Building Your Virtual Bench

shutterstock_375157798.jpgAs we head into the fourth quarter you should have a pretty clear line of sight on how things are trending across your sales organization, and salesperson by salesperson. As you look at what's in the forecast between now and the end of the year you should know where you are year-to-date. How strong is your forecast going into the fourth quarter? Who on your sales team will hit their numbers, and who's going to fall short?

One of the things we tell CEO's to emphasize is that high performing sales managers should be constantly searching for sales talent. They should continually be building their virtual bench of high performing salespeople so they can make better decisions about who to hold accountable, and how to make changes when necessary.

As we are already a couple weeks into the fourth quarter, you only have about 4 to 6 weeks left. If you don't already have activities underway to build, and maintain a virtual bench of high performing sales people, there's time if you act right now. You've got about five (5) weeks before you get into the holiday malaise where candidates become much more scarce. Once you get into the week of Thanksgiving and beyond, through the holidays and the end of the year, it's much more difficult to engage high performing salespeople. They're inwardly focused on their families. They're more focused on finishing their year strong. Typically, sales people who are on the annual calendar year are going to stay where they are until they get their year-end bonus. If you want to recruit high performing salespeople, if you want a sales manager who's constantly looking for sales talent now is the time to act. Now is the time to begin building your virtual bench, so you can start those conversations before the holidays, and move quickly when you hit the next great wave of salespeople switching jobs.

If you start those conversations in the middle of January, or beginning of February you may miss out on the high performers who have already engaged in a conversation with somebody else. Act now.

We recommend implementing our Sales Talent Acquisition Routine. It's a sales hiring system designed specifically for attracting, selecting, and onboarding high performing sales people. Once it's set up you can screen, and recruit candidates almost automatically. You need to invest time in setting it up right, but once it's setup you can just let it run automatically. Your sales managers can continue to focus on the activities they need to focus on: coaching your team, holding people accountable, and working on deals to bring in by end of the year.

If you need information or would like to talk about how to turn on a system like our Sales Talent Acquisition Routine, please contact me. Don't wait. You only have about five (5) weeks to start building that strong pipeline of high performing sales candidates. In January if you need to make decisions about switching people out, or getting rid of some under-performing salespeople (you know who they are already), start building your virtual bench today.

 

 

10 Activities Sales Managers Should Focus On

When I talk with CEOs, I often hear them complaining about how their sales managers are always busy, but not productive. When I dig a little deeper, I usually find this is an issue around how sales managers define their priorities and where they focus their time. Often times, sales managers miscalculate which activities need the most attention, and waste their valuable time doing nonproductive things.

In this article I will concentrate on a list of 10 activities that sales managers should focus on. In your company you may have more than 10, but let’s use this as a starting point:  

  1. Coaching Salespeople: This should account for about 50% of sales managers time. They should focus on 3 types of coaching conversations – administrative, strategic and situational. In a 40-hour work week, about 20 hours of their time should be spent directly coaching their salespeople in a structured, organized fashion. This almost never happens in companies before we start working with them and helping managers learn how to coach.
  2. Motivating Salespeople: Motivating sales people should be around 10% of their time. Your sales managers need to learn what motivates each individual salesperson. It seems obvious, but few managers understand that not everyone is motivated the same way. For example, do your sales mangers know who on their team is intrinsically or extrinsically motivated? Do they understand that an intrinsically motivated person is going to get more motivation from a quiet, “atta-boy” in the hallway after the sales meeting? On the other hand, an extrinsically motivated person is going to thrive on public praise and wants attention during the sales meeting.
  3. Measuring Performance/ Accountability: This should be about 15% of their time. Holding people accountable is really about setting clear, key performance indicators. What are your sales managers measuring, and how are they holding their team to these standards? Best practices for this are to have a handful of leading indicators - number of appointments, quality of appointments, activity, how many calls are they making per week. Also, be sure to have lagging indicators - Are we closing business when we say we will? Are we holding our margin? Are we tracking to our revenue plan? And most importantly, how do the conversations between managers and salespeople change when they are falling behind?   
  4. Recruiting: Recruiting should be about 5% of their time. We believe sales managers should be recruiting all the time, but that doesn’t mean it needs to take up a lot of their time. Part of creating a culture of accountability is being ready to let go of low performers, and the only way you can do that effectively is if you're constantly recruiting and building your virtual bench. We believe a busy, productive sales manager should spend about 5% of their time maintaining your virtual bench and doing some sort of recruiting activity. Obviously, that might spike up in certain periods if you're opening more positions.
  5. Crisis Management: About 5% of their time should be budgeted for this. This really refers to handling client crises and other situations that may come up. The key here is to make sure it doesn’t consume all of a sales manager’s time. If that’s the case, there may be a bigger problem in your sales process.
  6. Internal Company Issues: About 5% of sales manager’s time should be used for internal company issues. When dealing company issues such as new policies or sitting on a marketing committee, really guard your sales manager's time. Ask yourself before you invite them, do we really need their input or can we move the ball forward without it and then review it with them later?
  7. Planning/Managing Compensation: This should really be 1% of their time. It shouldn't be a big issue. It's something you're typically looking at annually. Again, that goes back to understanding how your team's motivated, are they more intrinsic or extrinsic? Most sales people are going to get more motivation from a higher-based salary and the opportunity for unlimited upside potential. Make sure your comp plan aligns with that.
  8. Organization/Reorganization: Organizing and reorganizing, again is more of a periodic activity, and should maybe be 1% of their time. Again, make sure you guard your sales manager’s time. We’ve seen situations where managers are consumed by a constant shuffling of territories, people, and strategies.
  9. Business/Product Strategy: Limit business and product strategy to maybe 3% of their time. One of the advantages that sales people bring to product managers is their real time feedback from the market. As this is helpful information, sales managers often get sucked in too deep with this that it consumes their time.
  10. Direct Selling: We think 5% of manager’s time should be allocated to directly selling to the market. We believe every sales manager should have a book of business. That's the only way they're going to stay sharp. That's the only way they're going to stay current. They still need to have some clients and directly sell.

You may have other activities that you want your sales managers to focus on, but this list provides a good starting point. When is the last time you focused on where your sales managers are investing their time? How confident are you that they are spending their time in the right areas? Are they getting a good return on their time and if not, what needs to change?

Also, if you don’t have sales managers, and you’re the sales manager by default, which of these activities are you not getting to? My guess would be; you're probably not spending as much time coaching your sales people as you need to. If that's the case, we need to talk, so contact me and we can tell you more about our accountability coaching program.

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What Should CEOs Worry About When Hiring a New Sales Manager?


In last week’s post we talked about growing your company to the point where it makes sense to hire a sales manager and we discussed some of the common pitfalls  that companies experience when they promote one of their sales people to become a sales manager. Today we want to focus on some of the pros and cons of bringing in an experienced sales manager from the outside.

Whichever approach you take to recruiting this new sales manager, we strongly recommend using a predictive pre-employment assessment to really measure what their strengths and weaknesses as a sales leader might be and whether or not they match your environment. These assessments also help you interview better, so you really know whether a sales management candidate will be a good fit and how to approach the interview. Assuming you find a good candidate pool after these assessments, as a CEO you need to explore and focus on their experiences when it comes to the following:

  1. Growing the Team: How strong are they at growing a sales organization? Ask them for examples of past experiences where they took an organization from X sales people to Y sales people (whatever is relevant to your situation). Not only did they grow the team in terms of number of sales people, but how did theyshutterstock_105224906-1.jpg grow each sales person individually to make them more effective and productive?

  2. Coaching Style: How much time do they spend coaching their sales people? What does coaching mean to them? Many sales manager spend all their time having coaching conversations where all they do is review the pipeline. To me, it's about situational coaching  and the ability to model the correct behavior through effective role play. Really press them on their coaching experience because that's going to lead to growing the team (see above).

  3. Motivation: What's their approach to motivation? How important is it to them to understand the individual goals of each sales person? How do they get to know what makes each sales person on their team tick? How do they adjust their management style and communication methods to match each salesperson?

  4. Accountability: How do they hold people accountable? What does accountability mean to them? What are some of the key performance indicators that they monitor to hold people accountable? Ask them for examples of leading and lagging indicators. Ask them for examples of forecast accuracy and date integrity (i.e. things close when they project they will close).

  5. Systems and Processes: Ask them about their experience building systems and process. If you're a scaling company and you're at the point now where you need to invest in a sales management function, how much better is it to bring in someone who's done it before? What CRM tools have they used in the past? What inbound marketing and lead generation tools do they recommend? Have they developed and implemented a sales playbook? Look for examples of success.

  6. Recruiting: Lastly, as you continue to scale, one of the core competencies that your manager is going to need is the ability to effectively recruit and onboard new salespeople. This ties back to accountability. Part of accountability is not holding onto mediocre salespeople. We can't really hold them accountable unless we have a strong pipeline of sales candidates, so what's their recruiting philosophy? Are they always recruiting? Do they only recruit in a reactive, as-needed basis? How are they recruiting and what's their approach?

Twice a year we offer a comprehensive, live interactive 12-week online training program that brings our STAR hiring system alive. This training teaches hiring managers how to effectively attract, select, and onboard strong salespeople and sales leaders. If you’re interested, please respond to me directly.

Top 5 Mistakes New Sales Managers Make

shutterstock_259428155.jpgIs it time to provide some “adult supervision” for your sales people? Has your revenue grown to the point where you can make the business case to invest in having a full time sales manager? Congratulations! As you scale your business you’ll find the complexity of managing your pipeline, developing your sales people, expanding into new markets, implementing systems and processes, etc. will continue to increase and accelerate. If you’re ready to hire a sales manager, here are some common mistakes you will need to navigate to realize the full return on your investment.

The first decision you have to make is where to find your new sales manager. This article will focus on hiring from within or promoting one of your current sales people. Next week we will focus on hiring a brand new sales manager from the outside.

When sales managers get promoted from within they often struggle to be successful and the impact can hurt your business. Not only do you have an ineffective sales manager, you also lose the revenue that person used to produce. In many cases it’s as simple as helping your newly promoted sales manager remember the skills that made them successful when they were a sales person. Here are five common mistakes to watch out for:

  1. Ask Questions: The number one thing we see is sales managers forget how to ask questions. Great coaching conversations revolve around asking questions. Getting your sales people to discover for themselves why they are getting in their own way, why they're not asking enough questions, why they're not discovering things with their prospects. Instead of telling people what to do, sales managers need to transfer their great questioning skills that made them successful as a salesperson to their new role as a sales manager. The questions they need to ask are going to be different, but the skill set needs to transfer.

  1. Understand Differences: The second mistake we see new sales managers make is they assume everyone is going to be like they were. They assume that everyone should do what they did to be successful, instead of recognizing that everyone on their team has their own unique set of strengths, and challenges, and tailor their coaching around those. Instead of trying to build everyone in their image, they should instead take the time to understand what makes each person on their team effective, and how can they build on that rather than try to change it to match what they used to do. The faster a new sales manager recognizes that not everyone has to do it the way they did, the faster they're going to grow and develop their team.

  1. Holding On: The third mistake that we see new sales managers make is they care too deeply about their old clients. It makes it extremely difficult for the new person who has to take over those accounts to be successful and to establish credibility, if the new manager is babysitting and checking-in with those old clients. You have to let that go. Give your new person space to establish a relationship and build rapport with those customers and serve those customers.

  1. Too Friendly: The fourth mistake we see new sales managers make, particularly if they were promoted and they are now managing their former peers, is they're too friendly. They really need to assume their role as a sales leader. Be a little standoffish, be a little aloof, and establish that space. They're no longer a peer, they're a boss and they have to act accordingly. They have to maybe skip going out to that happy hour, or skip going to the ball game unless it's in a business function, and not be so friendly.

  1. Avoid Tough Decisions: Finally, somewhat related to that, another mistake we see new sales managers make is an unwillingness to let go of mediocre talent. They're too patient and too tolerant. It may be in part because they know these people from when they were peers. I think this a problem that not only affects new managers, I think all sales managers struggle with this. They'll look optimistically at a person's pipeline and think, "Boy, they're right around the corner. They're going to turn this around," instead of setting high expectations and holding them accountable to it. Being ready to initiate a recruiting project when somebody's not performing up to par.

These are some of the common pitfalls you need to navigate if you hire from within. The advantages of promoting an existing team member are that they already know your business, markets, and customers. So if you can navigate through these pitfalls, promoting from within may be the shortest path for making a return on your investment. Then again, we’ve seen too many companies promote their top sales person to sales manager with disastrous results. As CEO make sure you are carefully considering these common pitfalls before looking outside for a new sales manager.

Not sure you're ready to take the big step of hiring a sales manager, but still need help holding your team accountable?  One of our services here at Intelligent Conversations is our Accountability Coaching Program.  This program helps sales teams that report directly to the owners/CEOs through regularly scheduled, structured accountability coaching calls with our Intelligent Conversations coaches.  Learn more about that program here.

 

Why Sales Managers Suck at Hiring Sales People

shutterstock_128236088.jpgAre your sales managers using sales recruiting as a growth strategy for your company? Are they consistently and proactively building a virtual bench of top sales talent? One of the main challenges we see in our consulting practice is sales managers who struggle when it comes to attracting and retaining the best sales talent available. Here are 5 reasons why many sales managers struggle to effectively hire top sales people.

  1. Too Busy- Many sales managers simply have too much on their plate. There are too many “urgent” tasks on their to-do list and the can never catch up. Because they have so much going on, hiring sales people always seems to fall to the bottom of their list.
  2. Overly Reactive- As a direct result of number 1 (too busy), they are not proactively managing their sales team. Rather than thinking ahead in terms of covering territories and continuing growth, they react to whatever crisis is right in front of them.
  3. Industry Bias- Sales managers tend to stay in their comfort zone by looking for people who come from a similar industry. That makes sense if those sales people can bring customers and strong relationships that help them ramp up quickly. However, we’ve seen many sales managers use that as an excuse to overlook bad habits and weak selling skills.
  4. Lousy Interviewers- This could be because sales managers are too busy and overly reactive, or simply because no one has ever trained them how to do it. Many sales manager interviews focus more on bonding and rapport-building to find out if they like the candidate. Is this the kind of person that I would want to work with? Are they like me? Too many managers fail to ask the hard-hitting questions that are going to uncover potential issues and challenges sales people are going to encounter in the field.
  5. Bad Onboarding- The single most important step to a successful new hire is an effective onboarding plan. Very few managers do this. This may be because no one has told them how to do this so they just let human resources dictate what needs to happen. It also doesn’t help that they are “too busy” to really pay attention. More often than not, it’s because they have waited too long to get a sales person in place. When this happens the new sales person is walking into a desperate situation. The overwhelmed sales manager just sort of throws them into the fire, instead of bringing them on the right way allowing them to: effectively learn the product, understand the market, learn about the competition, and build a quality pipeline.

If your sales managers fall into any of these categories – what can you do to change this?

  1. Slow Down and Do It Right- take the time to implement best practices like Topgrading or our Sales Talent Acquisition Routine (STAR hiring system). Your sales managers will have a much better success rate at hiring and onboarding successful sales people using these systems.
  2. Build a Virtual Bench- Successful sales managers should work tirelessly to build a network of top-performing sales people. Overtime they should build and maintain relationships with these sales people so they can contact them if and when you're ready to hire. That way they’ve already established rapport and you can reach out to them when the time is right.
  3. Attract the Best- Make sure that you've built the right kind of environment. Is your opportunity attractive? Is your compensation right? Is there a growth opportunity? Is there opportunity for learning and development? Are they excited about the opportunity to come work for your company?
  4. Contact Intelligent Conversations- We're here to help! Whether you need us to help you implement a system like our Topgrading or STAR hiring system, or if you want us to just do it for you, we can help you attract and retain the best possible sales people.

     

Are Your Sales Managers Having the Right Coaching Conversations?

Most sales managers believe they’re already having coaching conversations, but when we dig a little deeper it’s easy to learn that what they consider a “coaching conversation” usually is more focused on updates and administrative tasks than development and growth. The conversations we observe from sales managers tend to fall into three categories: 

  • Administrative – reviewing the sales forecast, discussing key performance indicators, checking progress against the plan for the month/quarter/year, updating the forecast, reviewing progress against a specific marketing initiative, discussing the territory plan, making plans for an upcoming trade show, reviewing expense reports or mileage, etc.  Typically, this should be about 10% of a coaching conversation – or six minutes during an hour long meeting.  It should be a quick discussion to review and confirm information that is already available somewhere else (in the CRM, reviewing calendars, etc.).  Too often we see sales managers focusing 95% of their conversation on these types of administrative topics.  Certainly you can fill a 60-minute coaching conversation going over these items, but is that the best use of time for two valuable team members?
  • Strategic – identifying new markets to pursue, updating a “top target” list, sharing market intelligence, reviewing pricing strategies, exploring different ways to solve a problem, planning a negotiating strategy, reviewing market coverage statistics, etc.  Typically, this should be about 10% of the coaching time, but not every week.  These are the types of conversations that should occur once a month or once per quarter where you may devote most of a meeting to a strategic topic.  Most sales managers who are focusing 95% of their time on administrative topics will balance the rest of the call with this type of discussion.  We’ve observed some managers who love “being strategic” and spend an inordinate amount of time developing “new strategies” to take sales to the next level.  But they never stick with anything long enough to execute these strategies and top sales professionals grow tired of the ever-changing directions and simply leave to find a job where they can do what they love to do – sell.
  • Situational Coaching – this is where the rubber hits the road.  In our opinion, 80% of a sales manager’s coaching conversation should be focused on what we call situational coaching.  This is where learning can occur.  What is it?  It is taking the time to review a recent call or make plans for an upcoming call and really diagnosing what happened or what needs to happen. 
    • Looking back at a past call, it’s about reviewing what happened, what could have happened differently, as well as how and why the sales person got to where they ended up.  Did they miss an opportunity to ask a question?  Why?  Were they distracted and not listening?  Why?  Did they gather the information they needed?  Why not?  Did they build a stronger relationship?  How?  What could they have done better?  Why didn’t they?  And so on.  A call review should look at both the underlying issue and the outcome.
    • When looking ahead it’s about talking through all the “what if” scenarios.  If a sales manager has been doing a good job reviewing past calls, they probably know what patterns to look for and can help the sales person think through how to avoid past pitfalls.  The best managers will role play the scenario, first demonstrating the right behavior (here’s how to position it, here’s how to ask this question, here’s how to keep them comfortable with you as you ask tough questions, etc.) then it’s about testing the sales person by having them role play.  Share feedback and observations, offer helpful tips, etc.

Here is a chart of the conversations we often see sales managers having during coaching conversations. How many of your sales managers are in the far right column? 

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For another good article on Sales Management check out Dave Kurlan's post from today, if for no other reason than the great title: Why So Many Sales Managers are So Bad 

What UNC Coach Dean Smith Taught Us About Sales Metrics

Legendary University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith died on Saturday.  Sales managers across the country who have been through our sales leadership program know that I often use Dean Smith’s scoring system as an example of what sales leaders should focus on when measuring performance.

During his 36 seasons the UNC basketball coach (from 1961 to 1997) Dean Smith amassed a record of 879 wins and 254 losses.  His Tar Heel teams made it to 11 Final Four appearances and won National Championships in 1982 and 1993.  He had great players come through his program and he coached them to work together as a TEAM. 

Courtesy of NY Times

One of the ways he did this was by creating a team scoring system that awarded points for making the right play, the best-possible-play in the situation, instead of the end result.  It also subtracted points for making the wrong play for the situation (regardless of the end result).  So if James Worthy took a beautiful 10-foot jumper and made the shot instead of passing the ball to an open Michael Jordan who had a better shot, in Coach Smith’s scoring system Worthy would get a negative score (even though he made the basket).  And if instead he passed the ball and somehow Jordan missed the shot, Worthy would get a positive score for making the right play (even though no points were scored). 

Focusing on the right activities, within a clear system, with a common goal and where everyone understands their role and expected contributions, drives results.  For Dean Smith that meant accumulating 879 wins, 11 Final Fours and two national championships.

We see sales managers focusing on results instead of the right activities all the time.  It’s part of what frustrates managers who have a team of Lone Wolves (in the Challenger Sales model) because while sales people with this profile put up impressive numbers, they all do their own thing and want to be left alone.  They don’t work well with others.  They don’t like to fit within a system.  Dean Smith didn’t tolerate lone wolves.  If you played for UNC during his tenure you followed his system or you were gone.

If you want to build a predictable, repeatable, scalable sales engine to drive growth at your company, have your sales leaders turn their focus to the activities that drive results.  Instead of having your sales leaders focus on results (closed deals) with their team, challenge them to focus on activities earlier in the sales process that should drive those closings (and I’m sure there are enough people in your company tracking closed deals!).  And while the activities that lead to closed deals will vary from company to company, typical activities to monitor might include:

  • Net new meetings per week/month with qualified prospects (frequency will vary based on the length of your sales cycle)

  • Compelling reasons identified during discovery conversations

  • Quantification of those compelling reasons (both time and money impacts)

  • Learning how and why the prospect will buy

  • Understanding the buying landscape (know all the players and the influence do they have)

  • Identifying the budget and timeline for a decision

  • Disqualifying low-probability opportunities

  • Maintaining proper balance in their opportunity pipeline (by stage, by deal size, by offering, etc.)

  • And so on….

When your sales leaders move the focus to activities earlier in the pipeline and give positive feedback for making “the right play” in that situation regardless of whether or not they “got the sale,” results and consistency will improve.  Sales forecasting accuracy will improve.  Revenue will grow.  Your leadership team will have more confidence in the sales forecast.  Ask your sales managers to focus on making the right play and your sales team will start to score more baskets (closed sales).

My sympathies go out to all of Dean Smith’s family and friends, as well as to all of my North Carolina friends who are mourning this loss.  Go Tar Heels!

Coaching Rhythm and Texting While Driving

My last post talked about the challenges of teaching my middle daughter, who recently got her learners permit, to drive safely.  We compared teaching safe driving to the importance of consistent sales coaching and the types of conversations that should happen with regularity and consistency between your sales leaders and sales team.  For this post I want to continue in the theme of safe driving and sales coaching.  My oldest daughter has been driving for a few years now and we recently had a conversation about texting while driving.  The data is overwhelming.  Here’s an infographic I found on this topic:

Texting and Driving

When you think about how little time it takes to travel the length of a football field while looking at your phone – and all the bad things that can happen while you’re distracted – it’s hardly surprising that so many accidents happen as a result of texting and driving.

So what is the connection to sales coaching?  In our sales consulting practice we recommend sales leaders establish a regular rhythm of coaching conversations with everyone on their team.  Ideally these should happen weekly and biweekly at an absolute minimum.  I can already hear sales managers groaning as they read that last sentence and thinking “when am I supposed to fit that into my already full schedule?”  Well, think of scheduling regular, structured, formal weekly coaching sessions with everyone on the sales team as the same as looking forward and paying close attention while driving down the highway.

Would you like your team to avoid big, spectacular sales crashes?  Ask your sales leaders to look forward on a regular basis.  Challenge them to ask questions on a regular basis.  Ask them to observe (and share) patterns and trends in the market on a regular basis.  Ask them to observe (and share) patterns, trends, bad habits, and self-limiting beliefs from your sales team on a regular basis.  Challenge them to engage in role play on a regular basis (most sales managers will resist this at first because most are really bad at it).  In short, make sure your sales leaders coach your sales people on a regular basis so they can stay ahead of all the subtle nuances and changes in your sales pipeline, allowing them to make minor smooth corrections rather than sudden shifts and dramatic changes.

As CEO what can you do?  How often are you coaching your sales leaders?  When you talk with them, are you simply going through a tactical review of the pipeline?  Are you asking the right questions?  Are you leveraging the market feedback your sales team can provide in real time?  Do you see patterns in where your sales leaders are focused?  Are they focused on the right things?  The right activities?  The right people on their team?  What would happen to your sales culture if you lead by example and coached your sales leaders as you expect them to coach your sales people?

Not sure where to start?  We can help.  We start by helping you understand the relative strengths and weaknesses of your sales leaders.  How do they measure up in terms of their coaching skill set?  How about the skills required to create a culture of accountability?  Motivating the team?  Attracting and retaining A-player sales talent (A-players won’t work for B-managers)?  Growing the team?  How about your sales people?  Are they capable of growth?  How much?  Where do they need help?  What self-limiting beliefs get in their way?  Are they coachable?  If you invested in their professional development would it be worth it?  How long would it take you to realize a return on your training investment? 

We can help you understand these and many other important questions with our Sales Effectiveness & Improvement Analysis.  We’ll be glad to send you a sample and discuss whether or not this would be a good next step for growing your revenue.  Or you could just keep your eyes down and hope you don’t crash.  It’s up to you.

For more information on how we can help Optimize Your Sales Team - click Here.

 

Why Managers Struggle When Holding People Accountable

Now That's AccountabilityCreating a “Culture of Accountability” is the cornerstone of building an over-achieving sales team.  And really it’s fundamental to building over-achieving teams in general.  As a CEO, President, or Business Owner you probably understand this and chances are most of your leadership team understand this concept as well.  And yet, many sales managers (and managers in general) struggle when it comes to holding their people accountable.  Why is that?

Here are five issues and barriers we have observed through our consulting practice over the years.  There are many more we could list, but this will give you a good place to start if a lack of accountability has been a challenge in your organization.  How many of these apply to your managers? 

Unclear Goals

If your managers don’t have a clear line of sight to your company’s goals and a clear understanding of what their team needs to do to help achieve them, how can they possibly hold their team accountable to the daily activities and behaviors that will get you there?

No Coaching Rhythm

We recommend sales managers hold a regularly scheduled “formal” coaching meeting at least every two weeks (weekly is better).  This is in addition to all the “informal” coaching conversations that happen around the office or driving back from a joint sales call.  Without a regular coaching rhythm where your sales manager and each individual sales person review progress toward the goals, activities driving the goals, as well as potential barriers and challenges getting in the way, it’s very difficult to hold people accountable and keep them on track.

Too Much Complaining

There are a couple of ways to look at this issue.  In some cases, your sales manager is the whiner (“we don’t have enough resources….operations is letting us down….the competition is killing us in a price war….” and on and on).  In other cases, they are too sympathetic and tolerant of the whining and excuses they hear from their team.  When someone on their team is complaining about a challenge they have, strong managers ask questions (“What can you do to change the situation?” or “Are you telling me this because you want me to do something or are you just letting off steam so you can focus on solving it yourself?”).  Most managers join in and simply add gasoline to the fire.

Too Friendly

While it’s important that your sales managers build a strong rapport with their team and establish a high level of trust, many managers go too far and become too “buddy-buddy” with the people on their team.  Or worse, they become buddy-buddy with some members of the team but not all.  When that happens they start treating people differently and it breeds tremendous resentment across the team.  The key is to establish clear goals, review them regularly, stop accepting excuses, and manage agreements about what needs to happen each week/month to reach the goals.

Too Aloof

Some managers go too far the other way.  They don’t invest the time in getting to know each team member, what their goals are (both business and personal goals), and they really don’t know them as people.  These managers become unapproachable and come across as inauthentic when they try to be friendly.  When your managers can get to know the personal goals of each member of their team and help them see your company as the means through which they can reach that goal, it becomes much easier to hold team members accountable to the daily/weekly/monthly activities need to reach their goals (both business and personal).

Which of these examples rings true to you?  CEO Coaching Tip:  select one for each of your direct reports and during your next one-on-one discuss your perspective on how it is impacting their ability to hold their people accountable and ask them what would happen if they focused on getting better in that particular area.  Alternatively, if you see something on the list that applies to all (or most) of your managers, discuss it during your next leadership team meeting.  What would happen to your results if you focused on these barriers to creating a culture of accountability?  When will you start?

Planning For 2014: 5 Things CEOs Must Focus On To Improve Sales

Sales Team

It’s the time of year when we take stock of where we are, and make plans for where we want to go. What went well in your business in 2013? What didn’t go so well (or “needs improvement” as some people like to say)?

As you create a sales plan for 2014, and map out where you would like your business to go, consider some specific things you can do to improve sales productivity. Here are five (5) objectives we suggest you consider.  Whether you select one of these or come up with a sales improvement plan of your own, pick at least one area to focus on in 2014 and stick with it for the next four quarters.

1.  Face the brutal truth

In Good to Great and the many subsequent books resulting from his research on what makes companies great, Jim Collins notes that the first step to being a great company is to face the brutal truth. 

In our opinion, the single most impactful investment a CEO or business owner can make in their sales organization is to conduct a comprehensive Sales Effectiveness and Improvement Analysis from Objective Management Group.If you are serious 

Sales Effectiveness Analysisabout making significant progress this year in terms of growing revenue, improving margins, building a predictable sales process, shortening your sales cycle, closing more business, and developing your people, investing in a detailed analysis of your people, systems, and strategies should be your first step (link to sample SEIA report landing page).

2. Focus on your sales pipeline

Your sales pipeline is the single most accurate forecast of incoming revenue in your company.  Your management team should review it regularly and make adjustments accordingly.  Your operations manager must use your sales pipeline as a guide to adjusting capacity requirements.  Your Chief Financial Officer should use your sales pipeline as a guide for making strategic investments and managing cash flow more effectively. 

In fact, everyone on your management team should look at your sales pipeline and gain confidence.  Most companies don’t use their sales pipeline this way because it is usually a joke your sales manager tries to defend and justify at management meetings.  What would happen if you had a reliable sales pipeline your leaders could count on?

3. Commit to coaching

Your sales managers should spend about 50% of their time directly coaching your sales people.  It is the only way your sales people will make consistent improvements so that every week, every month, and every quarter you will be able to look at the behaviors and activities across your sales organization and say “Yes, we’re clearly getting better.  We’re having better conversations.  We’re getting into better opportunities.  We are winning business more consistently because our proposals are better qualified.  We are selling better work at higher margins.  We are improving customer satisfaction.  We have better communications from our sales team to the rest of the organization.”  To be able to say these things you need to commit to a consistent and rigorous coaching routine.

4. Hire stronger sales talent

Upgrading your sales talent can be a growth strategy.  How many people on your sales team would you enthusiastically rehire?  Who are the mediocre performers on your team that you tolerate because you don’t want to make a change?  What is your plan for these B and C-players?  Can you develop them?  Coach them?  Put them in a position better suited for their skills?  What would happen if you committed to an A-Player-only hiring strategy?  Perhaps this is the year to make that happen.

5. Narrow your market focus

Sometimes we just take the work our sales people can sell instead of being focused and disciplined around selling to accounts that best fit our model. 

Who are your best accounts?  The idea of “best” could mean most profitable, easiest to work with, most strategic potential, deepest relationship, or many other factors.  What would happen to your business if your entire account base was comprised of customers who really fit what you do?  Who are the customers that take up disproportionate resources?  Can you adjust your pricing to encourage them to leave (freeing up valuable resources for customers who are a better fit)?  Looking at your sales pipeline, are your sales people targeting the right types of accounts and are they having conversations at the right level?  Or are they just taking whatever they can get?  What would your company look like 12 months from now if you narrowed your market focus and aligned your sales organization around the accounts that best fit your operation?

Make it a priority to clearly define what your ideal account looks like, and include it in your entire sales process.

Where does your sales team “need improvement” this year? Let us know which one you picked and we’ll check in with you in 90 days to make sure you are sticking with it!