While reviewing the month-end numbers, Sean sees that Kathy achieved her renewal number but missed her new business goal. It was time to have “the chat” with her – the third one this year. Sean knew, after they spoke, she would hit her new business goal for one month, maybe even two. Then she’d go back to her old ways and it would be time for another “chat.” He found the process tiring and frustrating.
Sales leaders often discuss performance issues with salespeople, see a temporary improvement, and then watch helplessly as reps revert to old habits and patterns. This back and forth drains leaders of their energy – and never effectively addresses the problem.
If you want to break the cycle and deal with sales staff issues successfully, I recommend the following:
Step #1: Get the Facts
Stop “the chats” with the reps. Instead, spend your valuable time gathering data relevant to the issue.
Sales leaders agreeing to experiment with this first step assure me they’ll learn nothing new. “I know these numbers backwards and forwards,” they say. What they really mean is, “I know the information I look at regularly really well.”
Out of habit, sales leaders rely on a consistent set of reports, ignoring a wealth of additional facts and figures. Mix things up by considering information from different sources. Ask colleagues or your CFO about any interesting reports they’ve created. Examine the numbers from a variety of time periods, looking for patterns and insights.
After reviewing this new information, I’ve lost count of the number times leaders have said, “I never knew...” “I was completely unaware of…” “I thought it was only one rep…” or “I can’t believe what I uncovered.”
Simply put, new data provides new perspective.
Step #2: Create a Plan
Equipped with new information, a lot of sales leaders feel ready to approach the rep or reps in question. No just yet. Instead of initiating a discussion, I suggest they come up with one or two potential solutions to the problem, add any supporting statistics, put together a brief write-up as to why they think the solution(s) will work and then present it to their direct supervisor.
Many find this threatening, sharing stories of approaching bosses with suggestions around recurring issues, only to have them dismiss the idea – sometimes abruptly. They hesitate to try again, asking, “If she vetoed my suggestion before, why would she bother to read what I wrote?”
Here’s why: putting anything in writing shows commitment – and courage. Facts, figures, and examples bolster your case. You avoid a confrontational discussion. Company leaders read, review, and consider your thoughts and ideas at their convenience.
You will be amazed by how:
Quickly your direct supervisor reads the report and gets back to you
The discussion takes on a more balanced and serious tone
Most sales leaders develop a stronger relationship with their direct supervisor going forward.
Step #3: Strategize With Your Boss
Together, work on a solution. When managing a sales staff, you lose a little objectivity about the group. Your direct supervisor stands one (or several) levels above you. They observe the salespeople from a different vantage point and with some neutrality. Listen to their suggestions.
To move forward, you may need their approval. Resolving this issue could involve looking at and making changes to: sales skills training, coaching, product training, compensation plans, quotas, departmental policies and procedures, performance improvement initiatives, marketing campaigns, and hiring processes.
Formulate a plan both of you enthusiastically endorse.
Step #4: Meet with the Rep
Sales leaders get impatient when going through this process the first time. They want to have a conversation with the rep and be done with it.
Once they’ve made the effort to assemble the data, write the report and work with their boss on a solution, many mention feeling more relaxed, organized, supported, and self-confident. In possession of the facts and a well thought-out plan, sales leaders schedule a one-on-one meeting with the rep, not to chat, but to seriously address the matter.
While researching the issue, Sean had some “A-ha!” moments about new business acquisition. While Kathy lagged behind the group, several other reps also struggled with achieving their new business quota. He saw the impact this had on his own and their quarterly bonuses.
Tired of missing or barely hitting the number, Sean approached his boss with some suggestions. Together they worked on a plan that included training, increasing the new business bonus, and placing underachieving reps on warning.
With his boss’ support, instead of dreading “the chat” with Kathy, Sean prepared enthusiastically to meet with her. He also looked forward to addressing the entire staff about the company’s plans to support and reward them for acquiring new business. He felt confident about the entire group exceeding their new business quota in the coming months.