There are ideas a sales leader must refuse. Allowing these ideas to take hold can decelerate growth, distract the sales force from their real work, and result in a poor sales performance. They can also start a vicious cycle, a downward trend that is difficult to reverse.
- Allowing Sales Reps to Become Operators: There are always going to be people within an organization who will ask for help from the sales team. Reps do operational work when there are issues where a salesperson’s competency with customers can make the difference. While you want your players to be good teammates, you have to say “no” to the idea that your salespeople are responsible for work that belongs to operations or customer service or accounting. While they own the outcomes they sell, they do not own the transactions. When you allow your team to get mired in operation, you have effectively reduced the size of your sales force.
- Allowing a Change in Strategy: There are salespeople and sales managers and other leaders who would all have you change the company’s strategy from value creation to the lowest price. To many non-sales leaders, removing price as an obstacle is a way to win more new business faster. The danger in this line of thinking is the big client you want bad enough to compromise on your overall strategy is the first step on the slippery slope of competing on price. Once you say yes, you have established a precedent for all big deals that follow, and in doing so, you have allowed others to change the company’s strategy.
- Permitting a Lack of Direction: Leaders and managers want to hire people they trust and let them figure out what they need to do and how they should do it. Many fear being known as a micromanager, preferring a laissez-faire approach to leading and managing. As many people complain about not getting the direction they need as complain about micromanagement. You can not allow people to drift, without goals, and without strong guidance as to how they are supposed to reach those goals.
- Threats to the Culture: In every sales organization, there is a spiritual leader, the person who tells others what is good and right and true. When the person the sales team looks to for guidance in understanding their world is negative and cynical, you have a threat to your culture. Negative people influence others to become negative by suggesting that the challenges they have don’t lie within themselves, that it is external. They point to the company, the strategy, the leadership team, the product team, their clients, or their competition as the reason for their poor performance. Allowing these threats to continue without confronting them and removing the source assures your culture suffers.
- No Accountability: It’s challenging to maintain a cadence. It is hard to hold the regular meetings necessary to ensure accountability for results, week after week, month after month, and quarter after quarter. However, a little thing like skipping pipeline meetings that ensure you have enough new opportunities coming in leads to too few new opportunities. Allowing salespeople to go weeks or months without prospecting all but ensures they will have trouble in the future. The sales manager will share responsibility for an unfortunate result, but so will you, the sales leader who allowed a lack of accountability.
- Annual Changing of Their Approach: I have spoken at sales kickoff meetings for the same companies for three years in a row. In each of the three years, the sales force was provided with a new approach designed to accelerate their results. Never mind that they never did the work on the first change in strategy. Instead, they whipsawed the sales force, promising them this new approach is what is most important, only to change their mind less than twelve months later.
- Retaining Those Who Have Already Left: Some people have already left your company, they are just still showing up at their job. Their heart is no longer in their work, and they are biding their time, waiting for something better to come along. With their heart gone, their mind follows. They no longer do the work, and instead, they coast, hoping you don’t discover them. Selling requires too much of an individual to allow a person to go through the motions. You cannot allow someone who is not—or will not—do the work necessary to occupy a spot on your roster.
- Preferring Technology to Competency: There is an epidemic in sales organizations now. The illness is believing (or wishing or hoping) that technological solutions will produce faster growth. It’s easier to invest in technology than it is to build a force of value-creating, consultative, trusted advisors whom your clients will look at as peers. While you need to provide the sales force with the tools necessary to succeed, you cannot allow tools to be a substitute for teaching, training, coaching, and developing the sales force.
Leading is never easy. There are always competing interests, and it is challenging to build and maintain a high-performing sales organization under the best of circumstances. As a leader, you are responsible for eliminating and replacing ineffective practices with better, healthier ones. Start with these.