All reps are confronted with obstacles as they work to achieve their sales goals. Sometimes they come in the form of a major competitor introducing an innovative new product. Sometimes they stem from an internal change like a territory being split into two. Sometimes they may be self-inflicted like a lack of focus leading to a drop in sales activity numbers. Regardless of what created the obstacle, when it does arise, reps may be tempted to use it as an excuse for not hitting their sales number. As sales managers, the question is "will we let them?"
It’s important not to minimize how very real these obstacles can be. Some issues are significant and, if unchecked, could impact performance in a major way. And by downplaying the problem, we could send the message that we do not fully understand or care about the rep’s predicament. Instead, it’s best to be realistic and recognize the obstacle’s potential impact. This is especially important because acknowledging the problem is only a small part of the battle. Ultimately, it’s the rep’s response to the obstacle that truly matters. Will they use it as an excuse for non-performance or embrace it as a challenge they need to overcome?
For some reps, the natural tendency is to make excuses. This is when we need to step in to help them re-frame how they are seeing the obstacle through challenging their thinking. One of the best ways to do this is simply to remove the mental possibility that the obstacle will actually be accepted as an excuse for non-performance. To do this, simply ask:
“Since you still have to achieve your goal, what can you do differently?”
With this question, you force your rep to consider what they could possibly do to overcome the challenge. A new approach may not be easy (and more than likely won’t be), but by pushing them to think about what they could do, you put the power back in the hands of your rep. And when they realize that the obstacle isn’t going to be an excuse for not hitting their goal, they’re going to try to find a different way forward because you’ve simply left them no alternative.
Once you help them mentally reframe an excuse into a challenge, you will be amazed at how much more creatively and differently they can think. Suddenly they figure out that there are a few ways they could sell against the competitor’s new product. Suddenly they start to see the split territory as an opportunity to spend more time prospecting since they don’t have as many current customers to serve. Suddenly they start putting more effort into planning their work to ensure they have enough time for all their critical sales activities.
In summary, don’t accept an excuse for non-performance, even when you understand how big the issue may be. Excuses allow us and our reps to stop thinking creatively, thinking the obstacle is insurmountable. Frame the problem as a challenge – one that can be daunting – but also one that can spark their creative thinking and re-energize their commitment to their role.
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