One message I have always been careful to deliver to my employees is that complaining about work is not the same as being productive at work. One might find, with a group of like-minded colleagues, a willing audience to discuss things that could be improved. We have all worked someplace where we have encountered bureaucratic headaches, difficult team-members, unfulfilling career paths, and perceived lack of executive vision. Talking about these things can feel encouraging and allow one to walk away feeling like something has gotten done. But it is important to remember that in truth, nothing has been done. The discussion may feel good, but it is not the same as implementing a solution, increasing revenue, or decreasing costs.
Worse yet, when employees feel that this behavior is productive, they tend to do it more and encourage it in others. This increases the amount of complaining, decreases the amount of work accomplished, and results in a downward spiral of productivity and ultimately morale.
It is a manager’s job to prevent this from happening. The first thing one can do is promote an open-door policy. That is to say that the door is always open to criticism, ideas for improvement, and career concerns. Transparency is always a positive thing, and very often ideas are spot on and come with justifications that can help raise them up the flagpole. Secondly, it is important to remind employees that complaining about things to other employees before they have been elevated to those who can act upon them is not only unproductive, but it is unacceptable. This may sound harsh, but it is not. Every company has the responsibility to control its own culture. Organizations have the same right to forbid employer-focused complaining as they do to prevent sexually harassing speech.
But that authority does not have to lead to an authoritarian relationship. When employees know that the things that bug them, the things they want to improve, and their ideas for a better workplace are landing on the welcome ears of an interested manager, the need to complain at the water cooler will be naturally mitigated.
In this series, we have been talking about getting the most out of your sales team by establishing common goals, directing all things that have an impact in the same direction, and holding everyone accountable. In this segment, I am going to list how these tools can be used on a daily and weekly basis to affect behavior in the desired direction. These are just examples, and you should riff on them in your own way. The important thing is to remain consistent in communication and action. If there is a shared goal out there, do everything in your power to make it known and to get your team to reach it. Oh, and you haven’t established your shared goal, then you aren’t doing your job.
Clearly define and publish the company objective – the shared common goal.
Management needs to talk about the shared objective at every opportunity.
Set expectations that individual effort on this goal is expected every week
In weekly sales meeting, openly ask each salesperson if they have made progress and expect a “yes”
Be prepared to set activity quotas around the goal
Recognize that sometimes salespersons are going to make up stuff to fulfill the request – and that’s OK. Everyone recognizes BS when they hear it, and that awkwardness that follows is an incentive to try harder next week. But no one will know if the question isn’t asked. So, ask the questions and suffer the awkward.
Establish honest dialog with everyone regarding the quality of their efforts – call BS when appropriate.
Kindly draw attention to failings and work with the individual to avoid them in the future
Congratulate BDMs who find great new prospects early
Ask the successful BDMs to share how they are succeeding and use that to train
Make sure all obstacles to this goal are being removed – remove friction from the sales process. If the salesman’s credo is ABC, the sales manager’s is ABRF (always be removing friction).
Make sure responsibility comes with authority. Empower your salespeople to negotiate on their own. Ensure they know the product and pricing parameters. It is often good for a process to say, “I have gone as low as I can, but I want to make this work so let me see if I can get my manager on board.” But it is bad for the process when the client feels the salesperson doesn’t have the authority to negotiate to a close. It’s a subtle difference.
Purchase the tools they need to allow them to hit their objectives. If you have a lot of SKUs, purchase and configure a pricing tool from your CRM provider (back to ABRF). If your team need leads, research lead sources, and buy the list most likely to bear fruit.
Let them control their method, but always be available to assist
Hold them accountable
Help your sales team expand their network. There are always more prospective clients to meet. Let them use your person network, or encourage them to join new clubs, groups, or join a charity board.
And everything else you can think of! When shared objectives are clear, identifying ROI on an investment that furthers that goal is an easy task. Spend what you need, support your team, hold them accountable, and keep all the guns pointed in the same direction. If the shared goal is achievable, this is the best, fastest, and most positive way to reach it.
I hope you have enjoyed this post. Make sure you read the ones that accompany it, and please use the comments to tell me what you think or to share your experiences.
In this series, we have been talking about getting the most out of your sales team by directing all things that have an impact in the same direction. But it is also important to know what is not in our control and not waste energy or sleep over it. Broadly speaking, things outside of our control, belong internally to a person and are developed and influenced outside of the organization. Here are my top five.
Feelings: Everyone is responsible for their own feelings. Some people are more susceptible than others to outside stimulus, but there is no standard. You as a manager should not worry whether a team member is happy, sad, angry or remorseful. Your job is to deliver information honestly and treat them fairly. Furthermore, sometimes people are not happy in general. That doesn’t mean they can’t be a great at sales. A top producer can be going through a divorce and still be excellent at opening doors and closing. As managers, we want everyone on our team to find their happiness, but that is out of our control and not something to worry about.
Productivity: Some folks are super productive, and some aren’t. You will always have a spectrum on your team. Productivity tools may improve everyone’s performance, but they will not eliminate the gap between the most and least productive. As they say, a rising tide raises all boats.
Motivation: As with productivity, some people are motivated, and some aren’t. Sometimes motivated people go through periods when they are not motivated. You never know what is going on in a team members head. What you do know however is that if you are honest with them, set their goals fairly, and give them eth tools they need, they will get there or suffer the consequences.
Philosophy: As I mentioned above, you can’t get into your team members’ heads, and you certainly can’t change what’s there. So don’t even try. You can lead by example, you can make sure they have what they need, but the way they think about sales is up to them.
The ability to mind read: Manager’s simply cannot hold people accountable for things that are not articulated clearly. If you aren’t getting what you want, ask yourself if your requests have been delivered in precise, honest language.
An important note: The one-time sales managers do have control over these things is during the hiring process. In an interview we can search for those who think the way we want and pass on those who think differently. So, make sure you identify the traits you value and craft interview questions that will shed light on personality traits important to you and your organization. This is a good time to review your company’s Core Values.
I hope you have enjoyed this post. Make sure you read the ones that accompany it, and please use the comments to tell me what you think or to share your experiences. In tomorrow’s post, the final in this series, I will share examples of putting all these tools into practice.
Core values are the most powerful tools in your belt
In this series, we are talking about getting the most out of your sales team by establishing common goals, pointing all things that have an impact in the same direction, and holding everyone accountable. But when we talk about everything pointing in the same direction, a few of the things in our control have special significance. These are your most powerful tools.
Shared goals. They can take many forms including account growth, retention, speed of closing, and new business development. I liken these to the Eiffel tower, a destination in the distance that we can always lift our head up and see to ensure we are heading in the right direction. But they are also powerful motivating tools. We all know that sales guys are competitive and will strive to maximize their performance. However, what makes a professional athlete happier, achieving his personal best or winning the championship. Andre Dawson won the MVP in 1989 while playing for the last place Cubs, but he would trade that award for a World Series Ring in a heartbeat. Fortunately, being part of a team chasing a shared objective allows individuals to follow their personal interest and participate in the excitement of team victories.
Honesty as a Core Value. When you are not honest with your staff, they know immediately, and they create a narrative as to why you are lying. These explanations often veer towards the extreme and lead to speculation about impending lay-offs, interpersonal affairs or loathing, or illegal activities. Always answer honestly, and if there is something that is proprietary to the executive team, just say that isn’t something we are talking about right now if asked.
Consistency. Advancing from a manager to a leader is hard and one of the things it requires is consistency of message. All the things I talked about yesterday (concepts) and will talk about on Friday (examples) need to be done every day – and many times every day. If there is a shared common goal (and there always should be), it should lead and end every discussion you have with your team. You will hold your people accountable if you want to succeed, but you will also do it all the time – privately and in front of the team. Everyone must know that what you expect of them is the same thing they can expect of their peers.
I am a big fan of Core Values having experienced how powerful they are when brought to a team that was working without them and over time I may add to this list.
I hope you have enjoyed this post. Make sure you read the ones that accompany it, and please use the comments to tell me what you think or to share your experiences. In tomorrow’s post, I will talk about the pitfalls managers encounter when they try to control things over which they haven’t any power.
Getting the most out of a sales team can be a struggle. Even the best salespeople struggle to open doors even when qualified leads are presented. And management teams know that successfully incenting behavioral changes can be an elusive goal. Still some teams seem to get it right, and those that do almost always follow the same two simple principles.
They ensure that BDMs have all the tools required to be successful
They hold each salesperson responsible for the achievement of assigned goals
We all understand the concept of accountability, even if sometimes we have a hard time delivering on it. But what on earth is “tools required”? It’s more than a CRM, or an targeted comp structure but those things are on the list. The actual list of tools required is EVERYTHING we, as managers, have at our disposal to influence behavior in a desired direction. And when all are lined up, behavior is guided salespersons are better prepared, and holding people accountable becomes much easier.
What is in our control?
The list of everything can be long, but here is the top dozen:
Shared Common Goals – the single most powerful tool at a manager’s disposal. More on this later.
Compensation – a program which favors the behavior we desire and penalizes all others.
Incentives – perks which support the behavior we desire in a nonmonetary way.
Reprimands – pointing out (privately for god’s sake) when an employee does not live up to expectations.
Culture – one that is psychologically safe and encourages sharing and ideation. It is the size of the pie that matters, not the size of the slice! When the pie grows, everyone’s slice can grow also.
Training – Ensuring the team has all the skills needed to hit their goals.
Process – process removes confusion from sales and allows greater focus on the relationship.
Tools – CRMs, Pricing tools, technology, fashion consultants – whatever they need to maximize their efficiency and eliminate friction.
Performance measurement – count everything and show it over time and relative to success.
Core values – This is 50% of why people stay or leave. The trinity of Trust, Honesty, and Accountability is a good start. More on this tomorrow.
Reinforcement – When someone does a great job, let it be known!
Expectations – Salespeople will pursue exactly the goals they are given. When management is clear and desired numbers are written, incentives align.
If the world wants the product you sell, and all guns are pointing in the same direction, the team will hit its target.
I hope you have enjoyed this post. Make sure you read the ones that accompany it, and please use the comments to tell me what you think or to share your experiences. In tomorrow’s post, I will talk about a couple of the items on this list that have significant power.
They say that embarrassment requires an audience. And it’s true. If no one sees something there is no reason to feel embarrassed about it. We can all re-imagine the horror of tripping in the lunchroom, tray aflying – even if we never actually did it. But envision the same thing happening alone at home. It may be frustrating and an ugly mess, but it is not embarrassing.
Now imagine – in either case – someone rushing to your assistance. Someone who helps you up and makes sure the mess is righted. A friend who knows you so well, that their reaction is compassion not schadenfreude. Someone who knows this shit happens to everyone but genuinely feels bad that it happened to you this time.
We need these people. We need friends with whom we can share everything. Not just the awesome, but also the awful, ridiculous, and gross. These are the people who can see us stumble and not illicit our embarrassment. These are the Not Audience.
Our not audiences can help us when we set ourselves on a difficult life journey. If we need to lose weight, go through rehab, kick an illness, or mourn a loved one, having a not audience can make the difference between getting it done and failing. We don’t just tell these people about all the awful shit we are dealing with. They make us feel stronger for having shared it. they remove the obstacles in their control. They lend their ears, their arms, and their shoulders so that we may struggle through, be stronger, and succeed.
Tasks in life are often too big for one person. Our need for help can not be undone by our fear of being embarrassed. That is why we need our not audience.
I am a white male who was raised in a middle-class subdivision and a nice house. We had a sledding hill in our front yard with a wide oak tree at the bottom that – as legend has it – was standing there when Ulysses S. Grant traveled the Stagecoach Trail on his way to Galena in the 1860s. The town was Rockford Illinois, a place where no one visits, and no one leaves. We had a train station there once, but it closed. Then we lost our bus station too. Rockford in the seventies was a town where residents grew up thinking that the big city – even one as close as Chicago – wasn’t for us. Where people thought airplanes were for fancier types, and international travel was, well, not even invited into our imagination.
I was entitled to be raised by a single mother. My father had never been one long for employment, and so when he left, my mother was left with no prospects, no alimony, and no child support. Still, she was entitled to the “American Dream” and she vowed to keep that house. It was the foundation of what was left of our small family. Towards that goal she worked multiple jobs while going to school in pursuit of a teaching certificate.
I was entitled to have a mother who turned out to be a great public-school teacher. She was loved by her students and her parents. Yet, every fall she suffered through strikes or pink slips. Once at the end of a RPS strike, she inadvertently crossed a picket line to get her classroom ready for her returning students. That afternoon she found her tires slashed in the school parking-lot. The cruelties and challenges she suffered on my behalf are almost too much to consider.
In junior high school I was entitled to receive free lunches from taxpayers. Free-lunch kids had a special line that snaked through the lunchroom at the busiest time of the day. Those better off heckled from their seats and threw uneaten food at us – alms that not even the poor wanted. Cheers went up for face shots and extra points were given for making one of us cry. I stopped eating lunches and was entitled to have a school library where I could pass that 45 minutes for the next two years.
When I was in high school, I was entitled to become a hoodlum like my peers or get a job. My mother helped me with that decision. Now, this was Rockford Illinois, the most depressed city in the country. Minimum wage was $3.35 but with unemployment over 20%, minimum wage was a king’s salary. I took a job washing dishes for $2 an hour working weekend nights from 8:00pm until 4:00am. I was 14. I would go home at the end of the shift with $16-cash in my pocket. On school nights I could go home at midnight.
I am grateful to have been entitled to leave Rockford – alive. My first friend to die was my childhood best friend, Paul Ogilvy, who died of cancer at age 21. Jim Roberts who lived across the street from him followed soon after with a shotgun in his mouth. My dear friend Debby Warden was a drunk driving casualty as was Renee Ring and Glen Nichols. There were a couple others too. Oh, and we should not forget poor Tammy Tracy, sister to my first-grade bestie, Darren. Her teenage body was found in a cornfield. All this before I was 21.
I was accepted to the University of Chicago where I was entitled to get my ass kicked and make the best friends a fella can make. My mother couldn’t pay for it, so I got through by “beg, borrow, or steal” – which really means borrowing and working hard. School was difficult, and I joked, I was fired from more restaurants than my classmates had eaten in. It took me an extra year, but I made it through.
After college. I was entitled to find a job, quit, and find a better one. Then I was fired from that job and found a better one anyways. But then, I quit that one and finally found an opportunity in which I believed. I was offered the opportunity to invest, and I was entitled to risk everything I had (and everything I could borrow). I took a speculator leap knowing that if it failed, that burden was no one’s but mine.
But it didn’t fail. And with financial success came a generous life with my wife, my family, and my community. I was entitled to enter semi-retirement, get involved with charities, help in a meaningful way, and make gifts larger than I ever would have thought possible. I take great pride in knowing that I have made a positive difference in the people’s lives.
As my children aged and needed me less, I found myself desiring to return to the corporate world. I missed the camaraderie and shared goals of working as part of a team. But finding a job did not come easily, and I readily saw how dispassionate hiring managers can be. As a male in my late 40s who had not worked in more than a decade, I suffered intentional bias, unintentional bias, ageism, and sexism – all the while reminding myself that every obstacle was surmountable. After many years of learning how to get around those people, I finally landed a great job where I am using all my entitlement to make a positive impact on culture, efficiency, and revenue. It is from there that I write this post today.
Like many who succeed, I have been entitled my whole life. I have been entitled keep a positive attitude. I have been entitled to show compassion learned from hardship. And most importantly I have been entitled to believe we are entitled to something better than the lot we were given.
So yup, I’m entitled. And even if I’m not, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.