So Many Sports Metrics – But What About Measuring Sales Performance?

As March Madness winds down, it is easy to get caught up in all the excitement, upsets and amazing athleticism. For some fans studying the stats is as much of the game as actually watching it. Baseball takes it to an even higher level, with new statistics seemingly being created on the fly, based on the wealth of historical data that is so readily available. Look no further than the money to see how all of this data is transforming baseball. Given this preponderance of sports performance metrics, I find it stunning the relative lack of metrics available when measuring sales performance.

Interestingly, Basketball statistics are quite tame, at least with regards to the quantity. By my count, there are only five Offensive (Points / Game, Assists, Field Goal %, Free Throw %, 3 Point Field Goal %) and three defensive metrics (Rebounds, Blocks, Steals) that matter, both on a per player and per team perspective. That totals 16 metrics to measure performance for the entire sport.

Baseball, however, is another beast. According to Stephanie Vardavas, a MLB employee from 1979-1989, the Major Baseball League has published 85 different metrics just measuring individual player statistics (source). Add to that another 42 measures on pitching and 15 on fielding or catching stats, and you have a total of 142 measures focused on just individual player performance. One could argue that the MLB is serious about measuring the performance of their athletes!


Long History of Baseball Statistics

The practice of keeping records of player achievements was started in the 19th century by Henry Chadwick, per Wikipedia. Based on his experience with the sport of cricket, Chadwick devised the predecessors to modern-day statistics including batting average, runs scored, and runs allowed. It was these core metrics that resulted in the creation of all others – at least from a philosophical, and mathematical perspective.

In a pre-Internet world, gaining access to these measures and comparing to a historical record was a daunting task. Initially, large encyclopedia volumes were published with historical data. This could then be used to measure current performance, to gain some perspective on what improvement had been gained during a game or season. Of course, all these calculations were done manual without the use of a computer!


Fantasy Leagues and the Internet

The Internet has transformed how we access and consume data. So, it should come as no surprise that the world of sports performance measurement has forever changed. This evolution has created a preponderance of statistics that is readily available, changing how sports is now “consumed.”

Fantasy Football leagues are a great example. An extraordinary volume of metrics is now available on individual player performance, which has created a new form of entertainment – and wealth. Lots of it. Las Vegas saw an opportunity to boost betting with Fantasy Football Leagues, and several Internet companies jumped on board to ride the wave of popularity that this pastime has created. With about 57.4 million active users today, who bet an average annual spending per Fantasy Player (age 18+) of $556 (per the Fantasy Sports Trade Association), serious money is on the table. This has driven the need for accurate performance management, and a new cottage industry.


Why So Few Metrics for Measuring Sales Performance?

Given all the amazing statistics in sports today, it is puzzling why there are so few ways for measuring sales performance. I can think of only three (categories):

  1. Pipeline volume / change / comparison to plan
  2. Quota attainment per month / quarter / year
  3. Closing percentage / deals won / etc.


If we look at marketing measurement metrics, then a different story emerges. Just looking at the world of digital or online marketing, here are 14 metrics that came to mind:

  1. Content downloads
  2. Inbound links
  3. Lead quality score
  4. Lead volume
  5. Social media engagement
  6. Social media reach
  7. Subscribers
  8. Website traffic
  9. Acquisition cost
  10. Customer lifetime value
  11. Churn or retention rates
  12. Conversion ratios (many exist to measure various points of the marketing pipeline)
  13. Profitability
  14. Revenue growth


What is going on here? Why so many marketing metrics and so few for measuring sales perfrmance? My theory is that as we transition into a digital society, the availability and ease of measurement becomes much easier. The world of marketing has quickly gone “digital” … hence the preponderance of metrics now available. The Sales profession is right behind. In an analog world, there is a lack of data, and relative subjectivity of what constitutes a successful sales engagement.


Digitizing the Sales Process

Sales is an incredibly diverse field. So many different products are sold in a wide variety of ways. The continuum is huge, ranging from order taking to highly complex, political processes that can take 24+ months to complete. Along each of these scenarios, certain sales strategies seem to work great with some sales professionals, yet don’t work well with others. A lack of comparable, detailed data that is easy to access could be the culprit.

Sales professionals have operated autonomously for decades. Remote working while on the road, be it travelling from door-to-door or across continents can be part of the process. How can the subjectivity of a well-polished, educated salesperson compare to a neophyte that has no experience trying to sell their product?

The first step is to establish a baseline. No way for measuring sales performance if there is no visibility to current accomplishments. It will take both ready access to data that is standardized – so easily comparable – before we see an emergence of sophisticated sales metrics that become readily available and shared.

That future may be sooner than you realize, with new measurement programs now starting to gain traction. Until that time, the world of sales performance management will be a murky one left to gut hunches and seasoned veterans to make sense of it.

How will visibility impact your business?