Jim was surprised that the client had not replied to his emails in several weeks. His manager was asking for updates on his pipeline during their regular one-on-one meeting. “I reached out twice and have heard nothing”, Jim explained. “I suppose they just aren’t in a position to make a decision at this time”.
“So, what do you think is stopping them from making a decision?” Jim’s manager asked.
“Well”, he began to explain, “I did everything by the book. My part of the presentation was great and the client seemed impressed but, on reflection, I think the support team got it wrong! I am not sure the solution our team created is what the client wanted.”
“Maybe” responded the manager. “Anyway, you win some, you lose some I suppose. I will have a word with the sales support team and let them know that we did everything right so they really need to offer better support in the future. What else is in your pipeline?”
Jim then moved on to his next pipeline item and his manager continued to listen intently.
This is, all too often, a familiar conversation where a sales manager asks for regular updates, gets the information but takes no accountability for the outcome. Jim was passing blame onto everyone else except himself; his manager was not taking any form of responsibility; and Jim was not being coached effectively on how to manage the loss of opportunities in a constructive and effective manner.
Accountability starts with sales management
Sales manages must be accountable in order to instill a high level of accountability amongst their team. In the example above, neither Jim nor his manager took responsibility for the outcome.
Here are four tactics that you can employ to make sure that you, as a manager, are taking accountability for the performance of your sales team and instilling a sense of accountability in every sales professional on your team:
1. Balance expectations and results
As sales managers, we set sales targets and goals and we define metrics to help measure results and productivity (e.g. number of calls, meetings, proposals sent, revenue etc.) and expect our team to be accountable. However, accountability starts further upstream.
Each member of your team must have the right mindset, attitude and behavior to be successful. Leading by example will set your expectation of what success looks like. Find balancing in your coaching by focusing on both how they are showing up and executing their goals will drive increased accountability.
2. Create a proscenium arch
In a theater, the proscenium arch is the dividing line between the actors and the audience. In theory, neither party should cross that line to enter the realm of the other. This means that while we, as the audience, get to experience and witness the lives of the characters on the stage and begin to feel very connected to them. However, those characters never enter our lives by crossing over that proscenium arch.
What this means for you as a sales manager is that as much as you become part of your team, there still needs to be an invisible line between you and your team members. Maintain your emotional balance in order to make sure that you can hold every member of your team accountable for their actions without having your friendship with them prevent you from having difficult conversations and coaching sessions.
3. Become a submariner
On a submarine, when a command is given, it is repeated several times. For example, the officer on deck says, "Set course 180 degrees”. The helmsman replies "Course 180 degrees”. Once the ship is on this heading the helmsman says, " On course 180 degrees" and the officer on deck will repeat "180 degrees aye”. The point of this constant feedback loop prevents errors.
As a sales manager, you can drive accountability by creating a similar feedback loop. When you are setting expectations, discussing activities, setting goals for the week, and addressing any team issues, make sure that what your team member is hearing is actually what you are saying. So, become a submariner and get your team to summarize and confirm what you have said so that they are accountable for hearing what you have been saying and not just politely listening.
4. Always be the captain
On a commercial aircraft, there are two pilots, the captain and the first-officer. They take turns in flying the aircraft and when one is flying, he/she is known as the “pilot flying” and the other is known as the “pilot monitoring”. When the first officer is the designated pilot flying for that leg, the captain becomes the pilot monitoring, i.e. assisting the pilot flying and managing communications with air traffic control. However, at no stage is the captain never the captain. He/she still has ultimate responsibility for the flight and if the pilot flying makes a mistake, the captain takes the responsibility.
As a sales manager, if your sales team does not succeed, the ultimate responsibility rests with you. While they may have authority to make decisions and create strategies, you are always the captain, and ultimately responsible for the outcome of these decisions and strategies.
What are you doing to ensure your team succeeds?