How to Create an Accountable Sales Team

Whenever I talk about “accountability” with salespeople, I see a lot of eye rolls. Not surprising, given that accountability is a word that gets tossed around when sales managers want to blame someone for something that has gone wrong. Over time, if accountability means blame it can destroy morale and undermine sales results.

Instead, sales managers should re-define accountability into something much more positive and future-focused. When done right, accountability can help sales managers develop a highly professional and more productive sales team.

What do I mean by “done right”? I mean creating a system where salespeople understand what they will be accountable for improving, then reviewing their performance regularly against these accountability standards that you have created.

Here are four steps to set you down the right path:

1. Make it clear what it is salespeople will be accountable for (your expectations)

“Sell more” is not the kind of standard that you hold people accountable for. You need to be detailed and specific.

It’s likely you already have a starting point: your company’s job descriptions likely document some of the skills that salespeople are expected to have and I’ll bet there are monthly or quarterly quotas that salespeople are expected to make. But you need to push expectations a step farther if you want to create a system of accountability.

Start by thinking about the best salespeople you know (were you one before you were promoted?). What behaviors, traits, and attitudes did these top salespeople have that generated great numbers?

I can think of at least four categories of standards where great salespeople excel and that you’d want to document as part of your expectations:

  • Activity levels: What a rep needs to do in terms of sales process activity (# of calls or proposals per week or month, etc.), account development, and team member responsibilities (such as how often they need to update your CRM).
  • Sales process skills—What skills are needed to move a customer through their buying process (and through your sales funnel). This includes everything from prospecting/new business development to uncovering additional customer needs to crafting a winning proposal or presentation.
  • General selling skills: Great sales people are knowledgeable about the products or services they sell, very good at establishing rapport, display an overall professionalism, and so on.
  • The wills or attitudes needed to succeed on your team: Most sales organizations overlook attitudes (the “wills” that match the “skills”) when defining “expectations.” Want proof? It’s not likely that your company’s job description for the sales position include attitudinal qualities. But I’ve never known a fantastic salesperson who did not have attributes l like such as “competitive”, “enthusiastic”, and “coachable.”

By setting expectations in all four dimensions, your salespeople will have deep understanding of what the job requires.

2. Set your standards high

When I ask sales managers to tell me about standards they’ve set for their team, what I usually hear are criteria that are best labeled as “standards for not getting fired.” That is, they define minimum performance levels a salesperson must attain. Personally, I don’t want to work on a team where the players are only told, “here’s how to avoid coming in last.” Plus, I don’t see the logic in holding a team accountable to the lowest standards!

So set your standards high. Describe what the best reps do in terms of the four dimensions listed above (activity level, sales process skills, etc.). Make them the standards that everyone strives for.

3. Communicate

These high standards that you’ve fleshed out won’t do any good if they gather dust as a file stored up in the cloud – largely forgotten until the time comes when the manager must de-hire somebody.

So you have to make sure that you share skills and attributes—along with the new higher standards—with ALL of your team members. Explain that these are the new standards you are going to hold salespeople accountable to.

And don’t just do this once. Discuss a few items on the list of standards at regular team meetings to (a) make sure your team understands them and (b) knows that you are paying attention to them.

4. Hold people accountable!

Once a quarter or every six months, sit down with each salesperson, and have them rate themselves against the standards you’ve defined. You do the same for them. Then compare ratings and use key points as the basis of one-on-one professional development discussions with your salespeople. That’s what it means to re-define accountability into something much more positive and future-focused.

When you have these four elements in place—high standards that are well-communicated around a wide range of attributes and skills and regularly reviewed—accountability becomes a word that salespeople know is being used to help them to continuously improve and make more money, rather than a weapon used by managers to punish and blame. And it’s only then that you will have true accountability on your team!

Kevin F. Davis is the President of TopLine Leadership, Inc. and the author of “The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness.” For more ideas on sales team leadership, download Kevin’s whitepaper, “7 Ways to Drive a Sales Coaching Culture” here

Kevin Davis

Kevin F. Davis is the author of The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness”, which was named the 2018 Axiom Business Book Award Winner, Silver Medal. Kevin is also the author of Slow Down, Sell Faster!”.