Just as every organization has a culture, so does every sales team. Values and traditions that sales leaders hold important will shape the attitudes, behaviors, and social norms of employees and departments. As the Harvard Business Review explains in its guide to organizational culture, leaders “set new cultures in motion and imprint values and assumptions that persist for decades.”
For the majority of departmental teams, it’s the behaviors and attitudes of their direct managers that influence the team’s culture. According to Gallup, 80% of a sales representative’s perception of their organization’s leaders was based on their relationship with their supervisor.
With so much influence over their teams, it’s important for sales leaders to actively promote a culture that leads to success. For many leaders, that may mean pushing for a cutthroat culture where being on top is prioritized before being honest or cooperative. In reality, the real key to high performing sales teams is accountability. Research found a direct correlation between high performing teams and members’ willingness to quickly and respectfully confront one another when problems surface.
Accountability is critical for fostering trust, communication, and collaboration—all of which are essential for a business to excel. But in order for it to really take hold, sales leadership has to be intentional about integrating it into the team culture. Here are a few strategic steps sales leaders can take to achieve this:
- Communicate expectations before day 1.
From the very first interview, you can start to help future employees understand the importance of accountability to your management style, department, and company. Communication should be clear and direct. Employees should know and understand expectations. This should encompass everything from following the sales process and meeting quotas to exemplifying desired behaviors and attitudes when interacting with prospects, customers, and colleagues.
During this time, sales leaders should also be setting attainable goals for employees and helping them understand what they need to do to achieve those goals. Attainable is the key word here. If you set employees up to fail with quotas and expectations that are impossible to meet, they will only become discouraged and disengaged. Keep morale high by assigning goals you know they have the ability to meet—or even surpass.
- Set up expectations for leaders and hold them accountable, too.
Once employees know what is expected of them, lay out what they can expect from you and the company. This will entail developing a plan for how you should handle situations where either of you feels expectations haven’t been met. Doing this before there’s a situation will make it easier to work through problems in a way that is constructive and fair.
Employees need to know how to address leaders if they aren’t holding up their end of the bargain, too. This should be part of the expectation setting. Two-way trust and transparency are essential to building a sales accountability culture.
- Adopt a startup mindset.
Sales teams can learn from startups and their ability to move quickly and adapt. Startups don’t have the resources or time to spend months planning before making critical decisions. Instead, they embrace failure, learn from it, and move on. This means everyone on the team has to be accountable and adaptable—they can’t waste time trying to assign blame to someone else or allow themselves to get stuck on an idea that just doesn’t work. And most importantly, startups have a common goal and all employees know how their contributions factor into achieving that goal.
Your sales team should follow the same mindset. Employees need to know what their specific roles and responsibilities are and how they contribute to the overall success of the company. And when it comes to setbacks, it’s important not to view them as personal failures, but rather as learning experiences that can be used to improve processes and lead to further innovation.
- Regularly check-in.
To keep expectations clear, it’s vital to check-in with each employee on a continual basis to discuss goals and progress. Take into consideration the way each employee prefers to communicate and receive feedback. Do they like one-on-one meetings or quick text check-ins? Keeping in mind their preferences will show respect and help in fostering trust.
At times, you will have to deliver difficult feedback during these check-ins. No one likes being criticized—but if you have an accountability culture, it should be easier for employees to feel empowered to see criticism as a necessity for growth. You can facilitate this by balancing negative and positive feedback. Always point out their strengths and frame their weaknesses as opportunities to develop and become even better at their job.
- Take action with those who won’t be held accountable.
If you’ve had the difficult conversations and the employee still isn’t willing to be held accountable, then other action may be necessary. There’s nothing more frustrating for employees that are willing to be held accountable than to have a coworker that isn’t—and a leader who is unwilling to address the issue.
If you truly are committed to creating and maintaining a culture of accountability, then allowing even one employee to deviate is hurting your culture, other employees, and the company. Employees who aren’t willing to be held accountable to expectations such as prospecting activities, CRM hygiene, and achieving quota on a consistent basis are a drain on resources and a sales leader’s mental energy. Hire slow and fire fast is true—especially in sales.
Sales is already a high-pressure field where employees are challenged with rejection and competition on a daily basis. When sales leaders use their influence to endorse a ruthless culture where the only thing that matters is exceeding quotas, their efforts will eventually backfire. Employees will begin to distrust one another, and consequently will hoard valuable information and fail to hold themselves or their colleagues accountable.
Ultimately, for a sales organization to succeed, leaders must embody the behaviors they expect their employees to adopt, such as honesty, decency, and openness. And most critical of all, they need to be the first to be accountable when problems surface.
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