It’s fair to say that I speak with dozens of people directly and indirectly each week.
Most of these are salespeople, sales leaders, business owners and C-Level decision makers. What concerns me is that in conversation after conversation, organisation after organisation, there’s a recurring theme about sales people who can’t or won’t take the action they need, who are reluctant to change. People who are unwilling to receive and act on feedback even when the evidence would suggest that would be a good idea! In essence, these salespeople aren’t coachable.
We’re heading into an increasingly challenging market now with a second wave of COVID and ensuing restrictions in Victoria coupled with the already large recession from the first wave. Businesses need the right people on the bus more than ever. Carrying uncoachable sales people is like trying to sprint with a tyre tied to your waist! A willingness to grow, to try new behaviours and to adapt are critical mindsets now and for the foreseeable future. Let’s face it: they always have been, but now business survival depends on it.
So, is there anything we as sales leaders and business owners can do? I think there is.
- Hire slowly
- Fire quickly
- Invest in your people throughout their career with you
- Reward those whose behaviour demonstrates values alignment
If we want engaged, enthusiastic people, it’s up to us to recruit, onboard, train and manage them differently.
ONE: Hire slowly.
There’s a reason some companies put their applicants through 6 rounds of interviews – especially for senior roles. But when we’re looking for people NOW, we can still follow this principle by doing group interviews and activities that weed people out based on demonstrated behaviours.
Create activities that require the group to work as a group and watch how they interact. Who are the helpers? Who has no empathy for others? Who does the team naturally follow? Who brings others along willingly? Cut those who demonstrate that they can’t or won’t follow instructions without innovative input, those who sit back and let others do the work, those who bully, those who don’t listen or consult with others, those who will get a result at the expense of the group or individuals.
See how people deal with feedback in a group and one on one setting. How do they work with that feedback? What examples of resilience are revealed? Those people who can overcome difficult times demonstrate character.
Continue with group activities that reveal values, character, decision making, honesty, the ability to listen, and the ability to connect with different people until you’re down to a final one or two.
Get them to spend a day on the road with your best and newest sales people. Ask them for feedback and an assessment as to what they will need to work on to be great at the role, what their plan is for the first 3 months, and what they’ve observed they may be good at. Look for balanced assessments of self. If someone is going to be on the road unmanaged most of the time, this is essential.
TWO: Fire quickly.
Okay, of course I mean to adhere to HR policies. What I mean is that as soon as you see a pattern of behaviour that is a red flag, it’s time to take action. Too many chances are given to people who simply do not deserve them. We need to practice self-love for our organisations (and ourselves here).
Set clear expectations of the what, how and why and check for understanding. Set clear boundaries about what is and isn’t okay.
Once someone has had feedback a couple of times for the same behaviour it’s a pattern.
THREE: Invest in your people
Training and time well spent will pay dividends. “Train them and what if they leave?” some people ask. “Don’t train them and what if they stay?” I ask.
Onboard them well. This is where you have the opportunity to leave no stone unturned. This isn’t just about where the toilets are or where to park. This is about what is expected here, what the dress code is and isn’t, how we treat one another, how we treat our customers, values and the behaviours that exemplify these values.
Onboarding is also about setting your sales people up for a successful trial. Giving them opportunities to succeed is about guiding them with good leadership IN PERSON for those 3 months. Maybe not every day, but more than you would a long time employee. Give them feedback using specific examples.
Help them to self-edit. Find examples of what they’re doing right and well to reinforce.
FOUR: Values matter just as much as results.
Results are a standard that must be set. Beyond that it’s values.
When you see your people embodying your values, reinforce them positively. Praise them.
Recognise their behaviour.
Be specific so they know exactly what to keep doing.
Values and coachability. They give you somewhere to go. The possibility of improvement is there. They’ll represent you well. They’ll treat your customers well as they develop.
How you lead, coach and manage them is up to you.