Raising the Bar

By Tony ColeTony Cole

“Did I hire my sales people this way or did I make them this way?” This is the question every sales manager must ask.

Fixing performance problems always starts with Standards and Accountability. Accountability means taking responsibility for outcomes – good or bad. Your primary responsibility is to put the BEST team into the marketplace. Much like a general manager in sports, a director of a theater company or an orchestra leader of a symphony, you have a job and a responsibility to hire and use the best performers.

Raising-the-bar ultimately begins with you taking responsibility for those currently managing. What must you do to get best performance? You are responsible to those who have hired you, to those you lead and to your own family for this best performance.

Step #1 – Take responsibility for your own performance or lack of. Make a commitment to do whatever is necessary to get best performance.

Step #2 – Make your people responsible. Starting immediately, accept no excuses for lack of performance. Make sure there are consequences for sales people who show up late or miss meetings. Do not accept excuses about lack of prospecting activity. From now on, when a sales person uses an excuse, respond with: “If I didn’t let you use that as an excuse, what would you have done differently?” and “What should you do differently in the future?”

Step #3 – Communicate expectations clearly. Tell your sales people exactly what you expect. Ask them to repeat what they heard. Ask them to describe how these expectations impact their day, week, month, quarter and year. What will they do, or change, in order to meet these expectations?

Then ask if they will accept the responsibility of meeting these expectations. They will say “yes”. But ask them if they are “sure”. Again, they will say “yes.” Warn them “It will be hard.”

Next, ask them if they are willing to do everything possible to succeed. They will say “yes.” Finally, ask them what you should do if they fail to meet these expectations and note the consequences.

You have now raised the bar on expectations. You must now raise the bar on performance.

Step #4 – Establish ambitious goals and make them known in advance. Often the reason individuals and companies fail to perform is because minimal standards are set and people do only what it takes to meet them.

This minimal goal approach sets you and your team up for failure. Starting today, or as soon as you begin goal setting for your next fiscal year, eliminate minimal acceptable standards of performance and embrace a new and different path, one that includes extraordinary standards of performance.

Step #5 – Set extraordinary standards of performance. This step requires a mind-shift in how you look at goals, performance and performance management.

Let’s assume that we are using New Business Sales Production as the Success Metric. We need to establish different levels of performance and get each sales person’s commitment of self -management to a newly identified and agreed to level of success.

The process starts with a discussion about future performance between you and the sales person. It is a meeting you probably already have, so the meeting itself should not be new. However, your approach and the discussion in this meeting will be different. Plan for an hour-long discussion that allows the producer to personally define sales goal $$ levels of Good, Excellent and Extraordinary and to understand how they would feel about reaching each of these goals. See below for some suggested dialogue about establishing New Business Goals for the upcoming year.

Though we’ve had this type of discussion in the past, I recognize that I need to do a better job helping you fulfill your potential and meet/ exceed your professional and personal objectives. First, let’s talk about your performance this past year.

Your goal this year was $250,000 of new business. As you stand right now, you are going to accomplish that goal within a thousand or two. Using one of these words- “good”, “excellent”, “extraordinary” to describe your year, which word would you choose? (Most high quality producers recognize that meeting goal would fall into the category of “good”, but not “excellent” or “extraordinary”.)

Tony, I would say that I had a “good” year.

Ok. Pretend that it’s December 31st of next year (or the end of your fiscal year). You are looking at your new business sales production and you say to yourself – based on the number you have hypothetically produced – that you had a good year. What would that number have to be in order for you to say that you had a “good” year next year?

I will have a good year if I grow my new business production by 10% so I need to sell an additional $25,000. Assuming I have 10% attrition of my current client base of $250,000, I will need to add another $25,000 to this new business production as replacement. So a “good” new business production number would be $300,000.

Next establish a goal number for “excellent” and a more ambitious number for “extraordinary”. At each step, ask the producer how he would feel about reaching this new standard. Once the producer defines his “extraordinary” level, ask him how it would feel to go home and celebrate this milestone. Help him imagine how this would look, what he would say and do.

Ultimately ask him if he is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve this “extraordinary” number and then ask him if he will give you permission to coach him and hold him accountable to this exciting new goal.

You have just raised the bar. Now the real work begins– You must hold people accountable.

[See Part 2]

Learn more about Tony Cole at his blog and website. Enjoy Tony’s e-Book 9 Keys to Sales Coaching Success.