Do you often find yourself torn between meeting the needs of your manager, the desires of your customers and the requirements of your role? If you answered ‘yes’, you’re not alone. All too often we see salespeople who feel they are ‘the meat in the sandwich’. They consistently go above and beyond to meet all their stakeholders’ needs, often leading to increased stress, frustration, fatigue and burnout.
In these instances, it is not uncommon to find that different stakeholder groups have a different perspective or understanding of the required capabilities, competencies and performance criteria for the salesperson’s role. This can lead to the issue of having too many masters which can manifest itself in the following ways: salespeople who end up doing their customers’ bidding at the expense of their organisation and others who go the other way. Neither is helpful.
Then we have salespeople who think their role is one thing when it is actually something else. For example, a salesperson may consider the most important aspects of their role to be understanding customers’ needs, negotiating effectively, and administrative compliance. Their managers may consider the most important aspects of the role to be growing new business and meeting sales targets. Finally, their clients may believe the most important aspects of the role are building relationships, keeping them up-to-date on the latest products, competitor activity, etc.
All of these areas highlighted are important to almost any sales role; however, the disparate views and expectations of the stakeholder groups can lead to confusion and frustration for everyone involved, particularly for the salesperson, who needs to meet their own goals as well as manage the different expectations of their managers and customers.
So what is the right balance?
If any business is to succeed it would help that everyone knew what they were required to do to get there and that managers, clients and other stakeholders all agreed. Organisations everywhere want high functioning, smart sales forces. To do that the role of sales needs to be clearly communicated to all and effectively executed. How can you do this? Undertaking a 360° Sales Alignment Process (Competency Analysis) can be useful in these situations to help highlight the gaps and areas of synchronicity both between and within different stakeholder groups.
Whilst many organisations understand the importance of identifying and selecting for certain capabilities or competencies and performance criteria when they are recruiting, they rarely use or refer to these criteria beyond the recruitment process. Subsequently, the function, purpose and usefulness of these criteria is often lost, ignored or misunderstood by all stakeholders. Imagine if everyone, clients included, clearly knew what the role of the sales person was; what was expected of them; what they were to deliver… then there would be less confusion all round. Communication would be easier, results easier to attain and so on.
The 360° Role Alignment Process can be useful for identifying the level of alignment within a particular group across the responsibilities, deliverables and competencies of the role. In those instances where there is low alignment either between or within particular groups (particularly if there is low alignment amongst the salespeople themselves) it is important to strip back the role and refocus on the key overarching goals (e.g. build strong professional relationships with key accounts, complete all projects on time and within budget and help to grow the business by achieving minimum monthly sales targets). Once the goals have been established, it is important to identify the six to ten vital competencies to help achieve those goals, ensuring that the competencies cover knowledge (what they know and understand), skills (what they do, or can do) and mindset (how they think and feel) aspects. For the example goals listed above, key competencies could include:
- Discipline and Administrative Compliance
- Financial Awareness
- Understanding the Customer’s Needs
- Building Relationships and Networks
- Project Management
- Achievement Focused
- Collaborating to Achieve Results
- Planning and Organising
From there, it is possible to identify the appropriate behaviours that fall under each competency relevant for the role –i.e. for the Discipline and Administrative Compliance competency, behaviours aimed at ensuring accuracy and punctuality (e.g. effectively prioritises workloads to ensure they complete tasks in a timely fashion) may be more important for the role that those aimed at legislative compliance (e.g. consistently ensures they adhere to customers’ accreditation standards).
By including all stakeholders in this process it is possible to create a shared understanding across the role. This shared understanding means that everyone knows what to expect from anyone in the salesperson’s role. It can help managers to ensure their employees are maintaining the right competencies and behaviours, it can help colleagues understand and respond to requests for assistance, and it can help customers to know what they can expect from the salesperson and other interactions with the organisation.
This alignment and agreed understanding can also lead to greater efficiencies and more productive outputs from every interaction. More importantly, it can decrease the amount of stress and tension experienced, allow salespeople to be more self-managed, reduce the overall level of confusion and frustration, ensure that customers are likely to be happier and ensure that sales managers are still able to get what they want and need from their teams.