• Focus on Solving Problems and not Assigning Blame

    I have been told that most good pet stores will not sell you fish at the same time you buy a new fish tank. However, an impatient customer has options and will often purchase the tank at one place and then go somewhere else to buy the fish. Then they take both the fish and the tank home, fill the tank, put the fish in the water immediately, and realize that the fish will be floating at the top of water the next day. Were the fish defective or was it the water to blame for the death of the fish?

    The sales environment is much like this scenario. 

    The reason fish were floating the next day was because the water (environment) was not properly prepared. It takes some time and the right preparation to ensure the environment/water is ready, which is why the good pet stores do not want to sell the fish at the same time as the tank. They do not want you to make the mistake of putting the fish in the tank before it is ready.  They prefer for you to buy the tank, fill it, treat the water correctly, and then go get the fish to put in the tank once the water is ready.
    Who is to blame if the sales team is struggling? Is it the sales leader, or the individual sales professional?

    In situations where we see sales leaders with turnover as high as 100% or 200%, I am inclined to believe that the fish were not defective, so to speak. In those types of situations the common denominator is the sales leader and the environment that he or she has created. It can't always be everybody else's fault.   

    I once worked for a VP of Sales who hired 14 account executives to fill and refill 5 direct report positions in less than 2 years.  It  was  amazing especially considering it took about 6-9 months to bring an Account Executive up to speed.  I just saw people come and go.  Many quit and some got fired. In my opinion some were more talented than others, but most seemed like great sales professionals.  Some I could not tell because their tenure was way too short to be able make a determination. So, was the problem the fish (14 different account executives), or the water (the sales VP and the environment he created)? I think the answer is simple, but surprisingly, companies struggle with that question. Even if the skill sets of the account executives were not great, they still were all hired by that same VP. Isn’t building a team part of the responsibility of the sales leader? The sales leader is also responsible for personal development, retention, and the environment as a whole.

    Typically the turnover percentage is higher for less established companies than it would be with older and more established companies, and that seems to be consistent with the thought that it is the water/environment instead of the salespeople.  More established companies work hard to create an environment conducive to employee productivity because they understand it is needed for the company to be successful.  

    Great sales leaders are often true leaders who are very good at hiring, training and mentoring their team, which can lead directly to lower turnover and higher productivity.  They are not afraid to take blame for the environment they have created which is the first step in fixing problems.

    This problem is not isolated to corporations.  I saw the same issue when consulting with small business owners.  Most of them came up with two reasons/excuses for not achieving the results they desired.  “I just need to sell more, and I need better employees” was something I heard over and over again.  I pointed to McDonald's and Wal*Mart as examples of companies that have figured out how to make inexperienced workers productive. They both have spent a considerable amount of time establishing policies and procedures which creates an environment for all to be successful, regardless of skill set.

    Great sales leaders understand that hiring quality talent is important, but creating an atmosphere in which all employees can be successful is even more important. Chances are most (not all) account executives will be successful if the company provides them with a clear vision, properly defined goals, easy to understand procedures, and great sales leadership. If those things don't exist, is it really their fault that they are not successful?