I recently interviewed a candidate for a senior level sales management position. During the interview he indicated that he would wait until a salesperson consistently failed to perform and then he would step in to identify the problem. I didn't agree with that philosophy, but I remained quiet and allowed him to continue. He said he felt that the salesperson should have followed the sales process and if he didn't then he would probably fail. He was right, but the problem was that the sales management team never communicated their expectations, never installed a defined sales process, didn't provided sufficient training and didn’t coach the team over a period of time. As a result, he placed unspoken expectations on his salespeople, and set them up for failure.

He didn't get the job.

This practice is common among many sales management executives. Some believe that expectations are exclusive to a sales quota. You either hit the goal or you don't. Some think that it’s making 50 calls per day. They’re missing the point. As a sales manager, take the time to ask yourself, what does it take for a salesperson to be successful. That’s the reason for sales management. If salespeople could truly do their job alone (I know some do), then sales managers would be out of a job, and every company would employ independent reps and hope for the best. (By the way, independent reps are a great option in certain industries.)

I believe that there are several factors that contribute to sales success in any organization. One of the most overlooked is defined expectations. What exactly do you want from your salespeople? If you can’t define it then how will your salespeople ever achieve it? If a salesperson does not know what it means to be successful in a sales role at your company, then how will they achieve what you want?

Here is an exercise to help you define your expectations for a salesperson. I warn you – it looks simple, but it can be quite difficult.

Fill in the blank to the following statement: What it means to be a successful salesperson at our company is______________________________.

The first response of many sales managers is to scribble in a dollar amount or to write the words “make quota”. If that is the case, then you’re missing some important things. First, what if the salesperson meets quota, but treats the other members of your organization with contempt? I’ve seen too many salespeople who could sell, but mistreated their co-workers and had to be let go. I’ve seen others who were allowed to stay too long because everyone liked them (including the CEO or owner) in spite of their poor sales.

When going through this exercise, take your time and write down your thoughts about what you really want in a salesperson. Build a profile and identify the types of activities you believe they must do in order to meet your expectations.

Here's a list of things to consider when defining your expectations:
- How much prospecting is involved?
- What type of prospecting activities should they engage in?
- How often or how much lead generation is required on a weekly or monthly basis?
- How team oriented is this role?
- Are they engaged in a team-sell situation?
- Who are the people inside the organization they will work with closely?
- What is their sales quota?
- How long after they've been hired should they start making sales?
- What should I expect them to do once they've completed their initial training?
- How much paperwork is involved?
- How many accounts, if any, will they inherit?
- What should they do with those accounts (sell more, maintain, reinforce relationships, regain)?
- How much should they travel?
- How often should they meet with customers?

This is not an exhaustive list, but you get the idea. After you go through this, you may come up with an expectation that looks like this:

Expectations (Sample)
What it means to be a successful salesperson at our company is one who will achieve in the next 12 months a sales quota of $1.3 million. This should be done by acquiring a minimum of 6 new customers in our primary target market and 15 in our secondary market. The prospecting methods should be cold-calling (telephone), cold-calling (face-to-face) and referrals from the 10 house accounts you will inherit. A minimum of 20% travel will be required in order to visit each primary customer at least 3 times each this year and secondary customers once this year. You will need to work closely and collaborate with the four members of your technical team on a weekly basis in order to develop targeted presentations for your prospects.

You can see that this is quite different from the expectation of “make quota”. Communicating to your salespeople what is expected of them and then providing the tools, training and resources to help them achieve those expectations is what sales management is all about. Take a crack at this exercise and see what you come up with regarding your expectations. Afterwards, you may need to hold a meeting with some of your salespeople and, for the first time, clearly communicate your expectations. You may be surprised at the results.

Author's Bio: 

Barrett Riddleberger is an internationally recognized leader in the practice of sales assessment, sales training, sales recruitment and sales consulting. His book, “Blueprint of a Sales Champion,” details how organizations can find, train and retain top performing salespeople… even in a highly competitive market. An accomplished author and sales consultant, Riddleberger is also highly in demand as a business development and motivational speaker for organizations seeking to drive their sales force to greater levels of performance.

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