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The idea for this column came to me while watching an episode of the HBO series Hard Knocks, which is a sports documentary show that gives a behind the scenes look at the process an NFL team goes through during pre-season training camp. This season featured the Detroit Lions and while watching an episode where the coaching staff and front office executives are preparing for the final cut where the team’s roster will go from 80 players to 53 players, one thing stuck out to me. This was a very dramatic episode with a lot of hopes and dreams on the line for players on the fringes of the roster. What stood out to me was the overwhelming number of players who accepted accountability for their results and the coaches who wanted each player to be the best version of themselves, regardless of whether they made the team or not. The NFL is a results-oriented business with a hardline of accountability up and down the league, but what I noticed was that accountability had a positive connotation to it. The players realized the coaches wanted the best for them and accepted all the coaching conversations, knowing they were being pushed to be the best they could be.

In the world of sales, the word “accountability” often conjures up negative images. Being held accountable to sales budget, number of sales calls conducted in a week, number of new account business generated, prospecting activities, etc. People tend to bristle up when the word or the subject of accountability creeps up in business conversations, especially end of year performance reviews. Folks that are struggling or have hit a sales slump will more than likely look upon the idea of accountability in a more pessimistic light. But I have found that it does not have to be that way. Holding oneself accountable, or really looking carefully at why somebody is holding you accountable, can be an incredibly liberating experience.

With the proper attitude, the word accountability could be much more positive. Webster’s Dictionary defines “accountability” as an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions. In “sales terms” this could mean looking honestly at your results. Were the results truly satisfactory to you, what actions did you take to get the results, and what do you have to change to generate results that will be satisfactory to you? This includes a willingness to trust a manager making overtures regarding your job performance.

I realize there are outliers, but I would like to think that most sales leaders want what is best for their teams in terms of performance. After all, better sales performance by the team means better performance by the manager, which means commissions and bonuses will generally track upwards for all.

To salespeople, I suggest giving your sales leader the benefit of the doubt and look upon sales coaching as an avenue to better yourself professionally and financially. However, I am not suggesting you become a pushover subordinate who eats buckets of slop thrown to you by a taskmaster. In that instance, perhaps you can coach the sales manager on better ways to coach the team.

To sales leaders I suggest you lead not only with your head, but your heart as well. Do not lead a sales team only to maximize sales at all costs. A career in sales is hard work, it requires odd hours and seldomly does a salesperson only work a 40-hour work week. Work-life balance is critical to success and job satisfaction. You should be sincerely striving to help your team find greater success in sales and to enjoy the ride.

Consider yourself lucky if you have a sales manager that holds you accountable in your work, wants to see you succeed and provides the tools and direction to help make that happen. To those experiencing a different reality, I encourage you to hold yourself accountable. It is not easy; we sometimes start listening to our own excuses for sub-par performance and rationalize that it is not our fault. This kind of internal dialogue sabotages high level performance. Do not let yourself off the hook – challenge yourself to be better. Happy Selling!!