The old school sales manager let his sales team operate like a black box. Leads went in, and deals came out. He didn’t care how or why.

When the black box didn’t produce enough outputs, the manager simply demanded, “hit your number or you’re out!”

Modern sales leaders are just as focused on results, but more prudent in how to get there. They understand that sales is a cascading chain of controllable activities that lead to a desired outcome - closing more business, and that they can create a team of stellar sellers by guiding them through that process.  

Unlike her aloof, old school counterpart, the modern sales leader is in the trenches, optimizing her sales process and her people - much like a seasoned athletic coach. In fact, the best sales leaders operate a lot like the world’s best coaches. Here’s why.

Modern sales leaders live and die by data

I’m not talking about the lagging metrics from your CRM reports and dashboards. By the time you see those numbers, it’s too late to change them. I mean real-time, actionable data that keeps a finger on the pulse of your sales organization.

Modern sales leaders should understand where leads come from, how they progress as opportunities through the sales cycle and what it took to turn them into customers. More importantly, the modern sales leader is not afraid to dive into the data and find out when and why you’re losing deals.

This doesn’t mean modern sales leaders must be M.I.T. statisticians. Rather, we need to take a page from the book of Moneyball pioneer Billy Beane. He revolutionized America’s oldest pastime by looking at baseball statistics in a brand new way. Instead of just focusing on batting average as the other general managers did, Beane found other statistics like on-base percentage which he discovered is the top leading indicator to earning more runs.

You need to understand your team just as well as Billy Beane. A sales activity management system automatically tracks activity data in real time, so that your salespeople, and you, can stay focused on the activities that matter. Modern sales leaders use these insights to create and optimize their sales process.

Modern sales leaders use activities to drive results

When Michael Phelps is training for the Olympics, do you think his coach tells him just “swim faster” to win? Definitely not. The coach focuses on body rotation, stroke patterns, and breathing technique - all of which will help Michael swim faster.

Modern sales leaders also utilize this inputs-drive-outputs approach. “Just get the deal done” is not an adequate coaching strategy. We must use data to uncover the critical activities that lead to closing business and coach sales reps around them.

These activities are the fundamental steps in your defined sales process. For field sales reps, those key sales activities might include qualified opportunities created, face-to-face meetings, proposals presented and deals closed. You can reverse engineer your sales process to determine how much of each activity you need to hit your revenue goals.

Old school sales leaders shy away from monitoring and managing sales rep activities for fear of micromanaging. In “Cracking the Sales Management Code,” Vantage Point Performance Partner Jason Jordan equates it to sending your troops into the battlefield without marching orders. Each sales rep employs trial-and-error strategy to closing business that may or may not succeed.

Modern sales leaders enable their team to succeed by providing them with defined activity goals and personal scorecards. Reps can track where they stand against their activity goals in real time, which drives focus and improves decision-making on where to spend their time.

Modern sales leaders course-correct performance

Imagine you’re a quarterback on the field at The Big House running plays before Saturday’s game. The center snaps the ball, you fall back into the pocket and.... a whistle blows.

Jim Harbaugh walks out onto the field. He tells you to loosen your grip on the ball, rotate your hips, and shift your weight from your back foot to the front during the pass. Next play, you throw a touchdown.

All-star coaches correct performance in real time. They don’t wait until the game is over to give you feedback and tips. It’s the same with modern sales leaders. They don’t wait until the end of the month or the quarter to tell a sales rep what they could have done better. Modern sales leaders course-correct sales performance in real time with activity data.

When activity data shows that a rep isn’t performing the right amount of a specific key activity, the sales leader knows where to coach. If a metric falls behind for the entire team, the leader can quickly rally reps around it with a contest or spiff. Like calibrating a well-oiled machine, modern sales leaders ensure that every metric moves at the appropriate pace.

To create a team of Olympic sellers, you must first become an Olympic coach. Transform into a modern sales leader by embracing your data, driving with activities and managing performance in real time.