Setting clear expectations is an important part of any sales leader’s working day. Unfortunately, it’s something that doesn’t always happen as effectively or as consistently as we might like. Here are five simple steps you can take to get better at this critical part of the job.
Eliminate the words “obvious” and “obviously” from your vocabulary. If you ever find yourself tempted to use one of these words in conversation with a salesperson, be aware that you are about to make communication more difficult than it has to be. What is “obvious” to one person may be totally counterintuitive to someone else… and pointing out, after the fact, what should have been “obvious” can make it harder for salespeople to feel comfortable asking you for clarification when they are confused about something. Many times, we believe our expectations are “obvious” simply because we know what our desired outcome is, and we can’t see any reason why someone wouldn’t do what we would do automatically in the same situation. But suppose someone doesn’t have our perspective or our level of experience? How “obvious” is the desired outcome then? We have a saying at Sandler: “No mutual mystification.” The goal is for you and your team members to be totally clear about what you’re all focused on, what the goals are, and what specific results are expected by what point in time. Fixating on whether something is or was “obvious” is a dysfunctional game, one that gets in the way of that kind of clarity. Assume there is always room for discussion about whether something you expect is clear to the salesperson. Make it easy for people to have that conversation. By the way, other phrases to avoid include “you know” (maybe they don’t know!), “like last time” (way too vague to be helpful to anyone) and “just do a good job” (meaningless).
Set specific income expectations, break them down, and tie them to the salesperson’s personal goals. Focus first on that which is countable. Let’s say the salesperson is responsible for delivering $1 million in total revenue this year, which breaks down as $250,000 a quarter. That’s a great start… but don’t stop there. The salesperson should know both their business goals (their quota) and their personal goals (the answer to the question “Why am I working?”). The personal goals will push each person to exceed the business goals. People work for their families first and the company second! So connect all the dots. Note that revenue goals are technically known as lagging indicators. Eventually, you’ll also want to focus on the leading indicators – the behaviors that support the revenue goals you’ve both taken on. (More about leading indicators in a moment.)
Set specific expectations in terms of the product mix. Say something like this: “Out of that $1 million, we want to spread the annual figure out evenly among the following five products.” This discussion is just as important as the discussion about the annual and quarterly revenue goals. It helps eliminate the situation where salespeople spend most of their time, effort, and energy on the products that they feel the most comfortable with… and do not put forth a full portfolio of options for customers to pick from, or look for new, diverse opportunities within an account. The mix and the approach will be determined by the account plan.
Set specific expectations for the types of clients you want to work with. Say, “So this is the number that we both agree we need to hit, here's the product mix that we're looking for… and now here are the types of clients that we would like you to focus your energies on.” The KARE account planning tool groups business opportunities into four logical, meaningful profiles that you can use in setting business development priorities with the salesperson. They are: KEEP, ATTAIN, RECAPTURE, and EXPAND. Help the salesperson set the appropriate targets within each of these four very different objectives. (To learn more about Sandler’s KARE tool, check out this video.)
Create and coach to a cookbook. The cookbook, also known as the behavioral plan, builds on and supports everything we have been talking about. Take the revenue goal, the desired product mix, and the types of clients you want to serve, and then work side by side with the salesperson to create a daily, weekly, and monthly “recipe” that uses real-world ratios to identify the specific daily, weekly, and quarterly activity levels that will deliver the revenue outcomes you’re both committed to. These activities are the leading indicators we mentioned in step #2. The right cookbook is incredibly important, because it helps the salesperson to focus the appropriate amount of time and energy on the behaviors that support your expectations. There is no ambiguity about what is expected. A personalized cookbook gives your salespeople a clear behavioral and activity plan they can follow every single working day. It also serves as a kind of GPS, letting salespeople know when they are going off track and exactly what they need to do to get back on track. Last but not least, the cookbook helps you, the leader, to coach and train the person during periodic check-ins. Note that you’re not managing the end result, the revenue, during these meetings… you’re simply managing the behaviors, the leading indicators that support the salesperson’s goals (and yours). You’re helping the salesperson to identify for themselves what they need to do in order to succeed.
The part about periodic check-ins is extremely important. It's unfair to both you and the salesperson to set an expectation for quarterly income, and then only check in on the salesperson’s progress the week before the quarter ends! That’s stressful for everyone. We suggest periodic, private one-on-one check-ins three or four times a month. That level of frequency will support each of the five steps I’ve shared with you here, and it will make setting and reinforcing clear expectations for each member of your sales team a matter of habit.