Accepting accountability

It’s a telling sales characteristic

One of David Sandler’s selling principles speaks plainly to the issue of salespeople being accountable for sales results: “There are no bad prospects – only bad salespeople.”

He wasn’t talking about bad people, just people bad at selling. Any successful salesperson can look at past mistakes, chuckle, and agree wholeheartedly with the rule. Those who stop blaming others for their own lack of production will start engaging in the behaviors that are proven to lead to more sales. They learn to appreciate and embrace accountability because, as such, the company is also accountable to them on the upside in raises, commissions and bonuses. 

One of the telling characteristics of a good salesperson is acceptance of responsibility for results. Those who refuse to be held accountable or who evade personal responsibility have no place whatsoever in sales, let alone any other good-paying job.

On the flip side, people who embrace being held accountable to a company’s profitability as well as their own career success are keepers. These sales candidates can be very hard to find. This kind of no-BS professional has an understanding of how business works and an appreciation for what it takes to be profitable. Again, these people are keepers, so how do you go about finding them?

Anyone with profit and loss responsibility is naturally accountable for their contribution to a company’s profits or losses. Many salespeople hold a distinctive role in that, as staff employees, they are not on the executive or management team but still have a major impact on revenues and therefore profit and loss. Even staff sales associates can be key players in a company’s overall success and need to be accountable. Ask yourself questions such as:

 • What kinds of interview questions can separate the real, accountable sales pros from the imposters?

 • How do you recognize a person who will accept and even embrace his or her own accountability for results? 

 • How does a manager set accountability metrics that the team will understand and strive to work under?

 • How do you keep accountable salespeople motivated and performing at their highest potential?

Another one of David Sandler’s principles is: “You can’t manage what you can’t control.” Stuff just happens. There are plenty of factors and events outside a salesperson’s control that can have a huge impact on sales – up or down. 

Accountable salespeople never waste their time focusing on those things outside their control. For example, instead of calling customers to mutually vent about some big recent cutbacks at the company, they instead focus on behaviors that directly impact how many new conversations they’re having with people who currently do buy their products. They’re replacing their former customers with new ones.

Just a quick story about a salesperson-client of ours who had been having a good run with his company. This gentleman set his next annual sales forecast at about last year’s sales, plus 8 percent. He had his strategic sales plan in place and underway when almost immediately in January – boom! His largest account, a full 50 percent of last year’s revenue, went out of business. Generous weekly orders dried up overnight. What could he do?

He could have reacted in anger. He could have talked it over with his boss and reasonably reworked his goal numbers for that year, but he didn’t. He went right to work, doubling, sometimes tripling the specific behavior activities that got him in front of more prospects.

He did what great salespeople do. He worked through an unfortunate setback and delayed personal gratification for the appropriate time. 

By December of the same year, this salesperson hit his original forecast numbers and surpassed them by year’s end. Within less than 12 months, he rebuilt his entire book of business, and then some. He didn’t whine, he worked. He held himself accountable for his own commitment to his company and himself, and it paid off.

This story begs the question: What would this salesperson’s numbers look like if he hadn’t lost that big account? Would he have worked as hard? And if he did, would his sales total be up more than 58 percent over that previous high year? Just imagine what your sales team is truly capable of when they’re willing to go the extra mile day in and day out. How can you and they be doing more?

This gets into what really motivates us to act and form better habits. It tends to be a little different for everyone and this often leads to the idea of putting faith and spirituality behind your everyday work – perhaps a good topic for another article. 

Kevin Hallenbeck, principal of Sandler Training – Manchester, can be reached at 603-232-1520 or through