Sales & Sales Management Expertise

Variability and the 14-Letter Dirty Word – Accountability

Tags: effective sales coaching, sales management, performance management, sales accountability

Several years ago, as part of our sales team evaluation, the skills, tendencies and effectiveness of the sales leadership team was also assessed.  The findings indicated that of the 224 leaders, 23% had at least 60% of the skills required to be an effective performance manger.  Of the 5 sales management skill sets required - coaching, motivating, recruiting, mentoring and performance management – this last one, performance management, is where the team “scored” the best. The skills/tendencies within the skill set are as follows:

  • Doesn’t accept mediocrity
  • Has no need for approval from sales people
  • Takes responsibility
  • Manages behavior
  • Asks Questions
  • Manages pipeline
  • Has beliefs that support accountability

Before digging into this topic further, just take a minute to examine these results: 

  • 224 sales leaders
  • 23% (51) with the minimum % of skills needed to be successful in their role
  • 67% (172) sales leaders below the minimum standards of effectiveness
  • Only 1 out of 4 managers, hired to do the job of managing performance and holding sales people accountable, had the skills to do so.

Assume for a minute that this might be your sales organization.  Now, you might be thinking, “I don’t have that many sales managers and so my numbers won’t look like this.”  You are right; they won’t look like this, but consider the possibility that maybe you didn’t get the 1 out of four!  How would you know?

  • Do your salespeople meet and exceed goals?
  • Do your salespeople consistently have the right volume of pipeline?
  • Do your salespeople have a tendency to have up and down weeks, months, quarters or years?
  • Do your salespeople blame the economy, the competition, the pricing, the lack of marketing, lack of support, too much paperwork for failure to prospect?
  • Have you spent a small fortune for CRM and yet still struggle with trusting the reliability of the pipeline report that you get?
  • Are people late to meetings or fail to show up at all, or leave early?
  • Does your sales manager take bullets for the failure of the sales team?

Performance Management – Definition (As defined by the University of California Berkley)

  • Performance management is an ongoing process of communication between a supervisor and an employee that occurs throughout the year, in support of accomplishing the strategic objectives of the organization. The communication process includes clarifying expectations, setting objectives, identifying goals, providing feedback and reviewing results.

Hogwash!  This is part of the definition and this might suit the academics, but in the real world of business, there is something missing!  “What’s missing?” you ask.

  • Identifying and implementing Rewards for success
  • Identifying and implementing Consequences for failure
  • Implementing disciplined approaches (structured activities) to correct failure to perform effort or execution.


The Berkley definition is kind of like the LifeLock commercial you see on TV commercials.  The bank is being robbed and customers ask the security guard if he is going to do something about the robbery.  His response is that he is not a security guard but rather a security monitor.  If all a manager does is communicates expectations, sets objectives, identifies goals, reviews results (“you are not hitting your goals”) and provides feedback (“You have to work harder”), then performance really isn’t managed; it’s just monitored.

As long had you have a sales team consisting of self-starters, self-managed, high figure-it-out people, then you are okay.  BUT, and this is a BIG BUT(T), you probably don’t have an entire team of people like this.  Short of having a team that just needs to be pointed in the right direction, an organization needs someone to manage performance and hold people accountable to individual commitments.

The organization needs someone that can reward people for success through compensation and recognition.  As important, if not more important, your performance management manager MUST be able to recognize early when people are off-track. This person must have implemented the right systems and process for early detection.  And the person must be strong enough to have fierce conversations with people when they are failing to perform.

Finally, there must be a process of disciplined and structured correction procedures so that those failing to execute have a chance to succeed.  PIPs are not the answer.  PIPs are to late to have a significant impact.  By the time you attempt to put someone on a PIP that horse has left the barn.

Additional Resources:


Variability in Performance in Sales Teams, pt.3

Tags: Sales Tracking, sales management, sales accountability, variability in sales performance

It all starts with people, right?

Wrong… or at least I believe that to be wrong.  When I was the strength coach at Iowa State University, we had a debate/discussion/disagreement on in-season strength training.  Actually, the disagreement was with just one person, our defensive coordinator, who eventually went on to be a great success in the NFL while I went on to start and run a success business in sales training, coaching and consulting. 

The reason for the discussion was to eliminate variability of performance mid to late season. At the time, I didn’t recognize it as eliminating variability of performance. I just suggested to our football staff that, if we wanted to eliminate or minimize injuries to our players, we needed to keep their strength and endurance at a high level.  Other consistently high-level performing teams, like Nebraska and Penn State, had very aggressive in-season conditioning programs.  I respected the conditioning coaching at both of those programs and the records of the teams spoke for themselves.

The argument started and ended with this:

  • Coordinator: “What good is it if my linebacker can bench press 300 pounds but doesn't know where to go?”
  • Me: “What good is it if he knows where to go but gets his ass kicked once he gets there? Or if the guy that is supposed to be there is on the sideline because he separated his shoulder, blew out a knee or pulled a hamstring?”
  • Head Coach: “Starting next week, we’ll make sure our guys are working out at the end of practice every Tuesday and Thursday and we will include light lifting sessions during our recovery running and stretching sessions on Sunday.”

The variability of performance didn’t just apply to a single individual, but the performance of the team was impacted by the inability of one person to perform or perform well because of injury or endurance.  What an organization needs is a system and process in place to minimize lapses or lack of performance by individuals.

I believe it all starts with systems and processes in place to support the function and execution of the people expected to perform.  The organization needs to be strong and have endurance to support the skills of those going to the right place at the right time.

Take a look at the following findings from a Sales Effectiveness and Impact Analysis that we conducted for a sales team:


Management is asked to identify, answer questions about the systems and processes in their organization that support the implementation and execution of effective selling by their sales team. The numbers and colors you see are reflective of how they answered the questions.  There are no “leap in logic” questions and findings here.  Just straight up math based on an individual evaluation by the manager.  If they said “yes” to five questions in accountability/tracking, they got a five.  In this example, the number is 2.

Forget about what the colors and numbers actually represent in terms of implementation or execution - just look at the variability of numbers in the red boxes.  This alone is a major contributor to the variability of performance expected of those to execute sales systems and processes that are designed to help them be more productive.  Looking at “accountability” alone should give you pause to think about your own organization:

  • Failure to have or execute a tracking system that looks at leading indicators for future sales success
  • Tracking frequency is hit or miss on critical “smart numbers”
  • There is a lack of automation thus making it easy for salespeople to make excuses about having time to record data needed to help them grow and improve.
  • If there is automation, in this case, there aren’t any standards or there is a lack of accountability to using the automation (score of 4). So, if you have incomplete data, or missing data or incorrect data, then how can an organization gather any reliable business intelligence to help support sales teams grow, correct problems or eliminate constraints in their sales approach?

If variability of performance is an issue - and it always is (see below) - then assess your systems and processes as you assess the variability of the individuals that make up your sales management and sales team.  That post is coming NEXT!



Performance Management and the Law of Cause

Tags: sales management, sales goals, performance management, sales accountability

Here is the opening paragraph from the IQ Matix Blog – The Law of Cause and Effect by Adam Sicinski

“A person becomes what they think about all day.”

Understanding the Law

The universal law of cause and effect states that for every effect there is a definite cause, likewise for every cause there is a definite effect.

Your thoughts, behaviors and actions create specific effects that manifest and create your life as you know it. If you are not happy with the effects you have created, then you must change the causes that created them in the first place…

Change your actions, and you change your life… Transform your thoughts, and you will create a brand new destiny.



I’ve been thinking about this for about a week. I was in Pittsburgh last week and one evening my wife, Linda, called me. She told me that our friend, Kim, had called her to inform us that her son, Alex, had an accident while long boarding.  After Linda described the injuries, one of my first questions was, “Was he wearing a helmet?”  She wasn't sure.  This led me to thinking about accidents.

The fall was not an accident. It was an unforeseen incident, but by no means an accident. There was a definite cause and a definite effect that created another cause and another effect and so on and so on until Alex tumbled to the ground which caused severe bodily injury.

(Now…switching gears…)

Recently, I did some simple math in preparation for a workshop I delivered to the BISA CEO Summit in Nashville.  As part of the presentation, I demonstrated Perry Marshall’s Power Curve and the likely diagnosis of the sales teams represented in the room.  In short – about 36% of the advisors represented by a group of 200 advisors were responsible for 95% of the productivity for the entire group.  Once I highlighted the fact that less than 5% of the total remaining revenue was being generated by over 60% of the remaining advisors, I asked the question – “Did you hire them this way or make them this way?”

This is not an indictment of the CEOs present or the firms they represented. Any one of you reading this can do the same math and, if you have 25 or more salespeople that follow the normal 80/20 rule, then you will end up with the same numbers.  The reason I ask the question about hiring or making is because that is “the cause.” 

This group of massively underperforming salespeople is not in that group by accident.  Certainly, they are not in your group by accident. I don’t believe for a second that you intentionally hired 60% of your sales team to represent less than 5% of your sales. However, even if it’s actually 15 – 20%, there is cause for alarm.  And that alarm should create an effect and that effect should create another cause and another effect… and so on…

Which causes me to go back to the title of this post: Sales Management – Performance Management and the Law of Cause.

What is it that your sales manager is doing… or failing to do… that is responsible for the effect?  Here are some questions you might want to consider when attempting to arrive at an answer to that question:

  1. What are the standards for success in your organization? I don’t mean what are the goals; I mean the standards.  In other words, I’m assuming that everyone on the sales team has sales goals, but what standard are they held to?  What percentage of the team consistently performs above 100% of the goal?  What percentage of the team consistently performs between 90 and 99% of goal?  What percentage of the team hovers around 80 to 85% of the goal, is still with you and will still be with you going into next year?  You see, that is the standard of performance that your manager is allowing.
  2. What impact is your standard for success having on the overall performance of the team?
  3. What is happening to the group just below the top tier that consistently hits or exceeds the goal? Does that group have a tendency to a) move upwards towards the top b)stay level or c) slide ever so slightly to your standard of success just before termination?
  4. How well is your sales manager actually managing pipeline? Do they actually manage it or just monitor it?
  5. What inspection process is executed to “inspect what you expect” and what is happening when what is expected isn’t getting done?
  6. How well is the manager inspecting the revenue driver activities and behaviors?
  7. How consistently are the salespeople following and executing the company sales process?
  8. What information is your sales manager using from your CRM that allows them to have productive intentional coaching discussions with the entire sales team?
  9. Finally, what activities and behaviors are you holding your sales manager to that, when executed correctly, would lead to more consistent, predictable sales growth?

Traditionally speaking, when companies think about performance management, most of the focus is on the group that is responsible for driving revenue – the sales team. What needs to happen is that anything that moves should get measured, there needs to be higher standards for keeping jobs and, ultimately, managers need to be held accountable to their own set of activities and behaviors.

Alex is home now and being cared for by his family. Let’s pray for his speedy and healthy recovery.

Additional Resources:

Sales Managed Enviroment® – A development program designed to create high performing sales managers.

Assess Your Sales Process – How effective is the sales process your people are supposed to be following and executing?

Are Excuses Affecting Your Sales Success?

Tags: sales excuses, sales accountability

  • The traffic was backed up.
  • The client hasn’t gotten back to me with the information.
  • My support staff hasn’t prepared the documents yet.
  • I’ve been here less than a year, I inherited the current sales team.
  • The leads I get from my internal partners are not very good.


Today, I’m addressing the salespeople and the sales managers who follow us in social media and listen to our weekly audio postcards.  There continues to be an epidemic, a virus if you will, that has a negative impact on results and productivity.  The symptoms are those that I stated in the beginning of this message.  The “reasons” given for lack of results are too often thrown about and accepted as reasonable explanations.  The problem is, though the conditions may exist that make it difficult to accomplish a task or reach a goal, the explanations are just excuses for failure.

A friend of mine, Whitey Kollmeier, president of the First National Insurance Agency, gave me a audio book titled, The Hard Thing about the Hard Things.  One of the comments made early on by the author is the following:

“The first tragedy of failure is truth.”


I get what Ben Horowitz is saying. I see it and hear it day in and day out when talking to my clients and prospects.  Everyone seems to want to blame someone or something when goals, ambitions or objectives are not achieved. The bottom line though is that - instead of finding a way over, under, around or through the obstacle - people just throw up their hands and say, “not my fault”.

The problem with making and accepting excuses is that the barriers to success never get broadened or broken.  The excuses become kind of like the invisible fence for pets.  The pet wears a collar that provides a slight correction when they get to the electrified underground wire.  They stop just short of the invisible fence, never willing to go through the pain of reaping the reward of what might just be on the other side of the fence.  You may want that for your pets, but do you really want that for yourself or your sales team?

You may not realize this, but that is costing you and your family or company a lot - a lot of time, money, energy and or resources.  It’s costing your freedom of choice and freedom of time.  It’s costing your dreams.  Instead of accepting the “reasons” as real, properly address them as excuses and ask yourself this:  If I didn’t use that as an excuse, what would I do differently?

As always, thank you and have a perfect day.

Sales Management:  Want More Success? Set New Standards for Success

Tags: sales management, sales success, sales accountability, motivation

One of the problems facing many companies today is getting more from what they have. In a time of economic pressure to manage the profits companies have become very creative in finding solutions to manage the burn rate of their cash. The solution that many, if not most, struggle with is how to get the cash generation rate to meet and exceed the burn rate. In our Sales Management Environment Certification program we take sales managers through a process to help them raise the standards of their sales organization and address that problem. Before we get to the solution let’s deal with the problem.


Almost every organization we talk to tells me and my sales development experts the same thing. They set goals for their sales people and expect the team to meet those goals. I would agree that they set goals but the real expectations are not that every one meets the goal. If that was the real expectation, if companies managed performance and managers coached their people to meet those expectation, then more people would be hitting goals.  That isn’t happening. There are many explanations for this but for today I want to focus on just one contributing factor that is difficult to manage – Internal motivation.

Here are some comments by other thought leaders on performance:

Mark Victor Hansen – “Motivation is an ‘inside – out’ job.” - mo·ti·va·tionˌmōdəˈvāSH(ə)n/noun: the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way.

Ken Blanchard – “When you want to succeed as much as you want to breathe then you will be successful.”

John Maxwell – “Unmotivated people give the required effort. Motivated people give the inspired effort. The first group looks to do the minimum, the latter group seeks every opportunity to add value to the team.” (The myth of motivation)

Tony Cole - "Your actions are reflective of your motivations and commitments".

For as long as I have been seeking solutions for improving personal performance – over 25 years – the quote by Mark Hansen is one I have quoted over and over again. Almost every time I do a keynote or a workshop for a chamber, an association or industry group leader wants to know – how do I motivate my people and keep them motivated. My response has always been – “You cannot”.

What got me thinking about this again was this; I was flipping through channels on Sirius and I came across Joel Osteen’s channel. The first thing I heard him say was this – “Don’t make the mistake of settling for good enough. Good enough is not your destiny.” (Watch video on YouTube). Wow! So I kept listening. For those of you that may not be familiar with Joel he is the minister / pastor of the Lakewood Church in Houston Texas. Every Sunday you can watch him on TV. Just for the record I am not a regular follower of Joel’s so I didn’t purposely seek to find him speaking on Sirius, I just happened to find him, or maybe, he found me.

I believe in destiny. I believe that when we are launched into this world and God breathes life into us we are made to be magnificent. For most all human beings there aren’t any deficits that exist at that time. For most people all the things we need to succeed are available to us and so we begin the journey equipped with what we are born with – nature and what we have access to – nurture. Somewhere along the way we begin to develop our own unique identity and begin to make decisions that take us either closer to our magnificent destiny or take us away from it.

Joel goes on to say that there was a time in our lives where we thought the big dream, craved for the next level of success and worked to climb the next mountaintop. It might have been to earn money to buy a bicycle, buy tickets to a prom or purchase your first car. It might have been to put enough in the bank to buy the ring to give to that special someone that share your life with. Maybe it was the house you saw and you said "someday" and you began the path required to move into that house and have that life style. And then ‘Good’ became ‘Good Enough’.

I’m not talking about the material things that make our life 'Good Enough'. Surely that has happened for you or is happening for you but do the material things in your life really define your highest and best? Do they represent that awesome, magnificent life that you have available? Are you able to look in the mirror every day/week/month/year and say to yourself that what you did represents your highest and best? Does it represent all that you can be to your family, your community, your friends, your company or does it represent ‘Good Enough'.  If we think back to when we are in school 'Good Enough' meant enough to pass the class or grade. What did that take? C’s and D’s. Those grades represent average and below average. B represents just above average. Really, is that why you chose the business you are in? Did you really say to your self that you were going to pursue and professional career in sales or sales management so that you could be average or just above average?

I’m not pointing my finger at you directly. I’m making the case for "why aren’t we growing based on the talent, resources and market presence we have"? The answer can simply be that your people are just not motivated enough to be any better then they are today. They stopped dreaming the big dream; they have fallen into the rut of defining their success by what they have versus what their parents or other friends have. They compare themselves to others and as long as they are doing better then others and they are comfortable then that is 'Good Enough".  It all starts with you. If you are settling for hitting the company sales goal on the backs of a few then you have to stop. That is not 'Good Enough'. You are one or two departures away from being way off of your sales goal.

Start dreaming the big dream for your team. Start thinking about how you can dominate your market place, how you can be the best-maybe not the biggest but the best. Start wondering what the next extraordinary level of performance might be for you and the team and what it might be like to have that level of achievement.  Create an environment where your people can start dreaming the big dream again. Challenge them on their thinking about 'Good Enough' and settling. Challenge them the way I’ve challenged you today by asking them if their performance represents their highest and best. Tell them that that is the type of team you have to have because that is how you are thinking. Tell them that you love them and care about them and hope that they will join you on this journey but assure them that you will have a team that thinks and pursues the big dream.

This, out of all the things you can do as a manager to drive performance, might be the most difficult because it is so personal. But difficult does not mean impossible.

Additional Resources:

Do I have motivated or inspired people – Sales Force Evaluation Study

Personal Goal Setting – A facilitated workshop

Call me right now to talk about motivation – Tony’s mobile 513 226 3913. Text message: motivation, your name