Your Sales Culture Is Killing You – Part 5 (Either Hit Your Sales Targets – Or Else!)

Become a better sales coach and sales manager today.

I was saddened to hear about a client who had to take a sabbatical from her management position because of too much stress. This 5th installment of “Your Sales Culture Is Killing You” exposes another great nemesis and the downfall of absolute thinking.

A key stakeholder for one of my recently delivered leadership programs was on a sabbatical. She was a champion of coaching, continually advocating for the ongoing development of both managers and their sales leaders. “It was due to stress,” I was told. “The heavy stress of continually hitting the sales targets and business objectives took a toll on her. She really needed to rest.”

Another casualty of today’s work environment and unfortunately part of a growing population. It upset me to find out that such an intelligent, talented and authentic leader fell victim to the intense pressure that today’s managers are faced with and the ever-growing demand to get their team to consistently achieve ambitious goals and growing sales targets.

A Casualty of Culture

Company, location or industry; it doesn’t matter. At the end of the year, the single burning question asked to practically every sales manager is, “Did you achieve your sales targets and business objectives?” Of course, the second popular question has to do with your ranking. Who held the number one spot in your region/company and who trailed behind?

Now, those teams who achieve their sales targets are rewarded, right? I’m using the word ‘reward’ here fairly loosely, since this is the most common reward I hear managers receive;

“Great work! Congratulations on hitting your sales targets. Here’s your reward. A higher sales target!”

While managers joke about this, it’s no surprise that achieving greater levels of success comes at a cost. Consequently, managers feel that the priority placed upon the performance goal casts a dark shadow on any other positive results that were achieved, often sending a conflicting message throughout the organization.

For example, if you hit your goals, you hear, “That’s great how you’ve been able to invest so much time observing, developing and coaching your team. Clearly it’s had a positive impact on your success. Keep it up!”

Conversely, if you didn’t hit your goals, some managers will hear, “Why are you spending so much time coaching and training your team? You should be spending more time doing customer visits so that you can make sure the business gets closed. Just focus on selling and getting the results we need!”

Talk about two inconsistent and contradictory messages! If this is the message that managers are hearing from the top, consequently, it will impact the message they send to their team.

The time spent operating within this environment will certainly start to affect your thinking, your DNA and ultimately your behavior and communication.

The primary directive is then cemented in the manager’s mind:

“Nothing else matters. Sure, soft skill training is nice to have and coaching sounds like it should be my priority as a manager but the bottom line is, either I achieve my business objectives, or else!”

Welcome to Myopia

The degeneration continues. Whether you’re the number one rated team or you’re on the opposite point of the bell curve, managers inherently become consumed by The Number. You’re reminded all too frequently about your goals and commitments, and in turn, keep a watchful eye on the reports and data. It’s all about the results, right? You start obsessing over the metrics, the numbers and the activity because you know there will come a day in the not-to-distant future where you are going to be interrogated by your boss. And you better know your numbers and forecast update!

It only makes sense then for these questions and the answers to become etched in your mind, questions managers relentlessly ask their direct reports. “What’s your activity? What’s in your pipeline? How many customer meetings did you schedule this week? Is your forecast accurate? Are you also focusing on new business development?”

While gathering this information is important, the real cost here is, managers become myopic in their thinking. This thinking begins to bend and narrow their peripheral view of the world, especially their approach to every challenge or problem coming at them.

That’s when it happens. A well intended people manager unknowingly becomes a data manager and the questions that consume their conversations with each person on their team focus primarily around the outcome.

“Either you’re doing it, or you’re not.”

The obsession to achieve results bleeds into their thinking, further diluting their patience and creativity. A new paradigm emerges and instantly, everything can now be classified as either black or white.

The real cost here is, managers step over the How and the process driven questions in the conversation in order to uncover each person’s capabilities, acumen and ultimately, the coaching moment. Instead, only closed ended, result driven questions are asked. The miss? Uncovering the Why and getting to the root cause of every situation.

Evolution stops. Progress ends. Growth is stalled.  Value is diluted. Assumptions become a plague. Sales are lost. Mediocrity ensues.

Black, White and Every Other Shade

It was the day after I sent out my newsletter with the subject line;  Is Your Boss Annoying? (Your Sales Culture is Killing You – Part 4) when  I received the following note from a manager.

I understand where you are trying to head with this concept [of detaching from your own agenda during a conversation.] What is not addressed is that when sales associates are allowed to vocalize issues or dilemmas, they most often do not have a solution.  They just want to commiserate.  This is fine with me (for a while), but then they need me to put my [problem solving] coat back on and provide structure to the frustrations they are experiencing.  If I simply approach each coaching session with the attitude of letting them vent and then putting my coat back on and leaving without offering any solutions, I do not serve anyone properly.

What is this manager doing here? Making several costly assumptions that create the perceived facts from which the wrong decision is made. Can  you see them? Here are three.

  1. Most of the time, my direct reports don’t have a solution. (Everyone has an opinion. Don’t dismiss someone’s opinion. That’s how you pull out their ideas around what a solution could look like.)
  2. Most of the time, my direct reports just want to vent and complain. (What type of expectations have been set during a coaching session or in any conversation?)
  3. Either I exercise patience, care and attention, giving them the space they need to process, vent and talk through their issues or I’m directive and provide solutions to the frustrations and challenges they experience. (What if it’s both?)

This is one of the many examples where managers exercise limiting beliefs and assumptions that prevent the creation of new and better solutions in every conversation. And this way of thinking is all a consequence of working within the myopic, result driven culture that many of us live in every day.

This manager also mentioned that their direct reports, “Just want to commiserate and at some point, the manager must put your coat back on and provide structure to the frustrations they are experiencing.” This is true, however, there’s one critical step that happens before you offer up your own solutions and opinions, which also builds the trust needed for that individual to feel comfortable being coached and sharing their ideas. That is, getting the person you are coaching to share their own ideas or solutions, before you share yours.

Expand Your Definition of Coaching

If we were to build of this example, coaching goes beyond simply being a sounding board and listening to another person commiserate. Coaching is not always about fixing something or someone, nor is there a need to always be directive. Depending upon the situation, at certain points in the conversation, after you have uncovered what the other person knows and sees, it’s legal in coaching to provide structure, guidance or new ideas. In addition, the coach’s role is share the things that the person can’t see on their own because when something is always going on, we become blind to it. And that can be achieved by having someone process a situation through on their own, asking a well crafted question that encourages self reflection or if they can’t see it on their own, sharing the observation you see.

Coaching is not only about letting someone vent and work through their situations. Great coaches also hold up the mirror so the person can see a more accurate reflection of what’s really going on, what they are doing, the role they play in each situation and what their own gaps are. This way, they become accountable for their behavior, actions and solutions.

That’s why every situation is not just black and white. Unfortunately, due to the environment we operate in, managers often fall victim of  this “Either – Or” thinking and perceive only two absolute outcomes.

Yes, You Can Have Both!

What I find most interesting is that managers initially fail to see how they can stay focused on achieving results and getting the maximum output from each individual, while simultaneously spending more time coaching and less time being the super salesperson. And, wrap your head around this one; by doing this, you’re going to reduce your workload and stress level!

“No way. If you’re focused on getting results, you won’t have more time for yourself and for developing your team. What do you mean, have both? It’s either one or the other.”

Not exactly.

Give Up “Either – Or” Thinking

Managers love to compartmentalize things. Everything has to make sense, things need to fit, every piece of the puzzle is needed to complete the full picture. The culmination of this toxic, absolute thinking manifests itself in how we assess situations and make decisions.

  • There’s a right way and a wrong way.
  • It’s going to work or it’s not.
  • You are either focused on solving the problems or you’re asking the other person to do so.
  • Either you achieved your goal or you didn’t.
  • We either agree or disagree.
  • Either I focus on hitting sales objectives or focus on coaching my people.
  • Either I keep doing things the way I am now or start making changes that are uncomfortable.

Now, think about your commitments, objectives and goals. The fact is, there’s no room for creativity when discussing sales targets. Your goals are set! So, either you’re going to hit your target or you’re not. Yet another example of the absolute thinking that result driven sales culture creates.

When looking at a spreadsheet, the quintessential black and white picture is painted with great clarity.

But what if that which we perceive; two opposite, independent, self-sustaining and disconnected entities can actually complement each other and co-exist simultaneously?

Embrace the Duality of Leadership

Expanding your peripheral vision to recognize coaching moments and create new possibilities requires making a shift in your thinking. That is, instead of thinking in terms of absolutes, that is, “Either –  Or,” consider thinking of it in terms of “And.” Adopting this belief fosters inclusion rather than exclusion thinking. That’s why the greatest leaders embrace the dualities in business and in life; two conflicting truths that can co-exist at the same time. I have a saying that illustrates this, which embodies the central theme of this series.

Be mindful of the future, while engaged in the moment.

Basically speaking, detach from the outcome and your expectations during a conversation, while honoring your goals and commitments. Yes, you can have these two truths co-exist. There’s no reason to be held hostage by a self-limiting belief, especially one that really isn’t yours to begin with!

Besides, isn’t this the fun part of management and why the majority of people decide to become a manager in the first place? To achieve a collective goal through others. To be challenged to grow even further.  To innovate and collaborate. To develop other leaders. To be part of something that’s bigger than the one. To help others become more successful. To make an impact.  The choice is all yours. You’ll either lead the change or you won’t. 😉