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Why Aren't Your Sales People Selling?

Tony Cole

Tony Cole

Tony Cole, Founder and CEO of Anthony Cole Training Group


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Coaching Sales People & Raising The Bar


     At Anthony Cole Training Group, we perform a sales team evaluation before we begin working with a group.  The findings provide everyone - the sales executives, the individual sales people and us - with actionable insights as to “why” the sales team functions the way it does.  Additionally, the Impact Analysis (findings) gives us a guide as to what can and should be done to improve sales outcomes with the right sales leadership, management systems and process. Over the years, we have identified at least two “musts”:  1) Any organization looking to improve the sales effectiveness of its sales group MUST identify, up front, what the problems, challenges, weaknesses, strengths and skills are of their sales group before investing any time, money or resources and 2) The company MUST have great sales management.

You will notice that I didn’t say that a company MUST have a great sales manager, although I do believe that most companies perform better with the right person in a sales management role. Developing the full potential of a sales team is a full-time job predominantly focused on 5 very specific management functions which requires about 80% of their time. Since the sales manager and sales people work closely together to attain yearly goals, it is a benefit to have  a consistent, accessible person in that role. 

5 Steps

The 5 functions required of a sales manager are:  Coaching, Performance Management, Recruiting, Mentoring and Motivation.  Our evaluation findings indicate that the most prominent function is Performance Management -  the ability to set goals, inspect actual performance against goal, eliminate excuses for lack of performance, reward success and implement discipline when there is failure to perform.  I see this as the baseline skill. If we were to place all of the skills in a pyramid, performance management would be at the bottom occupying the entire width of the pyramid, but very little vertical space.  If we equate vertical space with time, performance management isn’t a role that should require a great deal of time.  What makes performance management so CRITICAL is that it leads to, or allows for, more effective coaching.

Over the last 5 years, I’ve come to understand that the key to success for the sales team is the ability of the sales manager to be an effective coach.  In the OMG evaluation, the Objective Management Group identifies the skills required to be an effective coach as follows:  Debriefs effectively, Handles joint sales calls effectively, Ask questions, Has No Need for Approval from sales people, Controls emotions, Doesn’t rescue the sales people, Has an effective selling system, Knows why and how people will buy, Is Effective at getting commitments, Consistently coaches and debriefs, and their Record collection supports coaching.  This list is a combination of skills that involve working directly with sales people to help them improve a set of skills specifically tied to effective selling.  The evaluation of sales skills makes sense since the sales manager will need to identify and then effectively address the specific problem areas that are indicated when their sales people are struggling with sales that take too long, sales that are lost to the competition, sales that are gained on low price or lost for other various reasons.

Raising the bar on coaching starts with the beliefs (record collection) of the sales managers. These beliefs can make or break your sales team's success. If the sales managers believe that it is important to know what motivates their sales people, then they will make sure that they know what specifically motivates each individual sales person.  If they believe that they cannot let a sales person lose a sale, then the sales manager will rescue the sales person on a call... with the result that the sales person will NEVER learn how to effectively deal with the problem that they were rescued from.

Your beliefs are tied directly to your actions.  It is your actions that tell us (and even you) about your own beliefs.  And the results of your sales people indicate if your beliefs are supportive or non-supportive of successful selling and sales growth.

So, how do we raise the bar and more effectively coach sales people?  Change beliefs, change attitude, change behaviors, change results! 

Step #1– Take responsibility. When I discuss fixing the performance problem with my clients, it always starts with Setting Standards and Accountability.  Let me address the last part of that statement first - Accountability.  In our world, accountability means taking responsibility for our own outcomes – good or bad.  As you think about your team, as you think about your role, I would suggest that you think about it this way:  Your primary responsibility is to put the BEST team into the marketplace.  Much like a general manager in sports, a director in theatre, or an orchestra leader in the symphony, you have a job to put the best you can out into the market to perform.

When you think about the 75% of the team that is failing to achieve goals, you must ask a question which demands taking responsibility.  The question you must ask yourself is this:  “Did I hire them this way or did I make them this way?” Raising the bar starts with you taking responsibility for what you have, what you have to do to get the performance you need, what you should expect, and ultimately, what you are responsible for. You need to address these issues honestly because you have a responsibility to those that have hired you, to those you lead and to your own family or community who are all counting on you to succeed.

Step #2 – Make your people responsible.  Starting now, do not accept excuses for lack of performance.  Do not say it’s okay when some one shows up late.  Make sure there are consequences for showing up late or missing meetings.  No more excuses about not getting prospecting activity done because of “whatever”.  From now on, when someone attempts to slide by with an excuse (by the way, everything is an excuse),  you simply respond with:  “If I didn’t let you use that as an excuse what would you have done (or would be doing) differently?”  When they come to you with an excuse, stop rescuing them by asking them if they have tried this or that.  Again ask, “If you didn’t use that as an excuse (reason) for not completing/doing.executing, what would you have done differently?  What should you do differently in the future?”

Step #3 – Clearly communicate what is expected.  Tell them what you expect.  Ask them to repeat back to you what they heard.  Ask them to describe how this impacts their day, week, month, quarter and year.  What will they do or change to meet these expectations?  Based on this conversation, ask them if they accept the responsibility of meeting these expectations.  They will say yes.  Ask them if they are sure.  They will say yes.  Tell them it’s going to be hard.  They will say they understand. Ask them if that means they are willing to do everything possible to succeed.  They will say yes.  Finally, ask them what you should do if they fail to meet these expectations.  You have now raised the bar on expectations.

Step #4 – Now, actually raise the bar for acceptable performance.  As I stated earlier in this article, perhaps the biggest problem with underperforming is the reality that many managers have established minimal standards for performance.  This is contrary to achieving extraordinary success because, in essence, what you are telling your sales people from the beginning is this:

  • Here is the goal and
  • This is what you can “get by with”

This approach sets up you, and 75% of the team, for continuous failure.  Starting today – or as soon as you begin setting goals for your next fiscal year – eliminate the minimal acceptable standards of performance and embrace a new approach of extraordinary standards of performance.

Step #5 – Set extraordinary standards of performance.  This step requires a mind shift in how you look at goals, performance and performance management.  If you continue to have two standards – 1) goals and 2) minimum acceptable standards – then you will continue to have a large percentage of your sales team performing at or close to the minimum success standards.  If you raise the yearly standards from good to extraordinary, then overall performance will improve.

Here are some additional resources:

Developing 9 Essential Sales Skills (audio)

How Effective is My Sales Team (survey)

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