When sales managers provide data instead of knowledge, they rely on each individual's willingness and ability to process the
data, interpret it accurately, and develop a successful action plan. But this is expecting too much—too much of their time
for one thing—and allows too much inconsistency in interpretation and action. A better solution is designing a reporting system
that processes data and converts it into usable knowledge, with embedded rules for interpretation and best practice action
plans. This decreases reps' time and effort, decreases the risk of misinterpretation, ensures action plans with a high chance
of success, and fuels continuous increases in sales results.
Clear PresentationOnce sales managers know what to deliver in the way of knowledge, they need to figure out how much of it to present. The adage
"less is more" applies. As a rule, reps require less of the data not needed for a task and more, or at least the minimal amount,
needed to accomplish it. Studies have shown this should ideally add up to no more than seven pieces of information in a like
format. For example, while integrating data is a good thing, and many in the industry have built data warehouses, it is just
not helpful to show all available data on the same view. Any report that tries to address more than one task is not likely
to be effectively applied.
Another consideration for reports is determining the best format. Form should follow function. Accordingly, sales managers
must clarify the purpose of what they are trying to depict, and then use the most appropriate format for that kind of analysis.
Consider the case of a sales rep seeking to monitor quarterly performance. A manager who wants to communicate the rep's sales
trend over time, compared with expected sales, should depict the dollar volume of sales visually, graphed over time (at least
three months), compared with a visually adjacent depiction of expected sales. Adding an interpretation of the data—such as
how the current trend compares to expected sales and to past performance—and actions required to improve performance make
this form even more functional.((See “Visual Motivation.”)
It's also frequently not enough for salespeople to be simply told what action to take. They need to see a convincing illustration.
A report should clearly demonstrate how the number of visits to a given physician correlates with prescriber activity, showing
cause and effect. (See “Rx for Dr. James.”)
Remember the engineers of the ill-fated Challenger space shuttle? They had the data to prove it was too risky to launch it
in cold weather. Unfortunately, they didn't present it in a way that "made the case." They faxed 13 reports to senior management,
- few focused on the real issue—the correlation of O-ring performance to temperature
- those that did presented the data ineffectively
- they spread their data presentation across several reports
- reports didn't provide enough data to show a clear pattern
- the relevant data was buried in a clutter of less important data.
Timing is everything. When do reps need information? Just in time to complete the task at hand. Providing it too early forces
the rep to commit out-of-sync data to long-term memory and retrieve the content later, or to hold it in working memory, blocking
out new data until the stored data is needed. Alternatively, providing information too late creates a situation in which the
rep either fails to perform the task or uses guesswork based on prior data. Neither approach is likely to be successful. Instead,
a report that combines a rep's activity data with sales data from the previous week, delivered on Sunday, provides a just-in-time
look at the opportune moment for weekly planning.
Once sales managers determine the content, quantity, format, and timing of the knowledge reps need, they must identify the
most effective device—desktop computer, laptop, or personal digital assistant—and medium for its delivery.
Many factors should be considered when selecting the right device. It must be: