Coaching Guarantees Real Measurable Accountability

By The Brooks Group

A Google search of “measurable accountability” yields more than 1.5 million results, just one indicator of how obsessed corporate America has become with the concept. Unfortunately, most typical measures of accountability are evaluating too little, and they’re doing it too late.  If you asked 100 managers to define “accountability,” you might get 100 different answers, but virtually all of them would be related to observable results: number of closed deals, whether a customer service rep resolves a specific percentage of complaints, or if a sales team meets its target for the quarter.

As CSO Insights put it in the 2010 Sales Performance Optimization Survey, “Sales managers have historically had many measures to review… But all of these measures are historical; that is, by the time you know what the number is, it’s already history.”  We usually talk about accountability after the fact, when it’s too late to affect the outcome and someone’s looking to place blame for poor performance.  And that’s why accountability has such negative connotations.

At The Brooks Group, we have a different view.  We believe that measurable accountability is about in-process measurement of how results are achieved, not just end-process measurement of what the results are.  In-process measurement requires checkpoints along the way to accomplishing a goal, not just judging final results.  In this way, accountability has a direct relationship with coaching.  Once you understand where in the sales process a salesperson is losing sales, you can coach them to improve the necessary skills (and probably have an impact on their results).

Let’s say you have a salesperson who has trouble closing deals. What if that person is actually a perfectly good “closer,” but terrible at probing prospects for information about what they need and want?  If you only evaluate the salesperson on closed deals – an end-process measurement – you’ll never help them improve their close rate (and you may risk firing someone who has the potential to be a top-performer).  On the other hand, if you have checkpoints throughout a systematic sales process, and you’re observing the salesperson “in-process,” you’ll uncover the real reason they’re not making sales:  poor questioning skills.  Now you can work with them to improve their questioning approach, and you can hold them accountable for it in a much more meaningful way.

When sales managers tell us their salespeople aren’t meeting quota, we ask two questions:

1. Where are they having difficulty in the sales process? 

Frequently sales managers admit that their salespeople don’t follow a systematic selling process; or if they do, the manager doesn’t know where in the process the salesperson is stumbling.  It’s simple:  salespeople need to know where they are in the sale and what step to take next.  If you and your salespeople are working from the same selling “playbook,” you have a common language with which to discuss how each sale is progressing.  You can set up metrics for each step of the sale and evaluate your salespeople against the expectations.

2. Have you coached them on the problem area?

Certain actions are required to complete each step of the sale; for example, in our IMPACT Selling® system, you shouldn’t try to Probe a prospect (Step 3) until you’ve fully qualified the prospect via Step 1: Investigate and Step 2: Meet.   When you and your salesperson are using a linked, sequential selling system, the salesperson will know exactly what’s expected of them at each step in the sales process, and you’ll have measurable accountability built into the system.

NFL football teams measure virtually everything:  yards per rush, penalties per game, completion percentage, sacks per game, and so on.  During every game, the coaches have access to eye-in-the-sky photos, and after each game they review tapes and stats.   The best coaches call attention to positive performance and deconstruct what went wrong during the game.  Then, they coach their players so the next game has a better chance of being won.  Each offensive and defensive player knows exactly what “metrics” he’s accountable for achieving in every game, and his coach coaches him to continuously improve the skills needed to get the desired results.

In just the same way, sales managers should be coaching their salespeople!  (In-process, not just end-process, remember?)  The best salespeople want to be held accountable for their results, and they don’t hide from the facts.  When you have in-process measurement of metrics related to a systematic selling process, you will drive end-process results like higher margin sales, higher volume sales, increased sales of a specific product or service, growth in certain geographical areas, or other goals you’ve set for your sales team.  In-process measurement yields end-process results!