People such as you don’t become leaders in a sales organization by having a lack of smarts or a limited vision. When you were being considered for your leadership position, you were probably judged relative to a number of other candidates, and in the process, you probably engaged in serious dialog around the expectations of the position and what you felt was necessary to do to meet or exceed those expectations. You sold your CEO or your board on your sales strategy and vision and your ability to execute.
If you’ve been in the role long enough to get through the “honeymoon” period, you probably have enough history to look back to see whether or not you’re on track. If you are on track, then congratulations, and keep up the good work!
But if you’re not where you need to be, it could mean one of a few things: either your sales strategy wasn’t correct, conditions changed and now your assumptions are no longer valid, or you haven’t properly executed your sales strategy. In most cases, it will be some combination of these three. However, the one factor that you can control is execution. At the end of the day, your people need to know exactly what they need to do differently to support your objectives, and then they have to go about doing it.
Here’s a simple test to help you determine if you have an execution issue among your sales reps:
- Identify six sales reps (two high performers, two middle performers, and two lower performers) and 3 sales managers. Call each rep individually and ask them what they’ve started doing, kept doing, and stopped doing since the new strategy was announced. Then, ask your sales managers the same question.
- The key word here is doing. It is one thing to parrot back the strategy, but it’s another to actually translate the sales strategy into actions required to execute. Ask for specific examples about what they’re doing to verify that they’re not just telling you what you want to hear.
- For example, if your objective is to grow by cross-selling and upselling new services into existing accounts, ask the rep to demonstrate using you as the client. Listen to what they’re saying, and challenge them with a few hard objections to see how they respond. If they fail, then they may know what they need to do, but they don’t how to do it.
- Measure over time. Variables are by nature changing over time, so it is recommended that you don’t conduct this exercise once and then rest comfortably on those results. Instead, get in the habit of testing once a quarter or even once a month to monitor progress. Keep a control group of interviewees and introduce new ones, and also conduct surprise tests in the interim to get a truer sense of what’s going on.
If you get a variety of answers and those answers aren’t what you expected, then you’ve identified a problem. (It could also uncover good ideas that you haven’t considered — not all feedback is negative!) The good news is that you have the power to fix this problem. However, getting your team on the same page takes some work; nearly half of all strategic initiatives fail because of people-related problems.
Don’t assume that your people know what to do, what to say, and how to do and say what you need them to do and say to get the results you expect. Methodically map out the processes you expect your sales team to follow and conversations they should be having with their clients. Encourage your sales managers and leaders to lead by example, not in a vacuum or behind a closed door.