Rocks, Pebbles, Sand and Your Key Sales Activities

Rocks Pebbles Sand Jar

There’s an old story about placing rocks, pebbles and sand in a jar. If you place the sand and pebbles into the jar first, the rocks won’t fit. But if you put the rocks in first, pour the pebbles and sand in afterward, everything will fit.

Consider the sand, pebbles and rocks as the activities you undertake in your jar – your sales process. While it needs to fit in every activity – from finding prospects to making calls to writing proposals and amending contracts – you can only succeed if you focus on key activities, and fit the pebbles and sand in afterward.

What are your key sales activities?

Key sales activity – an action under your direct control that has the highest possible positive effect to achieving your sales goal. A key sales action will set other preparatory and consequent actions in motion, taking you closer to your sales goal.

There’s a universal triad of success in sales – if you want to make revenue, you need to:

  1. Approach,
  2. Meet, and
  3. Demo prospects.

Those three make up your key sales activities. Your ability to constantly deliver a certain number of these actions determines how many dollars or euros you put in your pocket.

Wouldn’t you need to do more than just three things?

Of course, to close a sale you’ll need to do more than a constant repeat of just these three actions. There are no unimportant details for a true professional in any field – every little thing matters, adds to the end result, and cannot be overlooked.

The issue here is that you can’t focus on all things.

By focusing on a small number of key activities you gradually become a master of many. To drive forward in sales, your mind needs to be clear instead of being all over the place – and that’s why people learn to focus.

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Let’s get specific with an example

If you wanted to end a year with a personal sales revenue of $1M, and your average sale is around $20,000, you would need close an average of 5 customers a month.

Calculating customers per month

When calculating customers per month, we use 11 months as the time period as vacation, holidays and sick leave effectively shave off a month at least. Feel free to edit this number to match your preference.

If you’re able to demo your product or service to about 80% of the prospects you meet (four out of five prospects agree to a demo), then your second focus is on meeting 25 prospects per month.

And finally, if one out of four prospects you reach out to agrees to a meeting with you, then your third focus is on contacting 100 prospects per month.

Calculating the key sales action figures

Calculating key sales action figures.

Building your weekly schedule around key sales actions

Let’s divide these numbers by four to get weekly key sales activities – 25 prospects called, seven initial meetings conducted, five demos delivered. These are the “big rocks” of your week around which your time as well as other sales activities, including writing proposals, sending emails and so forth, should be arranged.

This is how key activities would look like in a schedule.

Key actions in a schedule

Key actions over a week.

What happens when you focus on these three activities?

  • First, you get them done.
  • Second, a whole lot of preparation, and following up happens.

While the “rocks” remain as your focus, preparation and following up become your “bridges” as you step ahead.

Stick to the numbers

It’s great to improve your ratios in sales, because it means you have to put in less hard work to achieve the same results. And hey, it can be done over time as you learn, become smarter and more confident. However, I haven’t seen a salesperson being able to reap rewards without putting in the numbers first. So, welcome to the path of controlled success.

Searching for a silver bullet hardly ever works

During my first summer in sales, selling books door to door, I constantly looked up to my supervisors, thinking: “What’s the secret to good results? Don’t tell me all that newcomer bs about developing a good schedule and sticking to it. I want to know the thing – what’s the one thing that’s going to make me successful? Tell me the secret.”

Of course, I was looking for silver bullets in a place where there weren’t any. It turned out that making 65 knocks and doing 15 sitting-down demos every single day was the only surefire way to achieving good sales numbers. Just as I was told at the beginning. In book sales, there were three key sales actions – choosing the streets to sell in (prospecting), making knocks (contacting) and demoing books.

Everything else you had to do anyway – gathering information about prospects, number crunching, negotiating, writing out receipts and so forth. But there were three key sales actions that set all of these other activities in motion – three activities without which there wouldn’t have been any sales.

Image courtesy: Philipp Schneider at Balanced Action

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Timo Rein

CEO and Co-Founder of Pipedrive

  • Sachin Bhatia

    I believe it also becomes critical that this maths and associated complexity is taken away from the sales Rep. The other important point is actual tools to do those activities like Email Tracking, Voice-Mail Drops. They are extremely time taking activities.

    I have myself used pipedrive and these days working on a new product called Texo Sales Engagement Hub.

    Love the simplicity of pipedrive but need more Actions integrated into it. We are working on integrating some of these capabilities with Texo Sales Engagement hub.

  • Amazing post. Congratz.


  • Steven Bell

    Great information to the newly initiated and even veteran sales person. The missing ingredient of fundamental sales is => marketing. Whatever form it takes, marketing (aside from phone calling) is tantamount to your lead gen system. Dialing for dollar$ so to speak is very old school and must be continuously tweaked to generate maximum results. Companies who feel that it’s the sales persons job to simply go make calls, fall to the wayside.
    Otherwise, great basics here.

    • Steven, thanks for joining in, very good points on how marketing and sales should be both planned and executed!

  • Alex Herder

    How does this apply to more relationship-based sales models or professional services? I sell video content strategy and there is often a lag between meeting a prospect and them realizing their need. In short, meeting prospects is great, but I also need to make sure I’m top of mind when they finally realize they might need what I do. I’ve always struggled with figuring out what those “rocks” are in my process. Does anyone else have a similar business model and have advice to share?

    • Hey Alex, thanks for the question! I did sell professional services a few years, here’s what I did in case it helps. For me, meeting a prospect normally resulted in them

      – moving to another stage in my pipeline (in case their need was acute),
      – not being interested in the service at all,
      – being actually interested in discussing it in a few months time (had to learn to separate sincere interest from a polite way of saying no).

      So, my practice was to put them on the list of people I reach out to once a month or so, depending on what they said about preferred timing of addressing the topic again. I kept on reaching out, and met them again after some time had passed and they said they would interested. I didn’t keep these prospects in the pipeline until they were ready to enter the more serious discussions again. Schedule-wise these type of calls formed a block of its own, and I reserved a place for them in calendar, usually 2 hours per month, sometimes a bit more.

      • Alex Herder

        Thanks for the thoughtful reply Timo! I use Contactually to keep up with people in that 3rd category but I still don’t do a great job. I’ve been spending a lot of time recently trying to figure out how to provide value for people in that “bucket” other than an endless stream of “hey let’s catch up some time” emails. Thanks again!

  • Russ Hope

    Excellent post and very relevant to all sales models.

    we often advise our clients to maintain focus and avoid distractions (the sand) they will get sorted out regardless

  • I have put pipedrive into a small contract cleaning business (client) in London where sales and marketing were adhoc spray and pray. The team have embraced the software and put it at the heart of their operation. We combine it with Trello. I want to congratulate you on the quality of your posts and Academy programme, which, combined, really provide a great resource for learning about effective sales and marketing and how to work them concurrently for maximum payback. Well done!

    • Martin Henk

      Thanks for the kind words, Stephen! We really appreciate it.