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    Is fear of accountability destroying your effectiveness?

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    Everybody loves to hold others accountable, but very few of us enjoy being held accountable ourselves. It’s natural. We’re human, and very often “accountability” is a code word for “perform or else” where “or else” is a threat.

    But what if fear of accountability were destroying your effectiveness as an individual and as a sales team? Would that change your mind?

    I have come to believe that fear of accountability is a rampant problem in the sales world, and that it’s one of the roots of poor sales effectiveness.

    It’s true that salespeople are generally responsible for meeting quotas, but in many cases, the “how” of getting there is left up to them, with very little accountability.

    As for managers and directors, accountability is often a fluid thing left highly up to interpretation.

    A while back, I spoke with the owners of a company that was making an amazing software product that made a great deal of the inner workings of the sales department visible and trackable. The company failed. The owners claimed the problem was that the sales directors didn’t want that level of transparency. If they had that much transparency, they would have to be accountable, and not enough of them wanted that, even though it would have benefited their departments.

    Individuals who learn to love feedback and accountability often become high performers at whatever they choose to do.

    But there’s yet another layer of accountability on which most sales organizations are failing badly.

    We are very, very rarely held accountable to what happens after the sale.

    And that’s a problem. Lack of accountability for what happens after the sale leads to many problems, including

    • Unhappy customers
    • Loss of trust in the sales department
    • Inability to grow accounts
    • Lost subscriptions
    • Poor reputation

    It’s easy to see why accountability to customer success might make the sales department more effective. It’s harder to see how we build that accountability–especially when most of us are afraid of it.

    Why we fear accountability

    Some fear of accountability for customer success is justified. After all, what happens after a sale can be dependent on a large number of factors, most of them out of the control of the sales team. It seems unfair to be held accountable under those circumstances.

    But most of the fear of accountability is rooted in an unsupportive mindset.

    We associate “accountability” with negative feedback and being disciplined (whether via performance reviews or lost revenue) for negative outcomes.

    In many cases, accountability, and the feedback associated with it, becomes an existential threat. If we don’t meet our quota, we lose our jobs. If the initiative we championed fails, we get demoted. If the customer is lost, our commission takes a hit.

    But it doesn’t have to be this way.

    How to learn to love accountability

    We all love accountability for other people because, at some level, we know it leads to better outcomes. We hate it for ourselves, because we fear it will lead to our failure.

    The way through this conundrum is to learn to love accountability for ourselves by changing our mindset about feedback. Instead of thinking of feedback as a pass/fail threat, we must begin to think of it as an opportunity to grow.

    Instead of:

    Feedback = failure

    We change to:

    Feedback = opportunity

    On the face of it, this is a simple shift, but it will take more than simple intention to make it happen throughout your sales team. You’ll need to cultivate a feedback-positive mindset on your team.

    How to cultivate a feedback-positive culture

    1. Raise awareness about mindset
      A feedback-positive culture starts when team leadership shifts its own mindset and asks the rest of the team to do the same. Educate your team on the value of this mindset shift, and ask them to make it with you.
    2. Engage in more-frequent, not less-frequent feedback 
      Often, feedback is provided only when someone is failing. Instead, create feedback loops and rhythms that focus on daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly feedback that team members can use to improve performance. Include both what is going well as well as what can be improved.
    3. Focus on leading indicators, not lagging
      In order for feedback to be useful, you must have leading indicators so that your team can adjust before failure occurs. This means identifying the activities and behaviors that lead to positive sales outcomes, and tracking those indicators and providing feedback proactively.
    4. Make customer success part of the accountability process
      In many organizations today, the sales team hands customers off to the customer service team, and their accountability is finished. This model is outdated, however, and badly in need of a shift. Subscription models and increasing account growth potential mean that customer success is essential to future sales. By making salespeople accountable for customer success, you encourage them to make promises they know they can fill, and to stay connected with the customer’s process after the sale.
    5. Use analytics that allow you to track and manage your leading indicators
      Your feedback-positive culture must be able to track and analyze the data in order to ensure that it is useful and produces the results you want. Otherwise, you will be forced back to holding people accountable only for results, and not for the behaviors that lead to those results.

    Individuals who learn to love feedback and accountability often become high performers at whatever they choose to do. In fact, accepting feedback and being accountable to it are key characteristics of high-growth individuals.

    Furthermore, salespeople and sales teams who are willing to be held accountable to customer success are more likely to earn trust and build stronger, more profitable relationships.

    I’d love to show you how Membrain can help you build a feedback-positive culture and prove your accountability to customers. Schedule a demo today.


    George Brontén
    Published April 29, 2020
    By George Brontén

    George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills, and processes. George is also the author of the book Stop Killing Deals and the host of the Stop Killing Deals webinar and podcast series.

    Find out more about George Brontén on LinkedIn