It isn't easy to be a sales leader or a sales manager. There is an unrelenting need to create new opportunities, win new deals and the net new revenue that fuels a company's growth. There are a lot of variables to sales success, including the individuals in sales roles and the nature of their work. Two people in accounting in two different companies are not engaged in a contest to see which of them will win a third party's business, but this is exactly what salespeople do every day.
There is an endless number of problems creating new opportunities and winning new deals, including things like losing your main contact when they take another job, a change in a prospective client's priorities, budgetary issues, being outflanked by an aggressive competitor who promises the sun and moon at bargain basement pricing. Recently, a friend lost a big deal when a company acquired their dream client, and another one told me their existing client told them that their competitor took the client to dinner to offer them a kickback on their business.
None of these issues should concern you since they are outside of your control, and more still, they are not the primary reason you have poor results. Poor results come from a relatively few issues that are unaddressed. There are a small number of problems that will cause you to fail to reach your goals:
- The first of these problems is too little activity.
- The second problem is a lack of effectiveness.
- The third problem is a lack of leadership (priorities, distribution of work, etc.)
- The fourth problem is a lack of accountability (human consequences)
- The fifth problem is low standards.
Activity: When you have an activity problem, you correct it by increasing activity levels. As a leader, you must cause everyone on your team to do the necessary work. An unwillingness to address low activity will cause you to fail to reach your goals.
Even though this isn't an easy challenge to address, it is much easier than addressing an effectiveness problem. You will have to reset your expectations around what you expect in the way of activity. More activity is always the right strategy when activity is too low for you to reach your goals, especially when your people are already effective.
Effectiveness: You correct an effectiveness problem with training and development, increasing everyone’s competence and improving their effectiveness. Every person in your charge must be able to do all the different tasks that lead to new opportunities, new clients, and net new revenue. Increasing the effectiveness of your team is much more difficult and time-consuming for most sales organizations because they lack a long-term development plan, often trying to improve results by a day's training.
Sometimes an activity problem is really an effectiveness problem because the person isn't confident. Increasing their confidence starts by increasing their effectiveness. We separate activity and effectiveness even though they are intertwined.
Lack of Leadership: The unfortunate thing about activity and effectiveness problems is that much of the time, they are really leadership problems. The leader is responsible for ensuring the right amount of activity is being generated and that the activity is done in such a way that it is effective, producing the desired results. A great deal of both activity and effectiveness problems stem from a leader who doesn't require certain tasks and outcomes, allowing the individuals on their team to do what they want, when they want to, and how they prefer to approach their work.
Leadership provides disciplines to temper the autonomy that comes with professional sales. That leadership doesn't extend only to activity, but also to effectiveness, something we tried to solve by using a common sales process in the past and are now trying to address with greater agility and a focus on a different type of approach.
A lack of strong leadership is corrected by an engaged leader who provides priorities.
Low Standards: When a leader expects too little of people, those in their charge will meet those low expectations, or in some cases, they will do even less. Your results come from your expectations and your standards. These standards include both activity and effectiveness. Those who accept less than what is necessary to produce the results they need will find that those results are not going to be delivered.
The way to improve results when your standards have been too low for too long is to raise your standards, expecting better results from everyone on your team. If this is true for you, know that you are going to have to work hard to raise your standards. Once you have established higher standards, never allow anyone to lower them, lest you must start over again.
Lack of Accountability: Holding someone accountable means there are consequences for not doing the work assigned to them. In the age of the CRM, many leaders are willing to avoid a conversation with their team, preferring to look at a computer screen to monitor their performance. This is like staring at the scoreboard instead of coaching the game. The score isn't going to improve by staring at a screen. The score improves only when you play the game better.
Accountability isn't a metric as much as it is an obligation. When you don't require a person to report their results to you, you are removing accountability, offloading your responsibility as a leader. You would do better to require the individuals on your team to self-report, saying out loud what they did or didn't do, and coaching them to do better. No high-performing team lacks accountability.
These are the five areas where changes are necessary if you want to improve your results. The corrections you make in these areas are not easy, but they are necessary for creating greater results.