It’s a pretty common trope in media today, probably because it’s such a romantic figure: the lone wolf. Just thinking about it conjures up sentiments of independence, ferocity, determination and power. The lone wolf is master of all he or she surveys, successfully carving out a place of dominance in an unforgiving wilderness.

What a lot of baloney.

Anyone who’s read Kipling’s The Jungle Book will know that the strength of the wolf is in the pack, and that without their pack a lone wolf would starve before too long.

But the idea of the lone wolf is even more pernicious when you take that mentality and place it into a business scenario. Yet, unfortunately, that is precisely what we are creating with sales representatives when we evaluate, judge and compensate them based on only one or two KPIs. An entire sales force of lone wolves, each of them slowly starving to death.

Making Little Wolves

Exactly how are we creating these lone wolves in our sales organizations, and what do they look like?

We create them by the sales control systems that we implement in our organizations. Elsewhere on this blog we’ve described sales control systems in detail, specifically how the structure of compensation and evaluation using certain KPIs and data surrounding them is almost entirely responsible for the type of employees you create.

We also determined that sales control systems come in one of two varieties: outcome-based, which tends to focus on a single, important, readily-available KPI (such as results or sales) or behavior-based, which takes into account multiple KPIs (such as on-time record, customer satisfaction surveys, etc…). Outcome-based systems saw short-term benefits, whilst behavior-based systems focused on long-term gains.

But it turns out those aren’t the only consequences of behavior or outcome-based systems. By focusing on only one KPI and trading short-term for long-term, outcome-based systems are essentially creating the worst kind of salesforce you could imagine.

In 1987 Researchers Erin Anderson and Richard Oliver embarked on an extended research campaign to study the effects of different sales control systems. When they studied organization with a strong outcome-based system in place, they discovered that “by transferring all risk and reward to the individual, outcome-based systems encourage ‘loner’ attitudes and a  lack of loyalty to the agency…in a single-principle salesforce, the equivalent of a ‘prima donna’ attitude may arise whereby salespeople are unwilling to be influenced by management or other salespeople and express a willingness to switch employers readily.”

Does this sound like anyone we know? This is the origin of the lone wolf- the prima donna who is so focused on achieving one KPI that they feel the agency (or business) does not have their back so why should they have its. Lone wolves switch packs readily, just like sales prima donnas are apt to switch employers. Not only are these salespeople characterized by a lack of loyalty, they also are slow to take direction and align themselves with corporate goals.

Lone Wolf Managers

Managers cannot manage without a team. And lone wolf salespeople, by definition, cannot be a team because, as Anderson and Oliver pointed out, they are unwilling to be influenced by other salespeople. The result is an impotent, ineffective manager with very little control over a bunch of lone wolves each heading in their own direction.

So what is the fix? Kerry Gilger, CEO of VisualCue, brings up an interesting point. He states “According to Gartner, 80% of companies only measure results. Often they don’t know what impacted these results, or what is best done to improve them going forward. That’s because there’s a major gap between the information executives want and the information they get.Want better results? Take a closer look at your leading indicators.”

Gilger is describing a behavior-based system, where instead of only focusing on one KPI you take into account the employee as a whole, focusing on their leading indicators and looking at creating the right behavior that will lead to long-term gains rather than focusing too much on short-term wins.

But there are drawbacks. Tracking multiple KPIs can often be confusing. According to Gilger, “For all of the good that data can do for businesses though, there’s one major issue that it presents: information overload. Many companies try to focus on too many different metrics without focusing on those that truly matter.”

What we need is a way to track all the leading indicators, getting all the facts, without succumbing to information overload.

If only there were a company with a data visualization solution designed to do just that

Until next time,

The VisualCrew