Sales performance management is often viewed as a combination of careful incentive design and reliance on sales managers to be role models and coaches. Many pixels of ink have been spilled over sales coaching, but before you can manage and coach rep performance, you need to understand where your reps are. To develop an accurate view, bring together three critical data sources: observation, simulation and results.


What it is: Observation predominately takes the form of manager ride-alongs, whether in person or virtual. They can even take the form of call recordings.

Strengths: Observation is primary research that creates a connection between the manager and the rep. It also allows the manager to see beyond data – understanding confounding variables, like if the rep has a difficult territory, and to provide real-time feedback.

Weaknesses: Ride-alongs require time from the manager, who could have his or her own book of business to tend to, and it might impact the salesperson’s performance. We mostly think of this impact in negative terms, but reps can also take their managers on “milk runs” to their best customers who will do favors for the rep. Most critically, everyone can be biased, and it’s hard to see individual competencies in real time.

Best practices: Provide structured guidance on how to perform and rate ride-alongs, often in the form of an easy-to-use scorecard, and hold managers accountable for a certain number of ride-alongs per month or quarter.


What it is: A simulation is a structured and controlled experience that puts salespeople into the experiences they face on the job. Simulations can take the form of a role-playing with a manager, submitting a video of a sales pitch for ranking or a full simulation evaluated by an assessor.

Strengths: Because the scenarios and evaluation are identical, simulations provide unbiased understanding of sales rep actions and scores that are comparable among reps in an identical environment. Since they’re controlled or outsourced, it’s easy for the manager to execute them and to provide consistent feedback afterward.

Weakness: Depending on the complexity, simulations may be costly, require time out of the field or imperfectly represent job tasks. Even worse, if leaders don’t emphasize their importance, salespeople can blow them off.

Best practices: No matter how the simulations are created and delivered, the best organizations ensure a regular cadence of them to provide objective evaluation and feedback in concert with manager coaching. Additionally, simulations must mirror the job activities as closely as possible, or you may end up with irrelevant data.

Real-World Results

What it is: More than just quota attainment, sales managers need to examine all activity and pipeline data to build a full picture of the visible results their reps are driving.

Strengths: Because they’re on their dashboards, these data are the easiest to observe, and reps immediately recognize their validity. Managers can convincingly tie pipeline data to incentive compensation, which we know catches salespeople’s attention.

Weaknesses: If not used properly, CRM data can be inaccurate. Even if the data are accurate, quota attainment can reflect differences in territory, vertical and book of business rather than skill. Even the best managers have a hard time translating activity and results data into skills coaching.

Best practices: Make sure that reps are accountable to accurate CRM data, whether through automation or public accountability. Then, make sure managers can interpret their reps’ data and provide actionable guidance, so that reps see the value.

Before you can start managing a sales team’s performance, you need to build a complete picture of where they are currently. To do so, use three assessment tools: observation, simulation and results. Each has shortcomings of its own, but when used in conjunction, they create a holistic view of rep strengths and weaknesses.