The Neglected Art of Holding Your Sales Team Accountable
Holding salespeople accountable: This is one of the major challenges of managing a sales team – regardless of whether it’s a traditional team where people show up for work at a central physical location, or a team working remotely, or a team at a call center. What, exactly, is the best way to do this? And how do you do it without falling into the trap of micromanaging people?
THE CHALLENGE OF SALES ACCOUNTABILITY
Sales accountability can be a tough challenge for any sales leader. Most of us who lead teams can relate to these statements:
“I’m frustrated with the need to chase salespeople and their quotas each month. Their projections never seem to match up with reality.”
“I’m unsure about what my people are REALLY doing every day.”
“We always seems to be pushing on the last week of every quarter to hit the numbers. Why can’t we have a more even keeled approach?”
“I am not sure my team knows how many appointments or proposals they need to make to hit quota.”
We may convince ourselves that these kinds of problems “force” us to jump into the fray in an effort to fix things ourselves … as though we were the ones responsible for prospecting and executing the sales cycle. Perhaps we tell ourselves that we have no alternative but to take the helm so we can make sure things are on course … and find out for ourselves what’s really going on.
But is that really holding them accountable?
At Sandler, we would say no. We believe the key to holding team members accountable in the sales process is making sure everyone knows what the process is and what it takes to move from what stage to another. And this starts with the sales leader.
For instance, let’s look at the problem of forecasts that never seem to connect to reality. If this is a consistent issue, it’s highly likely that unqualified “prospects” are sneaking into team members’ projections. So: Why is that happening? At the end of the day, it’s because we haven’t built a strong enough definition of “qualified prospect” into the process that people follow.
It’s our job to set these standards for the team. That means that in our onboarding, in our process documents, and in our verbal interactions, we need to get a message like the following across: “We need the following three pieces of information – (X, Y, and Z) – before we can do a proposal. And if you haven’t delivered a proposal, then please don’t project income from that opportunity. That’s the standard.”
Problem solved. Once people know that’s the standard, we can hold them accountable for hitting it, and stay out of the remaining 95% of the conversation. We don’t have to go through every element of planning for every single opportunity. All we have to do is show people clearly where the lanes are and let them drive. Yes, we will hear all kinds of reasons why a given prospect is different and the salesperson needs to divert from the process. Sometimes, on rare occasions we’ll even agree. Our job is to know when we’re making an exception, and not to confuse the exception with the rule. Our job is to stay the course.
Too often, salespeople don’t have a clear process to follow because we, the leaders, haven’t set up the process for them. That’s when things go all over the place. Telling ourselves, “If I want it done right, I have to do it myself” is actually the opposite of holding people accountable.
WHAT IS THE WRITTEN PROCESS?
When I hear managers say things like “They’re forcing me to get involved,” or “If I want it done properly, I need to be the one to do it,” my instinct is always to ask to see the written process.
- Does each member of the team have a clear behavioral plan – a cookbook – that lays out specifically which activities need to be performed, and how often, in order for that salesperson to hit his or her income target?
- Does each member of the team follow the same sales process?
- Can each member of the team describe specifically what has to happen at each stage of that process?
If the answer to any of those questions is “No,” then the first person who needs to be held accountable is the sales leader! There’s still some work for us to do. We have to set up the path before we can hold people accountable for staying on it.
Remember: Our goal is for each salesperson, and indeed for the entire team, to be self-sufficient. The model we want to follow here is not the back-seat driver who’s constantly yelling out instructions about how to operate the car, but the top-tier professional sports coach.
The very best sports coaches make sure everyone has, understands, and can execute from the same playbook. They can’t hold players accountable for running the play if no one knows what the play is! By the same token, a good coach knows they don’t need to micromanage every element of the execution of each play. Instead, they set clear expectations that the members of the team are going to do their job, as defined and practiced.
Here’s what “holding people accountable” looks like for the most accomplished sales leaders: There’s a once-a-week meeting with each team member, during which the salesperson takes the lead in explaining how the execution of the behavioral plan is going … what’s moving forward in the sales funnel, what isn’t, and why … and what the key deliverables are for the week to come. This face-to-face meeting should only take between five and ten minutes for each person who reports to you. It should set up constructive, positive, concise digital communication points over the course of the next week. This process should be repeated at the end of the week, with you asking them what was accomplished. That discussion should take even less time.
That’s accountability. If that doesn’t describe what’s happening with your interactions with your team members right now, you may want to consider taking a look at our SalesAccountability app. SalesAccountability sets up an intuitive, user-friendly platform that helps to makes this kind of powerful, accountable weekly check-in second nature for salespeople and sales leaders alike, and it helps both groups become more productive.