Accountability is one of those feel good words in sales that gets tossed around but is often interpreted or re-interpreted to meet or suit a narrow and current requirement, rather than the long term and ongoing success requirements of an organization. When speaking about accountability, it is often discussed as a concept, rather than an executable. For an organization to leverage and benefit from accountability it needs to be anchored in a clear definition.

When you consider that only about 60% of professional sales reps are making or exceeding quota, and we have been hovering around that mark over the last few years; with the 2014 number expected to be 59% (Accenture, Dec. 2014). Begging the obvious question: “where is the accountability for this outcome?” 

If this were any other department heads would roll; imagine if your supply chain was only 60% reliable, if production was consistently short 40%, people would be held accountable in specific ways, not just via rhetoric. But sales seems to get what appears to be a pass.

Let’s define accountability, according to

“The obligation of an individual or organization to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them, and to disclose the results in a transparent manner. It also includes the responsibility for money or other entrusted property.”

To start, sales organizations need to define and establish who and what the different people in the organization are accountable for and to? This will differ at each level of the hierarchy, and to keep it simple and look at the front-line reps, front-line sales managers, and the sales leadership – VP. When asked who they are accountable to, the knee jerk and politically correct response for all three is “the customer.” But is that always the case, or part of the problem? 

The entire organization, sales and others, are ultimately responsible for the customer experience, but does it follow that we in sales are accountable to the customer. I would argue that the front-line rep is much more accountable to their company, and to their mandate of driving revenue and profits. I know those things are customer dependant, but in terms of accountability, day in day out, it is to their company. This misalignment in outlook and practice leads front-line reps to spend more time selling the customer’s view to their company, than selling to the customer.  

Front-line managers need to be much more accountable to and for the success of their front-line reps than many are now. Rather than just managing by the numbers from behind dashboards and their desk, they need to be held accountable for their team members’ success. I am shocked when I ask managers if they have an annual coaching plan for their reps, and most respond, no they don’t, they “coach in the moment.” Is there a clearer indication of lack of accountability?  

A good way to ensure alignment throughout the sales organization and drive clarity and accountability, is to level set expectations based on role. It is easier to be accountable to something that is defined and more importantly agreed to in advance. This can be done between each level, VP to Director, Director to Front-line Manager, and Front-line manager to Front-line Rep. In each, ask the specific participants to tell you what they understand their role to be, including activities, responsibilities and deliverables, and what they are accountable for. Then repeat for each coupling, this time asking each what they understand the other party’s role, responsivities, deliverable and accountabilities to be. While it will vary, you will find gaps in these understanding and therefore the outcome. Addressing these gaps specifically and proactively with a defined action plan and time lines, will not only improve the team’s performance, but increase accountability, especially since things are clear going in, and there will be no ambiguities to hide behind. 

Accountability is a two-way street, and needs to be dealt with as such. Accountability is not a concept as some like to pretend, it very much comes down to how you approach and execute, because in sales it is all about the execution, everything else is just talk.

About the Author

FHe is an award winning author, speaker, and B2B sales execution specialist.