When you think of a salesperson, what’s the first thing or person that comes to mind? The very first thing that pops into your head? My guess is that it’s a negative thought…the fact is that it’s a negative thought for the vast majority of people. Most people have a negative connotation of sales; their immediate thoughts relate to “pushy” or “dishonest” salespeople that may have compromised values. They have experienced these type of salespeople and for that reason they stick in their mind.
This becomes a real barrier to change when those thoughts are held by people in sales roles…..as strange as it sounds, the majority of salespeople have a negative thought flash into their mind when they think of a salesperson.
This fact was driven home to me this week when debriefing a team of salespeople working within an academic environment. The leadership of the organisation had established strong sales targets for the next 3 years and asked us to evaluate their sales team to see where they needed development in order to achieve these targets. In the past there had been an acceptance of low performance and a collegiate atmosphere within the organisation. The board had called for a reversal of this poor performance and wanted the leadership to take the initiative necessary to bring about this change. For all intents and purposes evaluating the teams sales capabilities and mind set is a logical first step to building sales success. Or so you would think.
When debriefing each of the team members on the findings from the evaluations, a common theme emerged when going through their sales strengths and weaknesses; those that had a low commitment rejected the findings of the evaluations as they felt that the findings didn’t apply to them. They weren’t really salespeople but instead insisted that they were relationship builders. Well, I would agree that in most cases they weren’t salespeople and the evaluations bore that out however what the company required if they were going to hit their targets WERE salespeople.
What we had here was a complete lack of Role Clarity from the senior leadership right through the ranks. The managers tolerated a lack of commitment or at best superficial commitment from the sales team in the behaviours necessary to hit their goals. Courageous Leadership demands high commitment and a determination to drive high performance, not accept mediocrity. The High Performance Equation is:
High Performance = Accountability (Role Clarity) + Motivation (Will) + Capability (Skill)
In this case, there was no accountability as the sales team knew that their excuses for lack of success would be accepted by their managers. They knew they could blame external sources for their lack of results – their manager, the company, competitors, price, the economy etc. This was not the language of accountability.
In each case, the salespeople were not motivated to do the hard things; they lacked the will to drive their own performance and saw sales as a compromise of their personal values. They lacked the will to do what was necessary to succeed.
Finally they lacked the sales skills necessary to achieve success and were unwilling to commit to learning these skills as they were not compelled to do so and could take the easy path.
It’s hard enough to drive change when one of these elements is missing, imagine how hard it is where the culture of the organisation structurally undermines all of these elements of a High Performance culture.
Change starts with a commitment to Courageous Leadership. Individuals that make excuses won’t change until they take responsibility for their results. This means you won’t be able to hold them accountable until they stop making excuses. This task can be easy or difficult, depending more on your toughness as a manager than their compliance.
This example drove home to me the truth that “You get what you tolerate!” If you want change, stop tolerating poor performance and excuse making.