Call quotas: The wrong kind of micro-management

As a sales manager in this down economy, you are no doubt scrutinizing your sales team’s productivity.  Problem for you is that your boss is doing the same thing, so the pressure is on right now to put your foot on the gas in some new way.

One sales management approach that comes from productivity frustration is the call quota. The sales manager complains that sales are down and says, “Beginning this month the call quota for all of you will be X calls per month (or week).”

If you’re thinking of doing this, please think again.  In general I like the sales manager to be a micro-manager, but as I’ve written here before, I like it in the positive sense that the manager pays close attention to the activities of each of his sales team, and coaches appropriately and positively.  Creating a call quota is micro-management in its worst manifestation. Let’s look at why.

First, as an experiment, try asking your team how they feel about quotas and get their feedback. They don’t like it.  They’ll tell you it forces the salesperson to make poor calls just to fulfill the quota.

Next ask them to determine what the quota should be. I’ve done this and it’s like herding cats.  I ask the sales team, “Approximately how many calls do you think a calling officer should make in a given week?”  The answer is always the same:  “It varies.  You can never tell.  Maybe there are other pressing matters.  You might have a couple of important proposals that week,” and so on.

Now move the time frame up to a month, and you still get the same wiggling and squirming. No one wants to be told how many calls he needs to make in order to be successful.

A much better and simpler way to be a great micro-manager in the most positive sense is to meet individually with each team member.  Here are the steps:

1)      Discuss the team member’s progress to goal.  “Where are you now?  Where do you feel you are making progress?  Where are you behind?  What do you think you need to focus on? In what way do you need help from me?”

2)      If the team member is behind in goal, discuss the various remedial action steps. For example, the low number of calls he is making could be because he has difficulty on the phone asking for appointments.

3)      Once the performance obstacle is identified, ask for his plan to fix it.  “Practice more, record yourself, go to training, get some coaching from a successful colleague,” or other known remedies.

4)      Gain commitment from the team member on what he will do to get back on track.  Don’t tell him what to do. Ask him what he will do, and make sure it’s specific.

5)      Agree on your role, follow-up, measurement approaches and next steps, so there is clarity about performance and consequences.

The point here is that you have to treat each of your players differently, just like a sports coach does.  You may end up with quotas, but it’s not likely they’ll be the same for everyone. Setting the same quota for every performer without discussion of performance obstacles won’t solve your problems or theirs.  What it will do is make your team resentful that you have abdicated your role as a sales manager.

Think Like Your Customer

“Sorry, I just haven’t had a chance to get to it yet”

I’ll bet that if you’re a manager you’ve more than once given someone a task or project to do and when you check up on it sometime later you hear, “I haven’t gotten around to doing it yet, but it’s the next thing on my list.” I know it’s happened to me and we should accept that when it does, it’s our fault.

Fournies, in chapter six of “Why Employees Don’t Do What They’re Supposed to Do,” states one reason as being, “They think something else is more important.”  Why do you think that is?  Why would your employee decide that some other tasks are more important than the one that you assigned?

There are a number of reasons, and they pretty much all begin with you.  Let’s start with good managerial technique.  How often do you state a deliverable time when you assign a task?  If you have employees who always complete their work in a timely manner you usually don’t have to worry about it, but if you have team members who are poor at prioritizing, then it’s useful to tell people when you want it completed. 

Good technique is to facilitate this conversation:  “This is a relatively high priority, but I want to be sensitive to your workload and other tasks. When do you think you can have it back to me?”  And then lead the employee through a discussion to help him prioritize and manage his time.

As a consultant, always working from outside an organization, I’ve often witnessed “the next new thing” syndrome.  You’ve seen it too.  Executives will declare that some project “is of top priority” in the company and that this year it will be our total focus.  Then a few months later the “next new thing” appears and everyone is told to devote all their energy to that.  It’s no wonder some people aren’t sure what they should be working on.

This brings up a rant I have about a word with a bad connotation:  “micro-manager.”  It’s a word that has gotten a bad rap because it conjures up an image of the manager constantly looking over his employees’ shoulders to make sure they are on task and not making mistakes.  But if you look at it another way, you could say that the micro-manager may simply be one who is constantly guiding, observing, coaching and praising his team to ensure that people do the right things at the right time and do them well, which is admirable management behavior.

So for you as a manager, do you often let people work on their own? Or are you a benevolent micro-manager who explains company priorities, allocates work based on strategic priorities, tracks progress and rewards effort?  If the latter, then you are quite unlikely to have someone say to you, “I didn’t know you were in such a big hurry for it.”

Try being a bit more of a micro-manager for the purpose of treating employees with kindness and respect for their efforts.

Think Like Your Customer