The Three Sales Accountability Traps and How to Avoid Them


By Alyson Brandt

Is your sales organization one of the top performers in your industry? If not, here’s your blueprint for success.  

Our sales research identified a culture of accountability and results as a critical differentiator between top and average performers.   

In our client work, we see several common barriers, or traps, that prevent sales leaders from creating an optimal sales culture. Below are three traps with tips on how to overcome them:  

Accountability Trap #1: Focusing Exclusively on Results

Arnold Palmer once said, “It’s a funny thing – the more I practice, the luckier I get.” Palmer meant that, when he pulled off amazing shots – what others might call lucky shots – it wasn’t due to luck at all.  Great shots are the result of putting in the work. Like in the game of golf, the more work salespeople put into prospecting, the “luckier” they get. Salespeople who put in the work will “happen to meet” people who know someone with whom they should speak. Or, they’ll get in touch with someone who is “coincidentally” ready to make a purchase. Sales results are no coincidence. They are the result of activity, focus, and pipeline management.  

Activity is a leading indicator of pipeline. The sheer volume of prospecting activities – prospecting calls, proposals, networking, social selling, and client meetings – is important. But quality is equally important.  Through enhanced observational coaching, one-on-one meetings, and pipeline reviews, sales leaders can ensure that both quantity and quality increase.  

Focus is concentrated attention on the right accounts and priorities. This can be tricky to measure.  Consider the activity-to-revenue ratio. For example, a rep could schedule 13 meetings with a tiny account within six months. In that same time span, the same rep might have three meetings with one of their key accounts. Leaders must help salespeople understand activity isn’t the only metric. You need smart activity with the right strategic focus to yield better results. Smart activity results in time better leveraged and focused.

Pipeline Management should be viewed as an opportunity to gain insights and increase activity. It needs to move from a compliance “check the box” activity to one that helps create focus and momentum while developing team members.

Accountability Trap #2: Failing to Accentuate the Positive

I remember the good old days. When I closed a deal, I’d hang up my phone and strut through the office.  Heads turned. I proudly wrote my deal on the big board. Loud high fives rang out across the office. Everyone – including me  – felt a huge boost.  

Today, there seem to be fewer chances to celebrate. Teams are remote. Opportunities and wins are captured and tracked (trapped?) in a CRM. With a lack of practice, managers may be losing the “muscle memory” to recognize and reward their people. In fact, according to Fast Company, nearly 20 percent of managers struggle with praise. This is a foreboding sign for sales cultures everywhere. Healthy doses of recognition are the antidote to hard accountability conversations and rejections.  

As it turns out, there is something managers dislike even more than giving positive feedback: giving negative feedback. This leads us to our final trap.

Accountability Trap #3: Allowing Exceptions  

Exceptions are lethal to any sales culture – including those involving the “star performer.”

You know the one. There’s that high performer who deviates from process and guidelines. This behavior erodes sales culture and performance. But, because this one salesperson delivers results, he or she’s treated with kid gloves.  When it’s time to take off those gloves, you’ll need the VITAL conversation framework to ensure a productive conversation:

V – Verify the need. Have you jumped to conclusions? Is this conversation warranted? Or do you just need to cool down?

I – Identify the issue. Do your research. Talk with others. Get to the root of the issue. Gather examples, details, and facts. The person will see that it’s not just your opinion. It is reality.  

T – Talk track. Outline your conversation in advance. Follow these eight steps for an optimal talk track.   

A Advice. Pause. Get some advice. Sleep on it. Let your thoughts incubate.  

L  Logistics. Set up the conversation well, taking into consideration the environment and tone.

The VITAL conversation framework can be used to let your sales team know you are serious about both results and behavior change. Accountability is more than just a focus on results. It’s also about mindset and actions for leaders and team members. Ideally, team members are taking proactive ownership for their decisions and activities while leaders are clarifying expectations as well as managing and measuring leading and lagging indicators – activities and results.

So, to strengthen your sales culture, remember: You need to look through the windshield while also looking in your rearview mirror.  

  • Measure more than just results. Top organizations hold salespeople accountable for results by defining and measuring Activity, Focus, and Pipeline Management.  
  • Take advantage of every opportunity to reward and recognize your team.  
  • Hold everyone accountable for results and standards – even rogue star performers.

The best companies in our sales research combine these practices with a clear strategy to crush their quotas. Join them, won’t you?  

Picture2As president of Fusion Learning USA, Alyson Brandt is responsible for growing the U.S. business. For more than 25 years, Alyson has advised Global 1000 executives and senior leaders on best practices in global sales force development, sales leadership and management, and leadership initiatives. Alyson has worked with Fortune 500 companies across numerous industries – from financial services to hospitality – including BlackRock, Chubb, American Express, Chobani, Air New Zealand, and Nucor to name a few.

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