives, explain the importance for the company as a whole etc. but nothing seemed to help.

We went home to think about the problem and came back with an idea that we wanted to try together with these customers. The thought was to create a situation where

  1. The activity board actually gave some real value back to the rep, and not only to management
  2. To create a situation where the reps have 100% control and are not reliant on external factors or decisions

The idea was to stop using the closure date as the date for closure and instead see the date as the date for the next action on each specific deal.

This since 

  1. The closure date is the last step in a series of events and usually many weeks or months into the future
  2. It is very hard to predict when a deal is getting closed, even for the best reps, since its not in their control
  3. Since the closure date is mostly used form a management/forecasting perspective and not used by the reps (hence many old dates OR dates at the last of the month, quarter, year, i.e. just pushed forward since management want a date.

Regarding the next action. It could be something agreed with the prospect/customer like a booked meeting, scheduled call, that the rep should send something. But even if nothing was agreed the rep can still, with 100% control, tell when they believe they want to follow up on the deal, why they want to do that and what to focus on during that follow up, i.e. maximise the focus on the next action.

To make the activity board even more clear and relevant we also recommended to stop looking at the activity board from a year or even worse (no time period att all, i.e. all deals regardless of time) and start looking at the activity board from a week perspective. This even for companies with 12-24 months sales cycles, since they too are only a series of events.

The tests we did with these initial customers where so successful that we started to recommend all other customers we spoke with to do the same and, guess what, they got the same effect. 

What was the effect then…

  • No deals with old dates since they are 100% based on the reps input
  • The reps could clearly see what to focus on each week and why (Instead of seeing all deals, they could now narrow down and only focus on those that they need to take action on this week)
  • Reps and management could more easily optimise each action since the dialogues between sales directors where more focused on the next action and not on when they were closing each deal. 
  • Reps got less stressed

The positive outcome of all these tests made us make this the standard way of working in 20NINE.

Ps. For those that still want to have a closure date, they just add a custom field called Closure date so they can create reports, even if the view upon forecasting has also changed for many who have applied the “focus on the next action” philosophy. 

Forecasting based on bad input is not worth much anyway and since it’s only qualified guessing most rather focus on the number of deals and next actions to make sure they have enough to reach their overall targets.