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Prior Lake, MN 55372
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Are you Holding Your Sales Leader Accountable?
As a CEO, do you know if your sales team is working hard? How do you know if you are getting the right information to make decisions and plan the business? Are they working on the right things? Do you think they are giving away the farm? If you can't answer any of these questions confidently, you may have an accountability problem. You play a crucial role in addressing the problem.
Lack of Accountability
First, let's define accountability. For the sake of this discussion, let's say it means doing what you're supposed to be doing and living up to your commitments. That seems like it would be easy, right? Why is there a lack of accountability? We find there are four areas where accountability breaks down.
- Clear expectations – is your direction clear and concise?
To be accountable, your leadership team needs to know precisely what expectations to which they are being held. Likewise, the sales team needs that same clear direction from their sales leader. Many CEOs think they are clear with their expectations, but their sales leader often has a different impression. "Focus more on new customers" or "Improve your forecast" are not examples of clear direction, but that is often what is communicated. Your idea of "focus on more new customers" and mine may be very different. I could think I am doing a good job and still fall way short of your expectation. Instead, CEOs and Sales Leaders should agree on a goal and a plan and communicate that to the team. What if the direction was, "You should all have a goal of bringing on two new customers per quarter and should spend at least 50% of your time pursuing them?" That is much clearer.
- Do they know how – is your sales team capable of doing what you ask?
Do the salespeople know how to network and prospect for new customers? Do they understand how to present the technical aspects of your product? How about the sales leader? Do they know how to lead a team? Do they coach rather than command? Can they develop and implement plans? Can they create and execute a sales process? Are they able to manage and deploy resources? Are they able to aid in production processes? If they don't know how, they will have a hard time getting the job done even if they have committed to it. What help have you provided to the sales leader, and what support are they providing to the team?
- Tools and Resources – are the expectations realistic, and have you given them the time or resources needed?
Are your performance standards realistic? Using the example above, have you asked them to retain and grow their current base of 50 accounts while also adding two more per quarter? There may not be enough time in the day to do both. Does your sales leader have adequate resources (time, technology, tools, support, information, money, access, materials, etc.) to do their job efficiently? If no, what specifically do they need? Are there other obstacles such as authority, boundaries, process issues, etc. beyond their control? If yes, what specific obstacles can you help remove? The CEO needs to make sure the sales leader has everything they need to do their job.
- Motivation– are they motivated to do it?
Is the team rewarded for doing the right things? Many times, we see the incentive plan out of whack with what we really want them to do. If we want the sales team chasing new customers, but the incentive plan pays the same for new customers and existing customers, that is a mixed message. Likewise, is the sales leader reinforcing your strategy and plan during team meetings and 1-on-1s to make sure the team is doing what they should? If not, the team is motivated to do whatever the organization deems to be most important. Have you, as the CEO, provided positive consequences to reinforce what you want them to do? Do they know how they are being measured? Have you been giving quality feedback? If you are not following up on the things you want (and reinforcing them), your sales leader has little motivation to get them done.
When performance is not happening, we find that it comes down to one or more of the factors outlined above. Step one is to figure out which of these is the issue. After you've established where your sales leader or sales team might be lagging, what do you do?
Starts at the top
Accountability does indeed start at the top with you. According to a Deloitte study, "Over the next decade, 4.6 million manufacturing jobs will likely be needed." With such high demand, you'll need to make sure your sales leader is held accountable for their responsibilities.
The sales leader's role is to make sure their sales team has a plan aligned with the departments' and companies' goals. Those plans need to be focused on the correct activity levels, values, and processes. But it's your role as the CEO to make sure that your manufacturing sales leader is holding the salespeople accountable.
What you Should be Asking
To align with your manufacturing sales leader, you'll need to ask your own set of questions to understand whether they are effectively managing the team, such as:
- What is their sales plan for hitting their goal for the quarter or year?
- What are they currently working on?
- What are their initiatives?
- How are they doing to drive accountability on their team?
- If people are not meeting expectations, what is their plan to address it?
- What are the risks in their plan?
All of these questions aim to make sure your sales leader has a plan and a good system for executing on that plan. Then it comes down to you holding your sales leader accountable to it.
This is an area where many CEOs, not just in manufacturing, fall short – the weekly 1-on-1 meeting between the CEO and the sales leader. This meeting needs to be structured and consistent. To keep your sales leader accountable, you will want to discuss:
- Actual results vs. their plan – are they on plan? Great. Off plan? What are they going to do to get back on plan?
- What did they say they would do this week? This month? This quarter? Are they actually getting those things done? What are they focusing on for next month or quarter?
- What are they personally doing to improve the skills and performance of the team? Is it working?
Staying aligned with your sales leader is vital, and it is your role to keep their feet to the fire. Too many times, CEO's think that by telling their sales leader they are only at $4 million for their $5 million quotas, they are holding them accountable. However, that is only reminding them of what their goal is.
You are more effective by holding them accountable for the actions that lead to that goal. Actions such as increasing activity or the number of opportunities, onboarding, and hiring new salespeople, chasing new markets, growing existing accounts, and dealing with new challenges are the things they can control that lead to revenue. When it comes to handling new challenges, Cerasis "found that 63% of participants reported their leaders to be less than high quality or not ready for current or future challenges." If the sales leader has a plan for achieving their plan, then your role is to keep them focused on their plan and help them make adjustments if needed. This way, you know the plan, the numbers, and whether they are on track or not.
Making this 1-on-1 meeting a priority weekly is hard because, in most cases, one of you gets busy and pushes it off, and then, no one circles back to it. One missed meeting turns to a second and a third, and then you have no idea what your sales leader is doing. However, if you stick with it, you are doing your job, holding them accountable, forcing them to do the same with their team.
Transparency Is Key
Transparency is a catalyst for communication and accountability throughout an organization. It is a look into what is happening between your leadership team, other departments, and your organization.
When the entire leadership team has visibility into numbers, goals, what everyone else is doing, and the status of dependent tasks, it encourages engagement and accountability. Problems can be anticipated because there is insight. Then you are aware of how sales is doing and what changes need to be made.
Knowing what your sales leader is doing and driving accountability starts with you and requires clarity, transparency, and consistency. Accountability takes some effort on your part, but it will drive great results once it is established.