I received a call from a Sales Director recently who told me that his Sales Managers fail to hold their salespeople accountable. He said: "My Sales Managers are too soft on their salespeople 95% of the time and too hard on them 5% of the time." He went on to explain that when attempting to hold their salespeople accountable, the Sales Managers tend to "soft sell" the conversation.

The majority of the time, the Sales Managers don't firmly communicate the facts about the salesperson's actions or the reality of the pending consequences. On the other hand, when the Sales Manager allows the poor performance go on too long, their emotions build up. Eventually they explode and lose control in front of the salesperson. Neither scenario is effective.

Conducting accountability conversations with sales reps is a universal Sales Manager struggle.

Although many may not want to admit it, fear of not being liked, feeling rejection, or being talked about behind their backs by their sales team is a fate some Sales Managers avoid at all costs.

How does a Sales Manager effectively hold salespeople accountable? Here are five things you can do to conduct productive conversations focused on accountability:

1. Define Your Expectations - You cannot hold someone accountable unless they know and understand the standards by which they are measured. Defining expectations means the salesperson knows exactly what it means to be successful in their role--activities and outcomes. When they know what's expected of them, then you simply point to the gap between the expectations and their results. This way, you can stick to the facts and conduct an objective development conversation. You might want to expand your Job Descriptions to include detailed Job Expectations to reduce ambiguity.

2. Focus on the Issue (not the person) - You may be fearful of coming across as too harsh or overbearing. Here's an easy tip: focus the conversation on the activities, behaviors and results--not the person. Don't get caught up in an emotionally charged discussion or defend your position. Just stick to the issues - failure to meet quota, lack of prospecting effort, poorly qualified pipeline, insufficient follow-up, etc. Focus on how you can help them to redirect their actions toward improving skills and following the sales process.

3. Connect Behaviors with Outcomes--In some cases, your sales rep may be unaware that they are engaged in unproductive sales activities. Help your sales rep see the "consequences" of their actions. Good behaviors drive positive results, and unproductive behaviors drive negative results. For example, if they fail to qualify buyers consistently, then help them make the connection between a lack of qualifying and their low closing ratios in order to correct the behavior.

4. Maintain Emotional Distance - Yes, as a Sales Manager, you must control your impulse to be liked. In other words, control your personal neediness. Stay mentally on guard against fear of pushback from your sales rep. They're going to push back, so be prepared for it. You must have that internal conversation with yourself to keep you focused on speaking truth and managing your emotions. Keep negative self-talk at bay so insecure thoughts do not permeate your mind and erode your credibility with your sales reps. Remember, you control your mind - not the other way around.

5. Do Your Job - In the end, it's your job responsibility to meet a sales quota. If your salespeople are not meeting their individual quotas, it's ultimately your fault - whether it was a bad hire, ineffective training, or poor sales management. The buck stops with you. If you inherited a poor performer, then you have to exercise your authority to either attempt to fix the situation through development or terminate them. Again, either way, it's your job.

Salespeople should be rewarded for good results and held accountable for underperforming. This is a fact of Sales Management. Check for areas of improvement in your hiring process, your onboarding process, your sales process, your sales meetings, your coaching ability and your leadership. Any one of these can have a tremendous impact on the performance of your sales team. However, even with the best processes in business, you'll still have to hold your sales reps accountable at some point. Use these 5 tips to get the outcomes you want.

Published on: Nov 2, 2015