Recently we did an informal survey with some client sales managers asking them to tell us about those things from last year for which they wished they could have a “do over.”
Not surprisingly, the responses included a very broad variety of things they’d dearly love to do over. But 100% of the responses had a single characteristic in common—these sales managers told us they waited too long to make a tough decision. By the time they did, it seemed really obvious, not only to them but also to a lot of others in the organization who had been scratching their heads over the non-action for quite a while.
Managers are Optimistic But are Often Without a Process of Evaluation
That got me thinking about what causes this procrastination and how to prevent it. Part of it is the built-in optimism and the warm interpersonal relationships that we know characterize the best sales managers. But most of the blame goes to not having a clear process of evaluation. A clear process means the manager has:
- Established the criteria by which success will be measured
- Determined the intervals at which those criteria will be noted and evaluated
This sounds simple and it is, but as with many things that are simple, it’s not necessarily easy to get either the criteria or the intervals right. If you set the bar too high too soon, you’ll end up pulling the plug on initiatives or people with strong potential and promise, things that would have generated fine profits. If you err in the other direction, it’s almost as if you hadn’t bothered measuring or evaluating at all.
It can be particularly difficult to determine the right metrics and the right timing when you are trying something completely new, an initiative for which you have no experience to rely on. If you are launching a new product, you might decide that you need to see monthly revenue climb to a certain level by the sixth month and that you need to see some clients choosing to renew. If those are your criteria and that’s your measurement interval, put a note on your calendar right at the outset so you don’t forget. Or maybe it’s less about revenue and more about profits, and you know it’s going to take a year to get there. Expect the type of measurement, the expected level of achievement, and the timing to be different each time.
Establish the Evaluation Process at the Beginning of Employment
With a new salesperson, this should be easier. What needs to happen in the first 90 days, within six months, and by the end of year one? You should be clear on these things and communicate them to that new hire right from the start. Enter those evaluation dates on your calendar so you’ll be certain they’ll happen.
Whether it’s a new initiative, a new product, or a new salesperson, know what you are going to measure and when. Be sure you have systems, data gathering, and mentoring practices in place that are objective, that help you see things as they really are, not as your heart might hope. When your calendar tells you it’s time to evaluate, let the facts speak. You may or may not pull the plug if the criteria haven’t been fully met, but the objectivity will improve your decision-making and reduce the number of occasions where you’ll look back and say I wish I had acted sooner.
You’ll never push your organization to its peak potential if you are the kind of leader who is afraid to take chances. But it’s destructive to your culture (and your bottom line) if you don’t know when and how to make tough decisions.