By Alex Bartholomaus
When was the last time a member of your sales team (or even worse, your sales management team) fed you an excuse that included the phrase, “but the economy”? Yes, we are in a difficult economy — but an excuse is still an excuse. And the tendency to make excuses is a major neutralizer of sales success. What’s a CEO to do?
In my last article, I started to answer this perplexing question by defining just what sets the great sales developers apart from the merely good or mediocre. We learned about the performance attributes to seek in senior leadership, as well as the five components of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, motivation, self-regulation, empathy, and social skills.
We also learned how to identify the four crucial elements of success in sales, and discussed the first two crucial elements, desire and commitment. Today, we’ll examine the other two crucial elements of sales success, which can be found within the emotional intelligence component of self-awareness. They are responsibility and outlook.
Element No. 3: Responsibility
“They were going to buy from me, but the economy … ” is an all-too familiar excuse to today’s sales leaders. At the heart of this excuse is the absence of responsibility, one of the most important elements in sales leadership. This key element can be found within the emotional intelligence component of self-regulation.
Responsibility means accepting credit when you’re successful, and accepting blame when you fail. In the case of the latter, you see many people “running for cover” when a sales goal is missed. When asked about that missed goal, someone lacking the appropriate level of responsibility will often hide behind an excuse.
All these excuses might be amusing and even somewhat credible. But in the end, a goal has been missed. The great sales developers always take ownership of failure. In one of the great business books of all time, “Good to Great,” author Jim Collins discussed responsibility in top CEOs, which he called “Level 5” leaders. In his example, these Level 5 leaders went as far as not accepting credit for success and only accepting responsibility for their failures. How many of your salespeople took ownership for missing their last goal?
The biggest problem with excuses is that they prevent mediocre or inexperienced team members from improving. Excuses limit professional development because failure to take responsibility equals failure to learn and improve from mistakes — which are inevitable.
Element No. 4: Outlook
Outlook, which can be found within the emotional intelligence component of self-awareness, is the last crucial element of success in sales. Outlook refers to how people feel about themselves, their job, their career, and their employer.
Rejection is built into the very nature of sales, and, over time, that takes its toll on even the strongest of heart. A solution to this problem is to recruit a strong sales management team that spends time coaching, motivating, and developing people to ensure open dialogues and communication.
When these four elements are not fully aligned, employees can begin to disengage from their jobs — often a slow dissent that’s tough to spot until after that person’s sales numbers have been in decline for a substantial period of time. And that’ll end up costing you money!
Increased competition and flattening of revenue have left many CEOs frustrated. What their sales force was doing so successfully in the past is no longer fueling growth. This begs the question: Was the sales force really that good, or did the company simply have a great product at the right economic time?
We can’t turn back the clock to answer that question for certain, but we can start taking a more educated approach to answering it. CEOs need to take a closer look at their sales force, including sales management. They need to initiate a dialogue to focus on these four crucial elements of success. They need to determine how their company can develop them among its existing team members, and become more skilled at recruiting candidates that exhibit these elements in the future.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the latest in our series on managing your sales team. In our next installment, Alex Bartholomaus will explore how to understand — and defuse — the hidden weaknesses in salespeople.]
Alex P. Bartholomaus is managing partner at People Stretch Solutions and works to help small to mid-sized companies drive growth and profits. He combines a non-traditional approach of psychology, behavioral science and emotional intelligence to help sales forces and leadership teams perform at higher levels.
Originally published: Sep 21, 2011