“Did I hire my sales people this way or did I make them this way?”
In the last couple of months, we learned how to establish and communicate new standards and goals to the sales force. Now, we must understand and commit to the follow-through—holding people accountable. No doubt holding people accountable consistently is difficult because it requires the discipline of regular inspections and tough conversations. It would be easy if sales people performed as they promised, but this does not happen for many reasons. While some of the obstacles that interfere with performance are personal, others are uncontrollable. However, you must drive your sales people to perform to standards regardless of the issues that interfere.
Your sales people will have different reactions to the new and higher standards, but they will know that the rules are changing. People will not be free to languish in mediocrity and be safe when they are not performing. Some will be nervous, others motivated and perhaps excited. But, if you have the right people, they will appreciate that you are helping them define their future success.
The real challenge is following through. In order to do your job well, you must have fierce conversations with those who are not able or willing to sell. This new course of action will force you to let these people go and it will force those who cannot tolerate this environment to leave.
Once you have established and communicated the new standards, you will need to begin collecting data that helps you determine, in advance and in a real time perspective, how your people are performing (sales activity) and how they will be performing (pipeline and sales results). The idea is to catch them quickly when they start to go off path and to have meaningful dialog about their current status and how it measures up to the standards to which they committed.
When you prepare for a monthly or quarterly one-on-one meeting, you must identify where your people stand relative to their performance for activity and results. You will classify them in one of the four following categories in order to have meaningful discussion.
- Making Effort & Has Results: Sales person is performing all necessary sales activities and getting sales results. Your coaching should sound like this. “You are doing well. Your activity and results are at or above your goal. Keep up the good work. Is there anything I can do to help you further?”
- Lacks Effort & Has Results: Sales person is falling short on sales activities, but sales results are at/or exceeding their commitment. Your coaching should sound like this. “While your results today look good, we need to look at future results. To do that we must look at your success formula. If you have a 6 month sales cycle and you look at your activity 6 months ago, we see that you performed to put you at your current level of success. However, if we look at your activity level of today, it is only 85% of what your plan calls for. Knowing this, what results can you predict 6 months from now?” If you get push-back as you hold the sales person to his commitment, remind him that he agreed to be coached and to be held accountable.
- Lacks Results & Making Effort: Sales person appears to be doing required activity, but results are insufficient. There is something wrong, unless this is a new-hire. Review the sales person’s success formula and verify closing ratio, etc. There are two possibilities: 1.The sales person is padding the numbers (lying about the activities) or 2. Sales person is performing poorly. If the success formula is accurate, you must have the following discussion. “Looking at your numbers, I can’t figure out how you can be exceeding activity goals yet failing in actual production. Either the numbers you are entering are wrong or you are doing a poor job of executing the sales process, skills or techniques. Which is it?” The rest of the conversation hinges on how the sales person answers this question, but it is your job to walk him through the accuracy of the success formula and have him project his true sales results for the year. Remind him that he agreed to certain numbers and he agreed to be held accountable. Going forward, inspect his activity daily.
- Lacks Effort & Lacks Results: A sales person who consistently lacks effort and results should not be on your staff. Unless this person is a new hire, he should always be AT or ABOVE sales activity effort level. You must have the following tough discussion. “This is what I was expecting from you and this is what I am getting. Are you the wrong person for this job?” Typically, the sales person will say “no” and will make excuses, referencing the economy, competition, company policy, etc. Your response is “Those are excuses for lack of performance. We had this discussion 3 months ago and have met weekly for the past four weeks. You are not producing. Thirty days from now I need someone in that chair who is going to get these results. I hope it is you. But I assure you someone will be doing this job to these expectations.”
After any of these discussions, you should ask the following: “Do you have any questions?” “Are you still committed to doing everything possible to succeed?” and “Are you sure?”
Be sure to consult with your Human Resources Department so that you are fully prepared to manage people and so that you know how best to follow company protocol.