Just last week, one of my favorite clients received a major honor: She learned she is among just five associates in her Fortune 500 Company selected to present at the organization’s national sales conference. The event, which will be held in California this March, is attended by more than 3200 sales professionals and their leaders from across the entire company. For any associate, this would be considered an incredible honor, but for my client it is a dream come true. Not so much the opportunity to present, but the mere fact that she would be considered among the best of the best in her company.
Hard as it is to believe, just two years ago, my client ranked among the ten lowest-performing sales people in her company, and dead last in her region. She dreaded going to work, she had been put on probation, and she was less than one step away from receiving disciplinary action from Human Resources. At a loss for what to do, and scared of losing her job, she found a hidden benefit in her organization’s employee handbook and took a major step toward turning things around. (See, it pays to actually read those things all the way through.) Tucked deep into the Employee Benefits section was a small paragraph that said that any employee who had been put on probation was entitled to three months of coaching by a professional performance coach. The coach could be internal to the organization or external, as long as the coach was professionally certified and had received education from a nationally recognized coaching school. Pretty nice company perk, even if you are on probation.
Within the month, my client and I were working together. She shared with me that she was stumped; she did not understand why she could not make a go of it. In her mind, she made her calls, did what they asked her to do, but for some reason she could not make the numbers. Taking her at face value, we began with a personal audit, just a temperature check to gauge what she was actually doing day-in and day-out, and where and how she was spending her time. It was no surprise to find that her words and her daily actions did not line up with her goals. Now in fairness to my client, I have to disclose that I find this a lot in the people with whom I work and definitely with most professionals. Our intentions — what we want to accomplish and where we want to focus — typically take a back seat to what “happens” to us when we come in to work each day. Running our day from a place of reactivity instead of proactivity results in a less than desirable outcome.
The bottom line is that she was making calls, following up, and asking for business – sort of. What we found was that her actions were less than focused, less than consistent, and she was less than accountable. Her chief complaint was that she had too much to do, and the company expected too much of her. She wanted me to understand that she was consistently asked to serve on task forces, attend community events, fill out reports and then “they” still expected her to excel at her job. Well the nerve of her leadership, I said (yes that was a very sarcastic remark). While I listened and questioned, ultimately I pushed back. I asked her if it was that she had too much to do, or that she was not aligned, intentional and accountable for her own choices and actions.
Yeah, like any good coach, I understand my job is to help my clients excel, not necessarily to make them like me. After she swallowed that dose of reality I so boldly forced her to swallow, we set about reorganizing her schedule and designing the plan that would take her from bottom of the list to top of the pack. The strategy that would move her from someone the company wanted to fire to someone the company is considering for leadership, and sales leadership at that. More importantly, helping her reach the position where she would no longer fear losing her job, but would become the employee that companies strive to keep.
This is the point in the story where I reveal the secret solution, the magic pill, the sexy idea that makes for a good book, a must-read bestseller, or a made-for-TV movie on the Business Channel. Oh wait; there isn’t one. Nope, no wizard-like formula to transform you into the ultimate sales professional. Truly, this is not rocket science. In fact, there is nothing that I am about to share with you that on some level you don’t already know, and that you have not already heard. So, while it may not be the sexiest thing you have read in a while, it will be the most effective. In all the years I have been doing this (both for my clients and for myself), I have found that sales success boils down to focus, consistency and accountability. Let’s take a look:
Whom are you calling on and why? Who is your target market, and are your daily and weekly calls made to that target market? Are you calling on your ideal prospect, your ideal client? Ask yourself if you are working in your sweet spot. Are you spending time with those prospects and customers who truly need your services? In addition, are you continually refining that list, as you learn more about who you are calling on? Are you “requalifying” them as potential leads and customers? News Flash! Not everyone wants to do business with you, and you do not want to do business with everyone. The better you are able to focus and truly qualify your leads, the more business you will close, the more customers you will help, and the more successful you will be.
Yes, what you do each and every day matters. Where you spend your time and energy has a direct connection to how successful you are. Do you have a lot to do? Do you have huge demands on your time? Of course you do: kids, aging parents, volunteer activities, work, and the list goes on. All the more reason you must be consistent with your actions and set priorities. See, when it comes to sales calls, we don’t have to devote days and weeks to making calls; we just have to ensure that each and every day, we make a sales call. Success at sales is about consistency. Just like an exercise routine, it is not about killing yourself; it is about increasing your daily activity. You need a plan. How many sales calls will you make each week? How many networking events will you attend? How many follow-up sales calls will you make? For my client, it was three networking events a month, five sales calls a week, three new prospects, and two follow-ups. That worked out to about an hour a day. That is all it took to take her from last on the list to top of the company in terms of performance. Now, that may not seem like a lot, but the consistency of the action, combined with the small amount of effort each and every day gave her plenty of time to plan her calls, the energy to be engaged, and the time to make notes and plan her next steps at the end of each call. (This last part is critical for quality calls and quality follow-up.)
Oh, my favorite — now I will have to admit that I do think this word is sexy! Why? Because such amazing and wonderful things happen when you hold yourself accountable. Please note: I said hold yourself accountable. Okay, I hear you. Yes, accountability is the responsibility of your boss and your leadership. My client had a great point, that her supervisor never worked with her, never held her accountable, and certainly never gave her ideas on how to improve her performance. So, after the second that I allowed her to feel sorry for herself and be a victim, I reminded her that while that may be true, at the end of the day, her supervisor still had a job and she was on probation and about to get fired. I reminded her that the time she spends coaching with me is her time, so I wanted to be clear that we can continue to whine about what we cannot control, or we can fix the problem. The choice was hers. (Back to the part where it is not my job to make my clients like me.)
See, accountability, in my point of view, should never be anyone else’s responsibility but yours. You don’t ever want to delegate it. If your leadership or your peer will hold you accountable, fantastic. That is wonderful extra support, but don’t ever give away one of the most precious tools you have in your arsenal. Accountability is where and how you learn, and it is key to improving your performance. Each and every week you should review your actions, and on a monthly basis you should review your results. This takes no more than 30 minutes each week and consists of questions like:
- How many calls did I make?
- How many networking events did I attend?
- What worked?
- What did not?
- What did I learn that I want to continue? What did I learn that needs to go?
- And monthly, how close am I to my goal? What got me there? What is in my way? What needs to change?
If you put yourself through this easy and simple process, then you will put yourself on the road to consistently improved performance. In addition, you will have fantastic data to share with your leadership, when they do hold you accountable, on what you know is working and where you are stuck and need their help.
Yes, the road to sales success may seem a little flat at times, but believe me, week after week and month after month, you will find it one of the most rewarding. A simple plan that consists of focus, consistency and accountability will take any sales professional — whether you are truly struggling or at the top of your game — to an entirely new level!