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Create an Accountability Sales Culture

September 28, 2014

I recently read Accountability: The Key to Driving a High Performance Culture by Greg Bustin and it reminded me how the lack of accountability can be the single greatest obstacle for sales people achieving their goals.

Offering salespeople commissions based on revenue is not enough to make them accountable.  This becomes evident when you see sales people blame everybody in the organization except themselves for not making a sale.    Our society thrives on blaming someone else, so it’s only natural that sales people do the same thing.  Just look at our political system, and see how everyone blames someone else for a mess.

The truth is accountability starts with management and a sense of purpose.  Your sales people will never be self-accountable until you communicate to them the company values, objective, strategy, and rewards and get their buy-in.

I worked for German companies for 17 years.  In general, these companies did not share the sales and marketing culture that we have in the USA.  However, they had a very high degree of accountability.   At times we would have very strong discussions on what strategies and actions to take to move forward.  And when we agreed on an action to do in a certain time period and it was written, we had better have it copleted.  That company grew from 0 to $40,000,000 in ten years.  Accountability was the key to driving a high performance culture.

Accountability Starts with a Purpose

In a previous video and blog I emphasized a  Look in the Mirror.  Two of the hardest questions any of us will ever answer are “Who am I” and “What do I want?”  As a business owner managing sales or a sales manager, you must answer these questions before you can implement a plan to hold your sales people accountable.  WHY?  You want people around you that have the same purpose as you. So you first have to know what your purpose is.   Then you can better probe your sales people to find out what their purpose is.  Is it only the money, or is there something else that drives them?   Find a way to align their purpose with your purpose.

Hire Accountability over Experience

It is very clear that you have to hire sales people who not only share your values, but are willing to be held accountable.  Be sure you are asking questions in the hiring process that will uncover a sales person’s accountability and values.  Are you just hiring candidates because of experience and then firing them six months later because they did not share in your values and culture?

Measure Key Performance Indicators and Reputation

Sales results are relatively easyto measure and holding salespeople accountable to sales results seems simple.  However, are you measuring the right indicators that will drive performance and preserve the company reputation in the marketplace?  Warren Buffet once said, “We can afford to lose money – even a lot of money.  We cannot afford to lose reputation – even a shred of reputation.”  It is incredibly difficult to make sales people adhere to the culture when their commissions are based on revenue alone.  The company reputation is being formed by management’s ability or inability to live up to your promises inside and outside your organization.  How are you going to compensate them differently to make them accountable to your culture and values and keep the company’s reputation intact?

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Instill a Sense of Urgency and Follow-up

It’s interesting when I speak with business owners and sales managers that are truly upset with sales people that have a great sense of urgency.  It truly can be painful to deal with these sales people when their urgency is not very well directed, or they have not done a good job of qualifying the prospect.  Turning off a sales person’s sense of urgency is a huge mistake.  Redirecting urgency is a great way to make things happen.  The sales person’s job is a real dilemma.  On one hand they should be absolute demons in following up, and getting people internally to respond.  On the other hand who likes dealing with people when everything is urgent?  Look at improving your processes so that the urgent becomes normal.

Confront Underperformance

So many managers avoid the conversation for underperformance or wait too long to react to under performance.  To improve accountability you must react immediately when there is a situation.  Don’t wait for a yearly performance review.  Coach your salespeople on how to improve.  Do not allow them to blame everyone else without them admitting some accountability for the situation.  The result will be no surprises at review time, and I guarantee higher performance.

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