Stop Managing Activity – PLEASE! | A Sales Guy's Sales Blog Copy & Close
June 11, 2012 Keenan

Stop Managing Activity – PLEASE!

I’m amazed at how many sales organizations manage activity.  If a sales organization is managing activity, it means one of two things:

  • The sales team is broken
  • or they’re killing it

A seasoned sales professional and friend of mine was lamenting that his company requires him to make 25 cold calls a day. Yes, I said “requires.”  This mandate comes all the way from the SVP of Sales.  He is so frustrated, he is about to quit. He knows how to do his job. He is on target. Making him do 25 cold calls a day is telling him how to do his job and just getting in his way.

Here’s the nugget to this post;

If you have to tell people how to do their job, you have the wrong people or the wrong people running the people. Either way, you have the wrong people.

Once you’re telling people how to do it, it’s over, just get new people or do it yourself.

Managing activity is demoralizing. It sends the message to your people they don’t know what they are doing and they need you to tell them how to do it. It say’s, you dont’ trust their ability to get it done on their own.  Study after study has shown personal ownership and accountability is key to productivity.  Employees need to feel they make a difference and are impacting the bottom line or the companies goals. When employees are told what to do and how to do it, the sense of contribution and ownership are stripped away and folks start feeling like cogs in a wheel.

“Like cogs in a wheel” is the LAST thing you want your sales people to feel.

If the sales team is broken and your not hitting your numbers, activity based management isn’t the solution. Get new sales people.

Don’t wast time telling sub-par sales people how to do their job.  Get high-performing sales people and get out of their way.

If the sales team isn’t broken then your killing it. Managing activity is a morale killer. It sucks the life out of your sales people. As the EVP, SVP, or VP of sales, how would you feel if the CEO or your boss told you how to do your job.  How enabled and empowered would you feel if the CEO told you what your sales strategy was going to be, or told you what companies to go after or what the cadence should be, or how the territories should be structured, or what CRM to use etc., regardless of what you thought was the best approach to making the number.

Yeah, that’s what I thought. You’d hate it. So . . . don’t do it to your people.

The best and most productive way to manage your people is goal based management, supported by coaching.  The crazy popular book, the Challenger Sale says coaching is the most effective and productive approach to managing sales organizations and that outperforming teams spend more time coaching than the underperforming teams.

If you’re sales team ain’t broke dont’ break it and stop managing activity. Start managing the goals, everything and everyone will be better because of it, including the numbers.

I suppose you want to know HOW to manage goals. That’s another post. You’ll have to come back for that.


There is slight deviation to goal based management. It’s a struggling sales person.  When you are coaching struggling sales people you have to shrink the freedom box.  You can read more about the freedom box here. 


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  • Cactusnick26

    I disagree with this one. It’s almost as if you’re telling the head coach of a football team to ignore the fundamentals. Although it hinders productivity it is key to production. It’s like a baseball coach not doing batting practice before every game. If looked at deeper is the coach implying his team doesn’t know how to hit if you don’t take 30 swings before every game to keep your skills sharp? Should he trust that they would do it on their own?  I think it’s better than the alternative-which is managing results. Just my two cents.. what do you think?

  • Cactus,

    Good question, it’s not to say the coach doesn’t make suggestions like:
    I think you would get better results if you cold call more or you should consider reading your clients 10k each quarter. Providing coaching and direction to assist in the performance of the sales person is key. Jointly creating action plans is good coaching.
    Telling the rep, he or she or even worse the entire team HAS to make so many calls, or that he or she/the entire team HAS to read the 10k isn’t coaching it’s mandating.
    I’m pretty comfortable the batting coach doesn’t tell Albert Puljos he has to be at the field by 10:00 and that take 100 swings or he is not doing his job. Activity based management requires certain activity and measures participants on it.
    I’m pretty sure Bill Bellicheck doesn’t mandate that Tom watch 6 hours of film before he goes home on Mondays. Tom knows how much film he needs to watch, Bill’s not counting the hours and neither should sales managers.

  • Generally, I agree with you, Jim. Managing activity isn’t the cure-all that some sales organizations believe it to be. But it is one Hell of a solution for a lack of activity. How many people do you know that lack the fundamental self-discipline to do what they need to do? 

    What we really want are outcomes, not activity. To prove this all you have to do is answer the question “Would you accept this outcome even if I didn’t have to do this exact activity?” 

    To your final point, you have to manage individuals as individuals. They need different things from a manager. But your sales organization here doesn’t really want cold calls. They really want face-to-face appointments and new opportunities. They really shouldn’t care how those goals are achieved. It’s likely they are getting what they ask for (25 calls) and not what they really want. 

  • If a “goal” is to have X amount of prospect meetings per week/month, then the tactics may include X amount of reach outs (dials, emails).  So, coaching around goals and supporting tactics (not MANAGING THEM) is healthy management/sales relationship

  • Hey Patricia,

    Sorry, “x” amount of meetings is more activity. Reps who have their own metrics around number of meetings rock, but to have management mandate the number is just more activity management.
    Goals are things like: quota, size of pipeline, margin, revenue etc. They are the outcomes of the activity.

  • Rob Sader

    Amen to this post.  Coaching is something that is sorely missed in our profession.  Most, meaning the majority, of sales managers don’t know the first thing about really coaching someone.  One of the clear differences between a Coach and a Manager to me is being proactive versus reactive.  Coaches are proactive about working with their players and finding ways to help them improve.  The classic “servant” mentality.  Managers are the opposite.  It is all about them and what you can do for them.  Sadly, I have worked for more managers than coaches and there is a very large difference.

  • Cactusnick26

    Good points but I would say you’re using two of the top professionals in their field as examples.. What about the new rookies who HAVE to go to OTA’s and preseason workouts to develop their game?

  • Scott

    I am not sure I agree totally with this post.  While managing solely by activity is short-sighted, it is the activity levels that I would first look to when a sales person’s results start to slide.  More often than not, we find that the struggles of that sales person started when they took their foot off the gas on activity – dials, sales calls, etc.  Monitoring activity (stats) will at least give you a heads up sooner rather than later as to any potential problems.

  • Russ

    Like anything else, it’s all in the delivery and how you communicate with your team and individual reps. It’s one thing to say “You have to make xx calls per day” and alienate your reps, but quite another to say “Most reps who have found success (made their goals) have made an average of xx calls per day and that may work for you too.” Totally different messages.

    I do have one exception to what you said. You said “How enabled and empowered would you feel if the CEO told you what your
    sales strategy was going to be, or told you what companies to go after
    or what the cadence should be, or how the territories should be
    structured, or what CRM to use etc.” In most cases, these are the exact things that need to be defined and directed by upper management. For instance, what good would it do to have each sales rep have their own sales strategy (aka sales process and methodology) or define their own territories (major battles would ensue here) or what CRM system to use (do you really want to have multiple CRM systems in your company)? Getting input and feedback from your team on these topics is important, but these decisions need to come from the top. Other than that, I totally agree that results are more important. But activities do help lead to results, so they should be measured and encourage (but not mandated).

  • “But activities do help lead to results, so they should be measured and encourage (but not mandated)”

    Couldn’t agree more.

  • Activities shouldn’t be ignored, but they should never be measured and mandated as part of performance. Unfortunately, far too often they are.

  • Phil


    “If the sales team is broken and you’re not hitting your
    numbers, activity based management isn’t the solution. Get new sales people.” 


    While I agree activity based management is not the solution
    if the team is broken, if you need new people then the problem is most likely
    not them it may just be you. When teams are broken and performing replacing the
    horses does not make the wagon go any better.  It may not even be the driver it could quite
    well be the road.  It requires more
    thought and analysis to determine the root cause to understand what really
    needs to be fixed.


    Activity management is part of the leading sales teams and
    coaching them for better performance. However, it has to be done in the context
    of the individual rep’s situation.  Uniform
    assignment of activity metrics is meaningless to damaging as pointed out. In my
    experience, when I have seen them implemented they have either been ignored or
    used as a means to replace multiple reps. Interestingly, I have never seen
    results improve for those who have implemented them but I have seen them

  • Mark

    Keenan:  I mostly agree with your post’s premise and
    the exception.  Since we also hire
    rookies that show potential, I would add an exception for inexperienced sales
    people just starting out as well.  Activity
    goals for those just starting out in sales can teach good, productive, habits.

  • Martin

    Sorry – I can’t get close to even agreeing with this theoretical nonsense.
    Seems to me that the very best to hope for in a sales team is to tell them your expectations of them, in terms of results, and unleash them on the unsuspecting commercial world. For each and every one of them you need to monitor their activity and results. How many phone calls give how many appointments, give how many presentations, give how many sales?
    When a salesperson is not providing your, or their, desired results, work backwards. How much do they expect to earn? (Or do you expect them to earn?) So, from what you know of their conversion ratios, how many sales do they need to make in a chosen time period. How many presentations will that require? From how many appointments? From how many appointment? From how many phone calls?
    Ultimately, with each individual salesperson, you are in a position to accurately predict their activity level required to produce an acceptable level of income. If Mary wants to earn $85,000 p.a. you can tell her she needs to only make 13 new contact phone calls a week. “Have you done your 13 new phone contacts yet Mary?” should be the only activity management required from then on.
    Indeed it is often the only sales management required.
    Even dizzy Mary understands that 13 new sales contact calls a week is not much to be asked to achieve!

  • Martin,

    What u have described is managing to results. This part of your comment describes it well;
    “When a salesperson is not providing your, or their, desired results, work backwards”
    Working backwards is managing to results. Backwards means, start with results, then move forward.
    If a manager TOLD Mary she had to make 13 calls or else that’s managing activity.
    What you describe is coaching and managing to results. I highly support that style. I assume each of your sales people have different number of calls to make: Mary 15, Tom 32, Flavio 10. That’s coaching.
    When it is required that everyone make 25 calls regardless is not coaching, that’s managing activity.

  • imnotacoach

    This sounds like a rant from a sales person who is not producing. Like anything in life; things must be measured. If you have ever been in a C level position guess what…. you will be managed and measured by your CEO. Even high level, extremely experienced sales people need to be measured and managed. Laziness is inherent in all organizations. For the most part, high level sales people land a few big accounts then take it easy and collect a check. If you want your organization to grow yoy then you need to keep pushing. This is not a dress rehearsal.

    If this is an attempt to get a lot of comments, great job, your SEO is working, but if you are trying to be a sales coach or manager, I suggest you get several more years experience before you make the attempt. Too many people think they make a sale or two then they can coach. Not true. Become a coach after 60 when you have accomplished more than just a 12 month stint as a salesperson.

  • You can measure a lot without mandating activity. You can measure revenue, margin, time to close, average deal size, amount of time in each sales stage, closing percentage, number of calls, number of appointments, etc. You can measure a lot. Measuring is critical and I highly suggest it. Mandating is the problem. Measure don’t mandate. Mandating is managing activity. Mandates are sales killers.