- Do the reasons your salespeople provide for why they can’t reach their sales goals frustrate you?
- Do you wish they would prospect more and generate more new business?
- Are you concerned about their reliance on existing customer business?
Yes, these questions are rhetorical. Let’s face it. Too often salespeople have excuses (or what they call reasons) associated with their lack of performance. Salespeople may tell you they are too busy servicing existing clients. Or, that a competitor is undercutting price, that they aren’t receiving enough leads from marketing efforts. Or maybe, supply chain issues prevent them from getting prospects to move forward. But bottom-line, the goals still aren’t met.
Don’t Get Drawn In
On the surface these reasons may sound valid and logical. You may even feel empathetic about the state of affairs in the marketplace or feel guilty about not providing enough leads. And you may agree that current customers need care. But it does no good to allow these reasons, or what I would characterize as excuses, to fester.
Allowing for excuses hurts sales results, but it also reinforces a bad culture of “trying to do something and not accomplishing it.” If we allow salespeople to just try but not succeed, it may cause them to give up easier the next time. If there are no ramifications of trying and failing, then why try so hard?
The moment a leader commiserates about the reasons why goals can’t be met, the more legs the excuses have. We know that only 40% of salespeople take full responsibility for sales outcomes.* That means that 60% of salespeople have excuses as to why they don’t achieve goals.
Obviously, not taking responsibility is a widespread problem. It is also common to find sales leaders who make excuses, which can completely damage the culture of accomplishment in an organization. So, what can be done?
The Three-step Process to Fix Excuse-Making
- Step one: Start with the backward Math of Success. Based on the sales goal or sales requirement, help the salesperson calculate how many pieces of business need closed to accomplish the goal. Then help determine closing ratios. And finally, calculate how many first meetings or discovery sales conversations need to occur to create enough opportunities to make the goal.
- Next is a critical part of the fix. The salesperson must come up with their action plan to ensure they have enough first meetings or discovery sales conversations. It is their responsibility. Even if you are generating marketing leads for them and you feel responsible to provide good leads, it is still ultimately the salesperson’s responsibility to have enough conversations to produce an adequate number of qualified opportunities which produce closed business. Whether the leads produced by marketing efforts are good or bad, the salesperson is still responsible for the sales goal.
- The final step is consistent and excellent coaching. Just doing the math and laying out the plan won’t prevent salespeople from making excuses, especially if those excuses have been accepted for a long while.
Why Coaching is Critical
When (not if) a salesperson does not meet their calculated goal of required number of first meetings for a week, it must be addressed by asking if the number of first meetings was met the prior week. Or by inspecting the data from the CRM. That’s the easy part.
When the salesperson says they didn’t or it is apparent they did not, the manager must ask “why” the goal wasn’t met. This is of the utmost importance. Remember, it is the salesperson’s plan of attack to reach the sales goal. They created it and they own it. If step 2 was followed and documented, then it is clear as day what was supposed to happen.
Here’s where the salesperson may pull out one of their go-to excuses like, “I was busy with current clients.” Or “I didn’t receive any good leads.” Alarm bells should now go off.
As a good coach, you must kindly and firmly indicate that the plan they created must be followed or they are failing on their commitments to the team, to you, and to their own success. The manager in this situation must be strong and not accept the excuses. Regardless of their sales successes, regardless of their apparent business, regardless of their stress, Salespeople must be held accountable to live up to their action plan.
Excuses Stop Here
The beauty of this three-step plan is that it will be much harder for salespeople to make excuses about their activities. When the focus is simply on sales outcomes it’s very easy to place blame on why the sales didn’t occur (the economy, the competition, your company). But it is far harder to blame someone else for not doing what was agreed upon, especially when that someone else is the salesperson themself. By being diligent about all three steps it will also provide the salesperson more visibility into what their actions produce, making them their own accountability partner.
Start with our Sales Action Planning Playbook to assist in following this three-step process. It’s available to anyone who wants it.
*Data from Objective Management Group
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