The right way to review

Sales performance management should be approached as a continuous conversation


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All employees should expect a regular, formal review of their performance in order to help them and the organization succeed. Even if the meetings are only to validate outstanding efforts and support continued excellence, it’s important to make certain that both the company and the employee are committed to and looking out for each other. 

Most of us know we can do better in some way when we objectively look at all of our work habits and behaviors. Salespeople, in particular, always have room to grow, and with every step they make to advance their careers, their employers can benefit greatly. 

Too often, salespeople expect “performance reviews” to be in one of these categories: “You’re missing your numbers … hit them next period or else!” or “You’re hitting your targets, how will you get to the next level?” or “You’re crushing your quota, kid, keep it up!” A few touchy-feely words of corporate support may be thrown in. 

In a well-run sales organization, regularly scheduled sales performance evaluations should be designed to build up the salesperson — to add value to their skill set and job performance, and of course to build a more effective and performance-driven sales force for the company.

When properly implemented, the performance review process serves as a development tool. Salespeople need to be assured that their regular performance evaluations are positive rather than punitive, focused only on helping them continuously improve their performance.

It’s very important that a salesperson’s ongoing review process is decoupled from their compensation, that it does not determine current or future pay. Naturally, however, as salespeople perform better and sell more, they will earn more money according to their incentive plan. This should be axiomatic.

Contrary to conventional thought, effective sales management has very little to do with controlling results or managing numbers. It’s really all about managing behaviors. No salesperson can control what prospects and customers will do or what their ultimate sales results will be. What they do control is how they behave – their work activity such as prospecting and improving communication skills. 

A good performance evaluation won’t focus on quotas, proposals in the pipeline or how many closed sales were made, but rather on behaviors such as:

• Cold calls made

• Qualified LinkedIn contacts engaged

• First appointments booked (a key performance indicator)

• Authorized networking events attended

• Expert talks or presentations given

• Other activities that uncover qualified selling opportunities

Increasing and/or improving such behavior-driven activities will ultimately improve sales performance over time. Care must be taken to assure that management’s analyses help individual salespeople get the most from the feedback and ongoing training programs.

Sales performance evaluations are completely different from annual or semiannual employee reviews. While the HR department may require a regular “job performance” review of every employee to comply with policy, sales performance reviews take place only between each salesperson and their supervisor or team leader and they need to be on a more frequent basis. 

Sales performance management should be approached as a continuous conversation in the spirit of developing the salesperson personally and professionally. The content and frequency of performance review meetings will vary depending on the industry, sales cycles and an individual’s need for feedback or coaching. 

A rule of thumb: Do not make your salespeople’s evaluations annual or only twice a year. So much can happen over the course of days, weeks and months in every business that yearly reviews just won’t cut it. Improving behaviors that lead to better sales performance is a continuous effort that requires the manager to be fully engaged in regular conversations with each salesperson. 

For example, inside sales reps working in a call center may need a twice-weekly activity update and wrap up with improvement recommendations to keep them on target. For those in outside sales, a monthly sit-down conversation focusing on areas to improve tied to specific behaviors can help transform average salespeople into top producers.

I’ll close with a quote from a Sandler Training colleague, Hamish Knox: “If you consider performance reviews as a series of feedback loops with opportunities to correct behavior regularly as opposed to rarely, you might see that an ongoing discussion … will lead to greater job satisfaction and improved performance.”

Helping your salespeople improve their performance can also work to align their chosen career paths with your company’s growth objectives. 

Kevin Hallenbeck, principal of Sandler Training-Manchester, can be reached at 603-232-1520 or at bestsalespeople.com.

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