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Accountability - What Does It Really Look Like?

It's not enough to have great talent on your sales team. Even if your salespeople have excellent selling skills, real success comes when everyone is aligned with the goals and expectations set by the sales leader while also being motivated and held accountable. So, what does it mean for a salesperson to be accountable? For this article, let's say accountability is defined as; being held responsible for doing the things that are expected of you.

There are many negative connotations about "being held accountable," especially when things go wrong. But accountability can also be a good thing. Sales leaders should use the word "accountability" openly and frequently to remind their salespeople that they are also being recognized for their success. If your team does not feel responsible for their results and does not get recognized for them, why would they be motivated to do any better?

Lacking Accountability?

As a sales leader, you often have to read your team's minds to figure out what's stirring. You need to be able to see what drives and motivates them. If they aren't accomplishing what is expected of them, you also need to determine why.

There are several reasons why your salespeople could be lacking accountability. More often than not, it's because they became distracted, got off track, jumped to something else, or didn't feel a certain activity or action was essential.

A lack of accountability can cause:

  • Missed goals
  • Poor execution
  • Unclear priorities
  • Low morale
  • Declining engagement
  • Low levels of trust
  • High turnover

According to the author and transformational leader Anne Loehr, 93% of employees don't understand what their organization is trying to accomplish. Additionally, 85% of leaders aren't defining what their employees should be working on. Lastly, 84% describe themselves "as 'trying but failing' or 'avoiding' accountability, even when employees know what to fix." Those numbers are staggering. Just addressing this issue can improve the productivity of your sales team. So why is there a lack of accountability?

What's Missing With Your Expectations?

Four main areas can cause your sales team to not reach your expectations:

Clear Expectations- is your direction clear and concise?

To be accountable, your salespeople need to know exactly what expectations they are being held to. Many sales leaders think they are clear with their expectations, but their salespeople often have a different impression. 

For example, sales leaders give directions such as "Make sure you're your CRM data is updated" or "Make sure you do a good job at Discovery in the sales process.” Salespeople will appreciate the sentiment in most instances, but there is a lot of detail that is not defined and left up to interpretation. 

Sales leaders also have hidden expectations, which can be disastrous for you and your team. You can read more about that on our blog, "Are Your Employees Living up to Your Hidden Expectations?" Having consistent and precise expectations is essential for your team's accountability.

Do They Know How – is the salesperson capable of doing the job? 

Do your salespeople have the needed:

  • Prospecting, selling, negotiating skills
  • Training on your messaging and sales process
  • Technical skills?
  • Interpersonal skills?
  • Operational knowledge?
  • Business acumen?

If no, what skills need to be developed? How will you sufficiently train and develop these skills? The sales leader needs to make sure the sales team has the skills and knowledge to do their job.

Tools and Resources – are the expectations unrealistic because we did not give them the time or resources needed?

Are your performance standards realistic? Does your salesperson have adequate resources (time, technology, tools, place, support, information, money, access, materials, etc.) to do their job efficiently? If no, what specifically does the salesperson need? Are there other obstacles such as authority, boundaries, process issues, etc. beyond the salesperson's control? If yes, what specific obstacles can you help remove? The sales leader needs to make sure the team has everything they need to do their job.

Motivation– are they motivated to do it?

Is the employee willing to do the job? Why or Why not? Have you provided positive consequences to reinforce what you want them to do? Do your salespeople know how they are being measured? Have you been giving quality feedback? Does the salesperson know the impact of their performance on team, company, leadership, themselves, etc.? Could there be any feelings or beliefs that may be causing a performance issue? The sales leader needs to clarify the team's impact on the organization and reward the team's efforts.

You'll want to establish your expectations both in one-on-one conversations and as a team. This allows the department to get on the same page and address ambiguity. Set goals as a team to get buy-in and create a healthy sense of competition and togetherness. Letting your team have some input on their goals helps them feel better about the expectations.

Transparency Is Key

Transparency is a catalyst for communication and accountability throughout an organization. It is a look into what is happening between your team, other departments, and your organization as a whole.

When the entire team has visibility into team numbers, goals, what everyone else is doing, and the status of dependent tasks, it encourages team engagement and accountability. According to TINYpulse, management transparency is the top factor when determining employee happiness. Problems can be anticipated because each team member is providing insight. Then everyone knows each day what they're doing and why they're doing it—another big motivator.

When sales performance is entirely transparent, you can add fuel to your team's competitive fire by introducing public consequences and rewards for the lowest and best performers.

Rewards

Rewarding your team for their hard work can drive good behavior and accountability. Rewards don't always have to come in the form of compensation. A shout out to the team about a specific action or win can have an immense effect on accountability and activity. Personal recognition from the sales leader or the CEO/Owner can go a long way. Merely knowing that the executive team is looking at your performance can be a huge motivator. If you want to learn more about driving good behavior, check out our blog, "The ABC's of Managing Your Sales Team."

If you want your team to be successful, you must recognize their wins along with their occasional shortcomings. When a person feels undervalued and overly criticized, they're much less motivated to perform optimally. According to Forbes, 79% of people quit their jobs due to a lack of appreciation. So that makes being rewarded all that more powerful. And if they don't meet their responsibility, it doesn't have to be a negative experience. As their leader, you can simply help them re-direct to get back on track.

Follow-Up Like A Boss

It doesn't matter if it's a one-on-one, a team meeting, or a weekly email; most meetings will have a set of takeaways, deliverables, or actions. Be clear on what those items are and how you will follow up on them.

Following-up with your team reinforces excellent performance and behavior, and provides necessary feedback. If you fail to "inspect what you expect," people will pick up on that quickly and be less compelled to do what is asked of them. Following up keeps everyone on track and allows for strong accountability.

Sales accountability is the obligation of an individual or organization to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them, and to disclose the results transparently. Driving that accountability requires clarity, transparency, rewards, and reinforcement. Accountability takes some effort on your part, and your sales team's part, but once it's established, it will drive great results.

About Gary Braun

Gary is a founder and co-owner of Pivotal Advisors. He has worked for 20+ years as a salesperson and sales leader. Gary has been a guest speaker for many groups such as Vistage, Allied Executives, CEO Roundtable, Sales Management Association, and more. If you want to find out more about Gary check out his profile here.
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