Usually, we can tell a lot about the stability of a sales organization by asking both leaders and direct reports one simple question: “Do you have a clear and compelling sales strategy in place?”
When we ask sales leaders this question, they almost always answer yes. When we ask their direct reports the same thing, they almost always answer no.
What’s the disconnect here?
It is vital that sales leaders tie the daily activities of salespeople directly to the larger goals of the organization. If your employees can’t easily make this connection, you are trying to steer a ship without a rudder. Over the years, we have learned to look for four big warning signs that a sales organization is drifting off course.
Warning sign #1: People in your organization believe that priorities shift a lot.
In many organizations, people either don’t know what to focus on, feel they’re constantly being pushed in multiple directions, or just feel overwhelmed by conflicting and ever-changing agendas. These perceptions translate into an overall sense of confusion, frustration, and disengagement. As a leader, shifting priorities might be a sign that you are making it too difficult for your people to say no and spend their time in the most productive way. It is also a sign that your strategy is not as clear as it needs to be.
As a leader, make sure that you clearly communicate the top two or three priorities for each team, and make it easy for people to take lower priority items off their plates.
Warning sign #2: People have a laundry list of long-term goals they’re trying to meet.
Leaders at the very top are thinking about all kinds of problems day in and day out, but your managers and salespeople don’t always have the luxury of looking at the big picture and identifying the critical few priorities; that’s what they rely on you to do. When you ask people what they’re trying to accomplish in a given fiscal year, they should name no more than three big goals.
As a leader, make sure that you help them identify the critical few moves that will make the biggest impact.
Warning sign #3: People are quick to point fingers and blame each other for problems.
The blame game is a common symptom of a directionless organization. If your team is highly focused on assigning blame for mistakes, screw-ups, and failure to meet goals, they’re treading water. You never want to get to the level at which people are more invested in the politics of running a business than actually engaging in business activities. You need to step in and get your team thinking about solutions and collaborations, rather than divisive political maneuvers.
As a leader, hold people accountable for results and act decisively to quell overly political maneuvers.
Warning sign #4: People are unclear about how their success is measured.
Left to their own devices, people will often pursue either the most urgent items or whatever activities will lead to the highest personal gain, rather than pay attention to the strategic goals of the business as a whole. Salespeople should always be crystal clear about the criteria on which their performance is based.
As a leader, make sure that you measure and incentivize your team to pursue activities that align with your larger strategy.
Staying vigilant about these four warning signs can save sales leaders a lot of headaches. Strategic clarity can create enormous performance leverage. For example, over a recent four-month period, we helped a high-growth client decrease internal conflicts by 38 percent by simply increasing goal clarity by 6 percent.
Most sales leaders make assumptions that employees understand far more than they actually do. Make sure you find out what your team really thinks.
Read more in our white paper, "Top 5 Warning Signs that Your Performance Environment May Be in Trouble."