Technically, I’m part of a sales team, but less than 10% of my time is spent dealing with customers. The majority of my work day is spent in front of a screen with Excel spreadsheets, Access databases and millions of numbers to analyze.
I track every minute of everyday that my salesmen spend in the field. I don’t just look at sales data. Sales are the easy part. You can explain sales to someone. I look at product price, product placement, discounts, ads, displays, returns and out-of-stocks. I track how often a salesman calls on an account, how long they’re there and what the sales manager has been coaching them on in that account. I use these spools of data to build a picture of each salesman and the work they do.
The larger a company gets, the more information they tend to collect. When you have a large number of customers, even the smallest inefficiency can multiply into a large problem. Everyone is looking for the magic cost-cutting key or the secret to doubling their sales numbers. Those answers are easiest found by looking at what you are doing, the results and how small changes in your routine effect your production.
My sales crew generally hates the idea that I judge their work without ever seeing them do it. They’re convinced that my numbers couldn’t possibly give me an accurate view of the hard work they put in. In many ways, I understand their argument. But unfortunately, I can’t follow them around all day with a camera. The numbers I collect give me a way to quantify and measure their performance. It’s also how we pay their bonuses, which might explain why they don’t always agree with it.
Most people who don’t look at numbers everyday find them obnoxious. Often, they don’t understand the numbers or how they’re used. And frequently, the figures aren’t shared until the period is over and nothing can be changed. Because of all this, many business people simply avoid their company data as much as possible. Instead of ignoring the information your company is collecting, here’s what you should do:
- Ask for written explanations. For every measure you’re company is tracking, they should have a written description of the information gathered, how its used and what the quantities mean. You should be able to get a copy of this information for every area of your job, especially if there’s a bonus pool associated with it.
- Get copies of every goal. If your company is tracking something, they have a desired result. Make sure you know what they are looking for when they sit down with all this data.
- Check for updated information. Once a week or every other week, your manager probably gives you a big list of things to pay attention to. Roughly two hours before you receive that email or enter that meeting, your manager was handed a packet of spreadsheets and graphs updating them on the company’s numbers. If you ask, they’ll probably show you specifically where you are and where they want you to be.
- Ask questions! Analysts who stare at numbers all day normally love to tell people what they mean or why they measure them. The biggest complaint I have about my job is that I spend hours processing information that rarely gets used to its fullest potential. I love being able to share my information with my sales team. But I can’t if they aren’t interested in hearing it or they resent me for collecting it.
Numbers are here to stay. Companies use more data to measure more areas of their business than ever before. It’s how most companies track their efficiency and pay bonuses. Even if you aren’t a math whiz, you should take the time to understand how you’re being tracked. It’s the only way to know how you can do better.