Tony Cole

Create a “No Excuses” Sales Environment

By Tony ColeTony Cole

In order to help our sales people be successful reaching goals, we must hold them to the necessary activity by building strong tracking and accountability processes. We call Accountability “a 14-letter dirty word” because in most organizations the process of inputting, collecting, and inspecting sales activity is not well-liked– by sales people or sales management.

Most companies desire accountability in their sales organizations, but fail to track the sales activities that are the most predictive of sales results. Too often, the metric of “closed sales” is the identified and inspected metric. Tracking only this metric is similar to looking in the rear view mirror in that this does not give you necessary, early predictive information. In hindsight, nearly anything is clear.

So, instead of tracking closes, we need to track metrics like number of prospecting dials made, number of appointments made, number of appointments kept, number of second meetings set, etc. Tracking this type of information allows us to ascertain important ratios, like the ratio of prospecting dials to first appointments and the ratio of prospecting dials to closes. With this information, we can intelligently set sales goals.

To be effective sales managers, we must track, inspect and coach each step in the selling process, like initial phone calls, first contacts, opportunities, appointments, proposals, and closed sales. If we hold our sales people accountable to their activities, we should then be able to intelligently predict future sales.

This detailed information will give you the raw data needed to see patterns. This data will help you recognize the correlation between each step: prospecting to qualifying, qualifying to first meeting, first meeting to presentation, presentation to sale. Often sales people and sales managers do not know how many prospecting calls are needed to make a sale (call-to-sale ratio). Yet this detail is vital information to the success of each sales person and organization. For example, if you don’t know Jane typically averages 15 calls to one sale, you can’t hold her accountable to those 15 calls. If she is only making 10 calls, chances are she is failing to reach her sales goal.

This process of accountability is hard work, but if you have taken your sales people through the discussion of setting extraordinary goals explained in the October and November “Setting Standards and Goal Setting” articles, and your sales people have agreed to manage themselves to Excellent or Extraordinary, then you have done the heaviest lifting by setting expectations.

Next, we need to address holding people accountable. Tracking activity is beneficial only if the data will be used to hold people to their promised goals. You must help each sales person understand the ramifications of failing to achieve their promised goals.

Unfortunately, I have found it common for companies to allow sales people to make excuses for lack of success. If your company allows for excuses, it is likely that the other sales systems and processes are going to fail. You must be consistent in holding sales people accountable to their behaviors.

To do this, you will hold the following conversation with each individual sales person. “Bill, what will happen if you don’t reach this goal? If you don’t achieve Extraordinary?” Then you will wait for his answer, allowing him to think through the consequences.

In this way, you are asking him to determine what he will adjust, and what the consequences are if he does not reach goal. Leading each sales person through this discussion will help him take responsibility for his success or failure. It will also allow you to utilize your accountability systems with more receptivity. After all, your sales people agreed to this process and each established his stretch goal.

If Bill shrugs his shoulders and says “Oh well, maybe next month/week/year”, you may have the wrong person in this role. If Bill is the right person for this role, he will be scrambling to figure out how he is going to meet his specified goal and he will verbalize his own personal pain by saying something like, “My wife will have to continue working.” Or “I won’t be able to buy a new car.”

Approximately 66% of the salespeople assessed in OMG’s evaluation process make excuses for lack of performance. This means that they blame the company, the competition or the market, not themselves, for their lack of success. If this excuse-making problem goes unchecked, it will erode the standards for the entire organization.

So, here is an example and a recommended solution to help your organization create a “no-excuses” environment. A salesperson, Jane, has just told her sales manager that she did not reach her activity goal of phone calls this month because she had an unusual amount of operational support issues upon which she had to spend time. In other words, she is blaming the company.

Your response to an excuse like this should always be “Jane, if I did not let you use that as an excuse, what would you have done differently?” Note that this creates a transfer of responsibility because Jane now has to think through the problem herself and figure out what she must do differently to avoid this problem in the future. By asking the question in this manner, you are not allowing her to continue making the excuses which would otherwise lower her own standards and those of the company.

But, be aware, excuses come in all forms, so learn to recognize and utilize the critical question, “If I did not let you use that excuse, what would you have done differently?” See how many times in one week you can use that question and note the results you achieve in a short time.

Learn more about Tony Cole, President of Anthony Cole Training Group, at his blog and website.