A Foolproof Way to Increase Accountability without Micromanaging Your Salespeople

Editor’s note: This is the ninth post in a new series devoted to helping new sales managers survive and thrive in their new role. For more essential tips and tactics, sign up for our free email course, The First 90 Days: A Sales Manager Survival Course.  

This week’s article may be the simplest, most common sense, and most obvious tip for sales leaders offered during this series. Yet, very few sales managers do this regularly, let alone do it well.

What is this uber-simple best practice that has the power to transform your sales culture and increase accountability and results-focus without demotivating the team or causing the manager to be perceived as micromanaging?

A regular, formal, scheduled, results and pipeline-focused 1:1 meeting between the sales manager and every salesperson.

I had no idea that most sales managers were not having regular 1:1 meetings with their salespeople. I mistakenly assumed that every manager was laser-focused on goals and results, and made it a point to meet individually with the people on their teams. As a consultant, I’ve been shocked to discover that this type of meeting is more the exception than the rule. Isn’t creating a results-focused culture and holding people accountable to hit sales goals Job Number One for any sales manager?

In my opinion, 1:1 is the best venue for accountability. Yes, you should absolutely publish, post and distribute sales reports, and review those reports in sales team meetings. If those not making numbers are uncomfortable with that, good; they should be. But let’s not shame or embarrass people by calling out their poor performance in front of others, or force those who are struggling to explain their results publicly. That creates an awful, negative and demoralizing environment. In-your-face results accountability best takes place in a private 1:1 session. That is why it is unfortunate that so few managers conduct this type of 1:1 today.

The Sales Management Accountability Progression

  1. Results

  2. Pipeline Health

  3. Activity

The key to ramping up accountability without coming across as a micromanager is all about how managers structure these 1:1 conversations. The reality is that no one likes to be asked about activity and how they’re spending their time. That can be demeaning and often causes people to get defensive – and to feel like they’re being micromanaged. No salesperson wants that, and neither should the manager! But let me be very clear: there is an appropriate time and place to inquire about a salesperson’s activity level and calendar. And that’s after we’ve first looked at their results and the health of their personal sales pipeline.

Results is the first phase in the accountability progression and your 1:1 meeting because, well, sales is all about results. When we lead with results it stops all the nonsense and bullshit that salespeople love to throw out at managers attempting to hold them accountable. Not sure about you, but I lose my patience very quickly when underperforming sales reps create a verbal smokescreen hoping to confuse and baffle us with everything they’ve got going. Salespeople not hitting quota tend to get really good at dazzling their manager by reciting all the opportunities they’re working. These 1:1s I’m advocating are not deal strategy meetings. They’re not catch-up sessions. Their main purpose is to review past results and ensure that the salesperson will have good future results. Period.

So begin your regular 1:1 meeting by reviewing how this rep is performing. Look at actual results against goal and versus other team members. If this salesperson is blowing out her numbers, ask a few cursory questions about what’s in her pipeline to ensure the momentum will continue, tell her she’s doing a great job and conclude the meeting. But if the salesperson is not delivering her numbers and is behind plan or falling behind in the rankings, it’s time to dive in deeper to the next phase in our progression. That’s when it becomes your job to do a thorough joint review of this rep’s pipeline. You can’t change her past results but you sure can work to improve the future.

After reviewing this person’s pipeline, if you are really pleased and confident with what you see – it’s full, there are deals in all stages; she continues to add new opportunities and move existing opportunities forward – then you’ve done your job. Remind the rep that you’re counting on her to hit her numbers next month/quarter and send her on the way. But if after having reviewed her poor sales results and also finding her pipeline to be rather anemic, you then have no choice but to move to third (and least pleasant stage) phase of accountability progression.

When the results aren’t there and the pipeline isn’t healthy, you have nowhere left to turn but to dig into the salesperson’s activity and calendar. And when you do this, don’t for a minute let the rep manipulate you by saying she doesn’t do well when micromanaged! Because at this point, this isn’t micromanagement; this is simply good management.

No one can accuse you of micromanaging when you start accountability conversations by looking at results and then progress into a pipeline review. In fact, most salespeople love this approach. They feel respected and they appreciate the fact that you care about their results more than you care about their activity.

Healthy, regular, results-focused 1:1 sales manager-salesperson meetings can transform your sales culture. I’ve seen it time and time again. The very thought of having to face you and face the music every month to answer for results and pipeline health can change the attitude, focus, and intensity of your salespeople. And you’ll be amazed how they respond differently because you’re starting with results instead of looking at activity!

More Tips for New Sales Managers

Get caught up by reading any previous posts in the series you may have missed:

  1. How to Have Sales Meetings That Aren’t a Waste of Time
  2. How to Incorporate Sales Coaching into the Review Process
  3. “A” Players Only: The Secret to Never Settling on a Bad Sales Hire Again
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