For a moment, think about it. You are a sales leader. It doesn’t matter how big your company is. It doesn’t matter what product or service you sell. It doesn’t really matter what your competition is selling. Price or margins do not matter. This question is about sales behavior, culture, and communication.
An old saying goes: “What I don’t know will not hurt me,” is an old expression. Personally, I hate this phrase and see it as an excuse, not a reason why things are they are. Action, results, and accountability are only possible with awareness. First, one must desire to “know” but also accept the possibility that he/she may not be able to know all.
In all my years working in sales, I’ve seen the full spectrum of what makes a great sales organization. And what’s missing in organizations that aren’t so good. Nearly all the cases I encounter are filled with excuses, not reasons. When all the talk is over, and the dust has settled, the fundamental question remains: How visible is your sales effort, which is crucial to business success? Are salespeople held accountable for the effort they put in and the results that result? Are you able to rely on the information you receive that results in accurate and sustainable revenue?
Let’s take a look at these three critical success factors, one by one.
This is the ability to see what’s happening in every phase or aspect of the sales process. There aren’t many salespeople in any organization that doesn’t keep an eye on prospect churn and close clients. Why? This is the way the sales rep manages bosses’ expectations. They prefer to delight than disappoint. He or she is made heroes by an unexpected win. Is it right for the boss to be happy about a lucky win? This answer is categorical NO! This is only one example of visibility. A complete pipeline can also be maintained and communicated by each performer. A pipeline report does not only show the best chance of closing with the top prospects. It should cover the good, bad and ugly. What other way can one manage individual performance than this? It is not a bad idea to have people who put in a lot of effort but aren’t as successful be known beyond their boss. Visibility such as this leads to the next component…accountability. We’ll get to that in a moment. In summary, visibility requires standard processes, standard rules, and standard measures/expectations for success. All information must be clearly communicated to all and understood by everyone. There are no exceptions. Breaking or bending the rules could result in adverse monetary action or formal disciplinary action.
How often have you seen a sales leader with a pipeline that was full to the brim, who was likely to close forecasts, but then suddenly there was nothing at month-end? These people are self-proclaimed experts in the art of selling, are constantly trained, and are so busy that it’s impossible to stop them even for a minute. These people believe success can be measured by inactivity, not by results. These people are familiar with sales organizations and can be challenging to deal with. There are always excuses for why close projects didn’t happen. There is always the next entry in your pipeline, which will be close. This is a common problem, but there is a simple explanation. This individual is not accountable for the actions taken in order to fulfill the role. This includes closing a business and generating revenue. Period. The root causes can be anything from a lack of communication and understanding of goals to excessive salaries to management complacency or lack of feedback. You could go on. Attracting and retaining top-performing salespeople is crucial to success in sales. This is because they know what to expect and can sign up for that expectation. They know that if they don’t live up to their commitment, it is not a job. Each of us, as sales leaders, has the responsibility to communicate clearly and reinforce the expectations of every salesperson, including the upsides and downsides. We also need to provide the support that they require to succeed. A sales organization that doesn’t hold its members 100% responsible is doomed not only to fail but also to be a constant expense drain and have little to show for their efforts.
Imagine a world where every sales projection was 100% accurate 100% of the time! Unfortunately, this scenario is not possible. It is difficult to forecast accurately in these economic times. What is the reasonable percentage of actual to projected close? I have seen closings as low as 10% and as high as 66%. It’s not about the number but how you can trust your sales team. You want this figure to be as high as possible. Predictability in sales can be seen as a result of previous discussions about accountability and visibility.
You can have a visible, accountable, and predictable sales organization by establishing process, structure, and discipline.