The movie The Jone$es (with Lauren Hutton, Demi Moore, and David Duchovny), features a three-minute scene that should be required viewing for anyone aspiring to or currently managing salespeople. Sales executive KC holds a meeting with sales manager Kate and the three sales reps she manages: Steve, Jenn and Mick. Sporting a chic black suit and pearls, KC delivers a visually interesting, detailed, and informative presentation reviewing their sales over the previous 30 days.
Beginning with Steve, KC tells the group his sales are up 3.5 percent. Steve exclaims, “Alright!” and turns to his sales manager Kate for a fist bump. Kate shoots him a withering look instead, which confuses him. KC continues the presentation, breaking Steve’s sales down by product line. He’s up 4 percent in sporting goods, 2 percent in watches and 3 percent in golf related merchandise. KC moves on, praising Mick for his 16 percent increase. Steve’s grin slowly fades. Mick realized a 13 percent increase in video games as well as a 21 percent increase in sportswear. Kate congratulates him for “opening up the market.”
Next, KC recognizes Jenn for her solid 14 percent increase. With a smile and a little fanfare, KC salutes Kate, at 20 percent overall, as top producer. Much of Kate’s success comes from a 24 percent increase in cosmetics. Steve looks chagrined, now understanding why Kate looked less than pleased with his 3 percent. A full 10 percent behind consistent producer Jenn, Steve lags back even further from Kate and Mick.
So, what happened? Why did Steve go from cheering his three percent increase to looking uncomfortable? Because KC did what a lot of top performing sales executives do: posted the sales rankings, spoke with reps individually, and provided insight into how the top performers surpassed their quotas.
Public accountability. When KC showed the sales results to the entire sales team at the same time, none of them could refute the evidence. Assuming territories are reasonably well balanced and all reps have similar tools at their disposal, publicly displayed statistics force underperforming reps to ask themselves, “Why am I not performing as well as or better than my peers? What are they doing that I’m not?”
Charts and graphs like KC showed her group instinctively tap into the competitive and driven nature of salespeople. In The Jone$es, we discover Steve was once a professional golfer. One imagines he enjoyed playing to win against other strong golfers. His bottom of the pile finish feels innately wrong to him.
Holding reps accountable in a public way helps make leading the group easier for sales managers. KC’s job becomes less complicated when salespeople like Steve realize, without a confrontational argument with their manager, that most of the responsibility for their sales results lies with them. Steve’s mortification at his below average performance motivates him to up his sales game. KC doesn’t have to work as hard to try and get him to reach the next level.
Holding individual discussions. During a one-on-one post-sales meeting chat, Steve looks right at KC, listening carefully to what she has to say. He needs her advice and suggestions. With the results shown to the whole group, Steve can hardly deny his last place performance. Numbers don’t lie, and he has little interest in being shown up again. After their talk, while rhythmically hitting one ball after another in his indoor simulated driving range, he considers his poor performance. Steve’s a bright, intelligent, articulate person—like many salespeople. And eventually, he comes up with a clever idea for increasing his sales. (But I won’t give the whole plot away.)
Many managers find that displaying the sales performances of the team changes the nature of discussions with underperforming reps. Some, maybe for the first time, seek their boss out, saying, “I saw that three people finished ahead of me, and I’m upset about it. What can I do? Do you have any ideas?”
An enthusiastic and sincere response on the part of the manager such as, “I’m glad to hear you asking questions like that. Let’s work together on this,” creates a mutually respectful atmosphere. Reps enter the discussion more willing to listen and be coached. Most seriously consider to giving some of the new ideas a try.
Even if they don’t approach you first, you still have greater leverage during any conversations. In a case where your coaching or suggestions usually meet with resistance, you could say, for instance, “Sarah, in looking at your ranking within the team, how do you explain that three reps finished ahead of you?” Defensive comments or excuse making get countered with statements like, “He faces the same lousy economy in his territory,” or “All three sold 10 percent more of Product C than you did.”
When managers remain unemotional and stick with the facts during conversations like this, reps with a history of ignoring coaching or suggestions of any kind sometimes open up to the help being offered.
Providing insight. Showing more sales management best practices in The Jone$es, KC offers a detailed analysis of how all four reps reached their sales goals. Had KC not told her, Kate wouldn’t have necessarily known that her increase in cosmetics sales pushed her over the top. Seeing Mick’s 21 percent upsurge in sportswear might encourage Jenn to bolster her efforts in that area. Mick’s numbers prove it can be done. Jenn could ask Mick, “How did you move that much sportswear? What do you say to people?”
Over the years, I’ve observed that sales reps rarely help one another proactively. Some don’t want to be bothered. Others don’t think it’s their place to get involved. Many feel awkward coaching a peer. If asked for advice by another rep, though, the majority of salespeople will offer recommendations and suggestions. Being able to ask specific questions like, “How do you introduce Product C into the sales conversation? What objections do customers have? How do you respond?” helps the underperforming rep to approach the more successful teammate.
Sales isn’t always a fair game. Most employees don’t have to face a public showing of their performance compared to their peers. The lack of fairness cuts both ways, though. Salespeople often have the opportunity to earn more money than most other people in the company, and their job offers a greater amount of freedom and flexibility than most other positions. With that money and freedom comes accountability.