Guest post by John Cousineau, president, Innovative Information Inc.

It fascinates me how forgiving firms can be of their struggles to see what’s working within the black box of business-to-business sales. Scott Santucci of Forrester Research shared with me recently that for the past nine years, the spend on sales has grown and in each of those years margins declined. Surely there must be something that can be done to drive a higher return on investment from the sales spend.

The lion’s share of that spend is in the compensation of sales people. Some say the key is in spending that money differently through modified compensation plans or shifts to inside sales organizations. While sensible in and of themselves, these tactics still leave significant opportunities for better ROI.

The real drain on sales productivity is in wasted efforts that create little if any buyer value. The key to higher productivity is in hard proof of what sales people are achieving from what they’re doing. The proof is there to be seen in the actions buyers willingly take as a result of a sales conversation. When measured in real-time, firms gain not only a sharper read on what their ROI is likely to be, they get to spot and fix mistakes fast.

A client called me last week to ask if Amacus was still working. The client noted that a week earlier absolutely everything they’d been doing successfully up until then completely stopped working. The good news: Amacus was working, and had been 24/7/365. The bad news: their sales tactics were no longer working. The best news: they now knew it. Something in their market had shifted. We knocked around ideas as to what it might be. Within an hour, the CEO + his team had identified a suspected cause, designed a new tactic, and began testing it in their sales conversations.

With better proof of whether or not interactions with prospects create value, firms win two ways: firms gain timely opportunities to re-engage with interested buyers; and firms get to see how often conversational sales efforts have no buyer impact. Either way, the result is a sharper, faster, read on the progress being made day-to-day to acquiring new customers. When your sunk costs of sales compensation start producing more revenues more quickly, your ROI bounces up.

My advice: be less forgiving of that elusive, declining ROI from sales. Measure your sales success by your customers actions. See that you’re creating buyer value, and do more of what’s working. Spot the instances in which you’re not creating buyer value, and kill tactics that don’t work. Reap the full rewards your firm can achieve from the talent it’s worked so hard to recruit + train. Every day.

It’s about time. Well spent. Knowingly so.