By Gerard McNamara
One of the challenges that I have faced as the leader of geographically distributed sales teams has been the ability to effectively coach and assess whether my teams were taking “ownership” for their work and results. In this article, I share the techniques that I devised to successfully overcome this challenge.
Why is ensuring that teams take ownership important?
When your teams take ownership for the outcome of their work, it dramatically improves effectiveness, efficiency, and speeds up cycle times. It creates a culture of commitment rather than compliance, boosts employee engagement, reduces attrition, and creates high levels of job satisfaction. When you create a culture of ownership, traits such as negativity, insecurity, guilt, and doubt are replaced with confidence, contribution, and an organisationally healthy team. In my experience, transforming teams to become high-performance is only possible by creating and maintaining a culture of ownership.
In sales, it means being primarily focussed on outputs instead of inputs – outcomes instead of activities, and results instead of efforts. Executed in a supportive manner, this encourages the salesperson to become more thoughtful about the work that they do, it leads to greater curiosity into their customers’ businesses, and automatically leads to a higher level of rigour and professionalism in their sales execution.
In B2B enterprise sales, it’s critical to fully understand the potential customer’s current situation before discussing solutions. This process is littered with traps such as desires disguised as needs, assumptions masquerading as facts, good intentions moonlighting as commitments, and coaches confused with champions. An average salesperson will ask questions to quantify the value of their solution to the buyer and convey the findings verbatim back to their manager quoting the buyer (he said /she said), while a great salesperson will take full ownership and stress-test their customer’s answers until they fully understand why a customer must buy from them, why they should buy from them within a certain time period, and they will ALWAYS schedule a follow-up call or meeting with a pre-agreed agenda, because that helps the customer stay on track. They will talk about deals not in terms of “he said/she said” but will instead use language such as “I think/I know”.
Here are 3 simple tips to create and maintaining a culture of ownership.
- Make it binary
The concept of taking ownership is binary – you either take ownership or you don’t. Make it extremely clear to your teams that there is no situation where you can take partial ownership. Sales leaders who fall into the trap of accepting ‘shades of grey’ responses to ‘black and white’ questions are inadvertently creating a culture where ownership does not exist.
- Make it part of the language
Ownership lives within our vocabulary – it’s very easy to recognise and coaching to it is the single most powerful method to transform team effectiveness.
Here are my top 5 coachable examples:
- When a Sales Development Representative books no new meetings on a given day and they tell you “It’s been a slow day, no one picked up,” coach them to say, “I didn’t call enough qualified prospects today, I’ll make up for it tomorrow” and hold them to it. They’ll catch up in no time.
- When a salesperson has forecasted a deal to close this month and it is delayed and they tell you “We were so close, but the deal slipped to next month”, coach them to say, “I mis-forecasted the deal, I must have missed something, I will go back and find out what I missed”. Forecast accuracy will dramatically improve as a result.
- When you ask a salesperson about an aspect of deal and they respond with “I guess…” or “I assume…” coach them to say, “I don’t know, I’ll call them to find out”. Their confidence will be transformed as a result.
- When a team doesn’t deliver on an agreed action and you ask the manager about it and they say, “I’ll remind my team to do it”, coach them to say, “I’ll make sure my team get it done by x date and confirm when complete”. Watch how much more effective everyone becomes.
- When a salesperson has gone through the right process and you ask them if they think they will win the deal and they say, “I hope to”, coach them to say, “I expect to”. Teach, tailor, take control!
By explaining to your team how the language of ownership removes ambiguity, you are enabling them to be more accountable, more effective, and more credible. It also removes a ton of unnecessary anxiety, as everyone knows where they stand, what they need to do, and they feel secure and supported.
- Make it super simple to remember
Make it extremely simple to remember what ownership is and isn’t.
For example, you MUST coach your team to recognise and cut out ALL excuses. This is harder to do than it sounds, because making excuses and diverting blame is inherent in human nature.
You must also engrain in your teams that ‘surprises’ are not part of being in sales. In sales, you are paid ‘not to be surprised!’
Simplify each deal to its core fundamentals.
- WHEN? When does the customer need a solution from a vendor in place by and explain why you know this or plan to find out on the next call.
- WHY? What is left to do on each deal – only talk about what’s left to, not what happened in the past, focussing on forward motion injects pace into each deal.
- HOW? Schedule a next step with your customer with a clear mutually agreed agenda every single time. Make it easy for them to do business with you.
As harsh as some of this may sound, the end-result needs to be an authentic openness to continuous improvement, so the culture in the team must be underpinned by security, trust, and openness.
The gap left by removing ‘excuses’ and ‘surprises’ from the cultural vernacular must be filled with high-quality sales training and sales coaching.
Simplifying each deal to its source code of ‘when, why, and how’, takes patience, persistence, gamification and above all, repetition, but by driving these behaviours through your organisation, you can achieve the most rewarding of outcomes – a successful, predictable, fully staffed, highly motived sales team that takes full ownership of its results.
Based in London, Gerard serves as a sales and marketing leader in high-growth, high-change technology companies. He has first-hand experience scaling a start-up, has brought companies together during M&A for multiple roll-ups, and has expert consultative selling skills gained in a large technology firm. He is passionately customer-centric, regularly coaching B2B sales teams to improve their effectiveness through improved execution. When not working, Gerard enjoys spending time with his family, fitness training, and flying his light aircraft.
Disclaimer: The ideas, views, and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Institute for Learning or any entities they represent.