You May Be the One Who Needs to Be Saved

This is seventh of several blogs delving into the origin and meaning of my sales leadership “Words of Wisdom” catchphrases. You can access the complete list here

If you hear yourself saying “I can save this person”, you may be the one who needs to be saved. Let me explain why…

Several years ago, a new sales leader inherited a team with three non-performers – one of which was a close personal friend. The new leader proclaimed he would “save” his friend via coaching and training. The VP of Sales was skeptical but didn’t intervene. Of course things ended badly for both the non-performer (fired) and new sales leader (missed numbers, lost a friend).

What did the new sales leader learn from the experience? Well, prepare to hear about it first hand because that new sales leader was me.

Like many new leaders, I overestimated my ability to get results. I thought I could make things happen by force of will – just like I did when I was an individual contributor. After a few failures, I realized not everyone was like me and I had to approach each person and situation differently. I developed strategies for all types of sales leadership situations including how to approach people who need “saving.”

My “saving” approach focuses on answering four questions: who, why, how much, and what.

“Who” looks at the non-performer’s history with the organization including past results and manager feedback. There is a big difference between a past performer in a slump versus someone who has never delivered.

My “Why” question focuses on the reason(s) for non performance. Reasons could be situational (e.g. terrible territory), capability (e.g.can’t close), willingness (e.g. lack of activity) or personal ( situation).

After I have a feel for the person and reasons for non-performance, I ask “How much” – what investment is needed to get performance back on track? I focus mostly on the level of effort required from the sales leader and what they would be sacrificing in return.

The last question is “What”. If we make the invest, what is the most likely return? Would we get a higher return by focusing our efforts elsewhere?

Let’s say you get through the four questions and decide someone is worth saving. Here’s the reality – you can’t save non-performers, they can only save themselves. The best coaching / training in the world will not work unless the non-performer takes complete ownership of the situation.

I design “save” plans as a win-win for the sales leader. The effort and results needed are made very clear to the non-performer, and it’s up to them take advantage of the resources available. If the person fails, the sales leader made a minimal investment and is off to plan B. It the person succeeds, the sales leader will now get the expected contribution.

So if you hear yourself saying “I think I can save this person” remember it may be you who needs saving. I’ve observed leaders getting emotionally attached to struggling team members and throw tons of time and energy into a lost causes.

Final thoughts… In my 30+ years of sales leadership experience, rarely do a see a “save” plan work. It’s hard to pull a sales person out of the “death spiral”. But it’s possible if you catch them before they have mentally moved on…Trying to “save” someone may make you feel good – but could actually be harmful for the person you are trying to save. Maybe it’s better for them to find a situation that’s a better fit for their skills, interests, life balance constraints, etc.

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