3 Ways to Fix the Lack of Accountability that’s Killing Your Sales

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Smiling and nodding (followed by more smiling and nodding).

For most organizations, this is the most common reaction we see from participants who have gathered together to discuss news, insights, training, and perspective from the sales trenches.

Not convinced? Think about what happens at those moving month-end speeches where the leaders get up and talk about tenacity, focus, hustle, and execution. Or how about those training sessions where we get an infusion of knowledge about our latest products, positioning, or sales methodology. Or those all-hands meeting where we get together and hear about the previous sales period’s performance.

I’m willing to bet most of the time the team’s reaction consists of:

1. Plenty of smiling and nodding, followed by

2. People shuffling back to their desks and doing pretty much what they were doing before (and getting the same results).

While #1 may seem positive, #2 often masks a serious lack of accountability that can slowly (or often not so slowly) erode your revenue operation. Sloppy execution in client meetings, poor articulation of your corporate pitch and value proposition, inaccurate or incomplete sales forecasts, and a general lack of operational rigor are all symptoms of poor accountability.

Most Sales leaders, however, know all about accountability. While their large quotas serve as a constant reminder of their highly transparent success metric, they are often called to task in meetings with their executives or boards of directors to provide intimate details of their revenue operation. And nothing instills a greater sense of accountability than the fear of looking like an idiot in a board meeting!

Whether you’re a leader or an individual contributor, if you’re looking to supercharge the level of accountability for results in your organization, here are three helpful tactics:

1. Deputize the team

Help your team become more mutually accountable by sharing leadership responsibilities. For example, make one person on your team responsible for crunching the weekly sales stats, one person responsible for driving spiffs and promotions, one person responsible for social events, one person responsible for weekly education around customer/industry news and events, etc. The great thing about this tactic is that it improves your team’s level of accountability, intimacy with the business, and gives every person a leadership window into how the business is run. Sharing the load also frees up some of the manager’s valuable time which can be used for more coaching, 1:1’s, and ride-alongs.

2. Promote regular “5-minute” practice

On my teams, this tactic was known as “Pop Quiz” time or “Five Minutes in Heaven” (although it was often slightly longer than five minutes and few considered it heavenly). It involved using the first 5 minutes of our regular team meetings to test the team’s knowledge of things they were expected to know. Product knowledge, objection handling, discovery questions, pricing strategy, and internal processes, are all areas that were spot-tested, rapid-fire style with simple questions and discussion to raise the level of accountability on our team. This tactic balances the team’s desire for high-performance execution and good old social pressure. That is, people’s desire to not appear unprepared in front of their peers.

Of course, this shouldn’t be used as a punitive or surprise tactic. This approach drives the most accountability when done consistently and the team knows the topics they’ll be asked about it in advance. By setting the expectation that the team will be called to task on their field readiness, leaders can promote an ongoing sense of accountability and the team will appreciate the extra push to up their game!

Tip: prepare a running list of questions in advance of your meetings so you always have content to use (and don’t worry about reusing content…repetition is key to this tactic!).

3. Write things down

When we crystallize topics, deliverables, and outcomes in writing, something magical happens; massive accountability! As GTD movement leader, David Allen, says “your mind is for having ideas, not holding them”. Yet despite our fast-paced lifestyles, the human tendency to forget, and the abundance of technologies available for us to recall information, we simply don’t write things down enough.

Writing things down is also a key behavior of great coaching. It not only helps us remember details of the commitments we make to each other but also provides a medium to confirm understanding and ensure consistent follow-up. We don’t have to write everything down though, just the important things we want to hold each other accountable for. For example, suppose you had a team meeting where you resolved to generate a certain amount of new business pipeline in the next month. Rather than relying on smiling and nodding to hold our team accountable for the result, document the agreed-up follow-up activities, success metrics, and the time frame in a forum everyone can see to create a consistent, unified view of interaction and follow-on commitment.

(Note: in a pinch, writing things down in an email is better than nothing but best to use a more pervasive and collaborative forum like Google Docs, Evernote, or your CRM to ensure your note doesn’t end in email purgatory!).

Driving accountability and doing what we say we’ll do is critical to first-class execution and moving our businesses forward. The good news is, most of us want to live up to the commitments we smile a nod about. By putting these few simple tactics into practice you’ll be well on your way!

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