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Your salespeople may have their goals, but is there alignment, buy-in, self-accountability and clarity around their goals and how to achieve them? Here’s the conversation that creates this.

Here’s the updated version of my popular, annual Steps to Ensuring Your Salespeople Hit Their Goals post (find the 2015 version here). However, you’ll notice an additional step this year.

This isn’t just about setting the right goals. It’s about the conversation that often goes overlooked which will determine whether or not that salesperson is truly positioned for success. It’s the deeper conversation between management and salespeople that needs to take place after the goals are set—a conversation that not only covers strategy, alignment of personal and business goals, and responsibilities, but encapsulates everything to ensure that expectations around performance and personal accountability are clearly set, managed, and aligned to ensure success throughout the year.

What follows is the outline and questions you need in order to effectively conduct this conversation so that each person can develop a clear path to follow to achieve their goals. Fine tune this outline to fit your situation and the needs of each person you are managing. Keep in mind, this strategy will work best if:

  • Clear expectations around coaching have been set.
  • You are already effectively and consistently coaching your people—and you have feedback and evidence to support that.
  • They have bought in to being coached by you.
  • You have a relationship built on trust, not seniority nor obligation with your people.

These 6 chronological conversations will create the trust, alignment, strategy, messaging, accountability, and collaborative focus needed to create the breakthroughs you want!

Step 1: Positioning the Business Plan Review

This is a short step that’s too important to rush. After all, planning and training for the race always take longer than the race itself. Schedule at least a one hour meeting with each person you manage or coach, letting them know the intention of the meeting and most important, what’s in it for them. “Tom, I’d like to talk about how we can most effectively work together and what I need to do to best support you so so that you achieve your goals this year. Do you have some time now or do we need to schedule another time?” Otherwise, if you fail to set proper expectations and create the shared alignment around a common goal, you’re leaving it up to your direct reports to form their own conclusions as to why you’re meeting with them. The risk here is, even if your intentions are pure, when people aren’t aware of what your intentions are, especially if you’re the boss, the default file for every human being is fear! (“What did I do wrong? Am I getting fired?”)

Step 2: Set Intentions of the Meeting – Enroll

Whether on the phone or face to face, you’re ready to begin the conversation. Set the expectations and objectives for the meeting. Building off step one, before you dive into this conversation during your scheduled meeting, it’s important to ensure expectations are aligned. Here’s how you can do that.

  • “What I want for you is to achieve the level of success and personal fulfillment that you want in your career. That’s why the intention here is to discuss what’s expected of you this year in sales  goals and  how I can best coach and support you around achieving them. Together, we can develop the best strategy for you to achieve the results you want, while honoring your priorities and personal goals as well, okay?”

Step 3: Create Alignment Around Each Goal

Once you have confirmation, move ahead. After all, who wouldn’t want to achieve what the manager laid out in Step 2? If you hear a “No” which will be rare, just ask “Why?” so that you can uncover the root cause of this mistrust. Otherwise, discuss the goals that have been set. Be mindful of the difference between the non-negotiable company goals and each person’s individual goals, which could include getting promoted, making a certain income or other personal goals. Here are some questions to ask.

  • “Can you walk me through your goals?” This will help you assess and ensure their goals are measurable, specific, and have a deadline associated with each particular goal, including both short and long term goals. I would suggest the long term goals not stretch beyond one year, as I find that when people start setting 2+ year goals, the goals can quickly become more of a vision statement rather than a manageable goal with a clear deadline that’s not too far in the future. This will build further accountability, focus, and direction.
  • “How do you feel about your goals and business objectives?”
  • “How did you come up with that goal?” (Skip this question if goals are assigned to your direct reports.)
  • “How confident are you about achieving your goals?”
  • “Why? What’s making you feel that way?”
  • (If you sense resistance to goals sanctioned by the company…) “We can either focus on the things that you can control or the things you can’t. I’d rather focus on the things you can control so that you can achieve the goals you want, okay? So, what are the things that you have 100% control over that will enable you to achieve your goals?” (Hint: there are only three things. Their attitude, their actions/behavior, and their reactions! Then follow up with the following question.)
  • “What are the opportunities you see for your own development that if you can improve or change, would make you more effective—if not unstoppable?”
  • “What would it mean to you if you achieved these goals?” (personally/professionally)
  • What would be the consequence if you didn’t achieve these goals? (Implication-based questions demonstrate the personal impact if goals are not achieved. They say it, they believe it.)

Step 4: Assess Strategy and Identify Coaching Opportunities

If there are multiple goals, walk through one goal at a time.

  • “Walk me through your strategy for achieving each goal.”
  • “What do we need to be mindful of that could get in the way of achieving your goal?”
  • “What’s your opinion on how to handle each of these scenarios?” (Everyone has an opinion. Remember, an opinion is different from a solution. Seek to understand theirs first, without judgement, before you start sharing your opinion.)
  • “What’s the first thing you need to do to start working towards achieving this goal?” (Goals can be overwhelming. Give each person the time and space to break each goal down to one manageable step at a time’ one goal at a time.)

Tip from the Coach: Coach the Message! The Big Miss for managers is stepping over the myriad of opportunities to coach your people on their message and communication, whether spoken, through their body language or written. For example, the next few questions focus on prospecting.  Notice how these questions coach to the message and talk tracks they would use, which makes the difference between the A and C player.

  • “What would the conversation sound like when you call on new prospects?”
  • “What is the actual message you’re going to use when you approach your existing contacts and ask for referrals into other divisions of the company?”
  • “What are the questions you are going to use to qualify each opportunity?”
  • “When you hear XX objection, how would you respond?”

Then, you can continue with these questions:

  • “What resources do you need?”
  • “Who else do you need to collaborate and be aligned with, both internally in our company and with the customer, in order to achieve this goal?”
  • “What else do you need to ensure you’re engaging in the right activities on a daily basis that move you closer to achieving your goal?”

Tip from The Coach: If they aren’t sure, consider this. At this point, you’ve identified their roles, strategy and activity, that is, how they plan on achieving their goals rather than simply what the goal is. You’ve also uncovered their communication and messaging strategy via presentations, cold calls and emails/written communications that will support their goals and business objectives. The next question is, where do the activities, tasks, meetings, and daily administrative tasks get managed so they are constantly in front of their line of vision to execute in a systematic and effective way?

Step 5: Own Your Day – Create a Highly Effective Routine

All roads lead back to time management and self-management. That is, on a daily basis, what are your people focusing on? Do they have a well-crafted routine that resides in their CRM or calendar that identifies the specific and measurable activities they need to engage in throughout each day that will move them closer to their goal? If not, this becomes another coaching opportunity you have identified; helping them create a highly effective routine. The advantage now for you and your team is you can use each person’s routine as  hold them accountable to what they committed to.

In other words, if they’re following a well-structured, realistic routine, the byproduct is, they achieve their goals. Conversely, if they’re not getting results nor on their way to achieve their goals, then they’re not following their routine and best practices around each activity.  Every manager needs to coach their team around time management using each person’s routine as a guide. This makes it much easier to uncover the gaps and coaching moments as to why someone may not be performing.

Since most sales leaders struggle with time management and accelerating personal productivity, I was inspired to write my newest book, Own Your Day, which focuses on the unique challenges sales leaders are faced with. As mangers, you can learn how to live with intention rather than reaction, master time management, and coach others to do to same to accelerate their daily productivity.

Step 6: Uncover Motivation and Build Accountability

Tap into their individuality. Rather than make costly assumptions, uncover what uniquely motivates each person, how they want to be managed as well as how they want to be held accountable around their goals and commitments.

Facilitate this conversation using the following questions:

  • “What are the parts of your goals and your job that you’re most excited about?”
  • “What motivates you to come to work every day?”
  • “If you didn’t have to work, what would you do with your time?”
  • “How do you like to be acknowledged for a job well done?”
  • “What skills would you like to develop that would advance your career?”
  • “Who are the people you need to develop a better relationship with this year in order to reduce problems or breakdowns and achieve greater results?”
  • “What kind of personal brand do you want to build here?”

Here are a few additional questions to build further accountability around their role and goals.

  • “How do you like to be managed and supported so that you can achieve these goals?”
  • “How can I hold you accountable around your goals in a way that will sound supportive rather than negative?”
  • “How do you want me to approach you if you don’t follow through with the commitments you make? What would be a good way to bring this up?”

Step 7: Create and Schedule the Coaching Cadence

Debrief and discuss next steps to build ongoing momentum. Finally, before concluding the meeting, take their pulse and gauge their reaction and feelings around the conversation.

  • “So, how are you feeling about our conversation?”
  • “What’s standing out most for you?”
  • “What new opportunities are you most excited about?”
  • “What concerns, if any, do you have moving forward?”
  • “To reconfirm next steps, what are you going to be working on next?”
  • “Let’s go ahead and schedule our next meeting.”
  • “What are you willing to commit to having completed by then?”
  • “I’m looking forward to working with you so that you can achieve your goals this year!”

Space Creates Breakthroughs

Keep in mind, the answers you get are only as good as the questions you ask, so give each person the space to hear, process and answer each question. When asking these questions, make sure they answer your questions completely. Listen deeply to their response so that you’re crafting relevant follow up questions based upon what you hear.

Remember, some of these questions are questions you never asked them. Additionally, many of these questions are ones that your direct reports have never been asked their entire career! That’s the exciting part about coaching; the creation of entirely new possibilities that you or your direct reports never imagined.

So, don’t rush people through this critical conversation. Give each person the time to self-reflect in order to gain valuable perspective on where they are now and where they want and need to be. As a manager, it’s critical that you respect this important process of self-discovery.

After effectively facilitating this conversation, you and each individual on your team will have a greater sense of confidence, a stronger focus around shared goals and an aligned, collaborative strategy that will create the most significant year yet for your company, your team, and yourself.