One of the biggest mistakes that sales managers make is looking only at results, rather than the host of activities, behaviors, and other inputs that contribute to those results. If a factory uses faulty materials, no amount of fiddling with the machinery is going to make the goods come out correctly.

It’s natural for us to want to focus on results, rather than inputs, but unfortunately this is a poor way to motivate your sales team. When we as sales managers wait for a poor result to address the issue, we are essentially criticizing after the fact, too late to do anything other than make our teams feel confrontational.

If you are asking yourself what types of inputs are important to the results of the sales process, consider these points: how well do your sales reps prioritize the customer’s solution criteria and identify customer needs? Do your salespeople have an understanding of the competitive advantage your company can offer, and can they explain it to your customers? Can they craft a presentation or proposal which presents the best possible case to the customer?

To be effective as a sales manager you must focus on inputs and not just outputs. Coach early and often, and work to identify skill deficiencies before they lead to poor outcomes.

Imagine you were to send an email to the members of your team, asking them to describe for you the specific tasks that they needed to complete in order to achieve the results that you are wanting. How many differing responses would you get?

In my sales management training sessions, when I have participants try this experiment, they receive a wide variety of answers. This is because it is rare for sales managers or organizations to have a clear understanding of exactly what behaviors and activities are needed to be successful, thereby leaving their people to guess as they go along. Results are clearly defined, but behaviors and activities are often not well-defined.

A Salesperson’s Viewpoint

Put yourself into the shoes of a salesperson who has just had a bad month. Your manager comes to confront you about it, but doesn’t know what is causing the problem, simply instructing you to make more sales calls. How do you feel? Most likely, demotivated. You’re working hard, don’t know what you could do differently, and really need constructive coaching, but have just been told to sell more.

For this reason, I always advise participants in my sales management training sessions to create what I call a Success Profile. This is a document containing the specific skills (activities and abilities) and wills (behaviors and attitudes) that a member of your sales team is expected to do in order to achieve the greatest level of success. Salespeople cannot be held responsible for maintaining standards that have not been defined.

Once you have created a Success Profile, you then have a clear set of standards to communicate to your team, and it helps you to watch for deficiencies that each rep needs to improve on. Communicate these standards consistently, not just one-time in a meeting.

Incorporate your Success Profile into your conversations with salespeople. When your team clearly understands these standards they are better able to improve themselves when you aren’t working with them, which speeds up the development of your team.

Have your team practice these standards and offer them the chance to obtain your advice, as well as any needed feedback, starting early in the sales process. This way, you can be a true coach, rather than a Monday-morning quarterback.

Kevin F. Davis is the author of “The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness: 10 Essential Strategies for Leading Your Team to the Top.” Kevin is the president of TopLine Leadership, Inc. which specializes in sales management development and custom sales training.


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