Truth and Consequences

The truth of the matter is that there are not many consequences for non-performance and it’s affecting sales effectiveness.

Training Sub-Performers
When we as sales managers allow substandard performance we, in effect, encourage substandard performance. When we don’t hold our people accountable, in essence we train them to believe that not achieving sales targets and personal goals is okay. Can’t happen to me, you say? Read on.

Depending on where you reside, you’ve been trained to break the speed limit. For example, I live in a jurisdiction where the speed limit on the highways is 80 Km (50 MPH), and yet it is perfectly acceptable to go 100 Km without being stopped by the police. In fact, there are huge signs on the highways that inform you of the size of the fine you’re liable for if you go over the limit by 20 or more kilometers. So, I’ve been trained to doodle along at just a little less than 100 Km when I’m on one of these highways.

Imagine my surprise then when I got a speeding ticket for going 17 Km over the posted limit! I was in another jurisdiction where the posted speed limit was also 80 Km and I thought I was being cautious (and smart) by only going 97 Km. Little did I realize that I was in a jurisdiction that enforced their laws and speed limits.

I got the $110 fine because I had been trained to ignore the posted speed limit signs. It was an expensive lesson.

Sending Messages
What message do we send our people when there is no consequence for non-performance? I’m not just referring to missing sales targets; I’m referring to things like not getting expense reports in on time (or just in, period!), showing up late for meetings, not completing sales reports, or simply not doing what they said they would do.

Apart from the fact that some of these things show a blatant disrespect for the sales manager and other members of the sales team, they help create an environment where this type of performance (or non-performance) is acceptable.

All the Little Children
Those of us who have, or have had, small children know that they’ll constantly test the limits set by their parents and if you give an inch, they’ll take a foot and go for the whole yard if they think they can get away with it.

It’s often the same with salespeople. They’ll constantly test the limits and guidelines you set for them until they learn, like kids, that they can’t get away with what they are trying to get away with.

Consequences
One of the consequences of allowing poor performance is that the good performers often start to slack off. That’s when Peter the performer tells himself that if Steve the slug is still here after consistently under-performing, why should he bust his butt.

Someone’s also going to figure out that no one seems to hold old Fred’s feet to the fire because he hasn’t learned to input his call information into the computer, so they’ll back off awhile to see what happens. If nothing happens, they’ve just saved themselves the aggravation of inputting call reports. They win and you lose.

Consistency Counts
Another bad habit some sales managers have is that they’ll cut their top performers some slack while still holding others accountable for performance. All they are doing is sending a message to the sales team that if you perform well you don’t have to be as accountable. Not a good message.

If you’re going to set rules for the team, they should apply to the whole team, not just selected members. I’m not saying you shouldn’t reward performers. I’m suggesting that you reward them in a way that sends the proper message to the rest of the team.

Why No Consequences?
Frankly, sometimes we simply don’t know what to do. What do you do if people don’t enter their call information into your system? What do you do if they don’t complete their expense reports on time? What are the consequences for constantly missing a sales target? Do you fire people? Maybe, maybe not.

Another reason for no consequences is the fact that the sales manager wants to be liked and instead of managing, he tries to be a friend to his people. You’re not hired to make friends, you’re hired to manage.

Recalibrate Your People
Maybe you’re the cause of the problem because you have been too slack with your people or maybe you inherited the situation from a previous manager who didn’t want to offend anyone by being too harsh. Whatever, it’s your problem now.

Before you ever consider replacing anyone, I recommend you try to salvage the person by helping him change his behaviour. Have a meeting with the person and outline what has been happening, what you want to have happen, and ask him for ideas on how to make it happen. Use the following three-step process for uncovering and solving problems:

1. What’s the problem? Get a general agreement from the person as to what the problem is.

2. What are the causes? Let the person talk. Keep your views to yourself. It’s his problem and you want him to uncover the reason for it.

3. What can be done to minimize or eliminate the problem? Let the other person come up with solutions. You may be surprised. If nothing else, try to negotiate rather than mandate a solution. If you are taking action on his ideas rather than yours, good things are more likely to happen.

Sales Targets
If you’ve set reasonable sales targets and some of your people aren’t meeting them, then you first try to correct the problem through coaching and/or training. If that doesn’t work, then you have to consider replacing them. This is always a difficult decision. Salvage first, replace second. Do everything you can to make it work but, in the end, you have to do what is right for both the individual and the company and assist the person in getting a new career.

The truth is, that to do anything less, is the wrong consequence.

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