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Assessment: What Doesn’t Work

Sales management without sales process is largely a forensic (after-the-fact) exercise. Managers perform silver medal autopsies after losses and during annual HR reviews. They wind up not helping either Joe or Keith, and—most likely—firing Keith or persuading him to move on.

But imagine if managers could be proactive instead of reactive. Proactive steps—corrective surgery—could reduce the need for autopsies. Why does it take a loss (or nagging from HR) for managers to act? We believe it is because most sales managers are merely driving numbers. Lacking the ability to assess and develop their people, they assess and develop their people’s numbers, instead. But this is exactly backward. If sales managers could develop their people, the numbers would take care of themselves.

First, let’s look at flaws in the assessment process. Let’s assume the annual evaluation requires sales managers to rank salespeople as one of the following overall categories (we’ve added our editorial counterpoint in italics):

  1. Exceptional salesperson who consistently exceeds quota and provides leadership to the office. Displays outstanding knowledge of offerings, possesses strong administrative skills, exhibits strong account control, and shows ability to disqualify poor opportunities from his or her funnel. Requires minimal guidance, and is a candidate for promotion into sales management.

    Sales management would be a breeze if these people could be cloned.

  2. Steady performer who meets or exceeds quota the majority of the time. Has a tendency to work identified opportunities and grow ongoing accounts. Sometimes gets entangled in low-probability opportunities. A more aggressive business development plan and more structured approach could bring performance up to the next level.

    Sales managers are happy to have people like this on the team. They need occasional coaching, but by and large they can be trusted with small to medium opportunities.

  3. Struggles to keep activity levels to a point where the pipeline reaches targeted levels. Requires extensive coaching, and requires managers to make joint calls whenever feasible. Needs extensive support on all opportunities and coaching on a weekly basis.

    This had better be a new hire on the way to becoming a 2. If he or she doesn’t show progress within the next year, though, there will be a tough decision to make.

  4. Has difficulty generating meaningful activity in territory. Marginal understanding of both offerings and industries called on. Micromanagement is necessary, both in reviewing activity from the previous week and in planning activity for the following week.

    Unless dramatic improvement is realized in the short term, it appears that either a hiring error has been made or the salesperson’s skill or motivation has eroded. Unless things change, a performance improvement plan or termination looms on the horizon.

Selling is one of the strangest professions. Performance is measured exactly—sometimes to within hundredths of a percentage point. Companies calculate commissions to the penny. Many companies require managers to assign a single grade to reflect their assessment of a salesperson’s perceived skill set that can influence his or her career path. But in reality, is this precision? Can a single grade reflect the skill set and abilities of a salesperson? We believe the answer is no.

Taken collectively, the skill set and personal characteristics required to consistently exceed quota are staggering. We know renowned doctors, lawyers, and professors who would starve as salespeople: They just don’t have what it takes. For a complex offering, we believe a salesperson needs a minimum IQ of 120, strong verbal and written skills, the courage and confidence to accept a position where only a portion of his or her compensation is guaranteed, and so on. So can a sales manager effectively rate someone like this on a scale of 1 to 4? Not likely.


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