How about a return to high standards and emulation at the heart of the sales management game?

françois-xavier théry Published by François-Xavier Théry – 18 January 2024

The results of PISA 2022, published last December, show France’s continued downgrading in terms of learning and academic attainment, where we are now just at the OECD average, and in particular a weakening of excellence, with fewer and fewer very good students.

What’s more, preparatory classes, once the royal road to a Grande Ecole, are now being increasingly questioned by parents and students alike, who fail to see the point of devoting 2 years of one’s life to cramming mathematics, philosophy or literature, in a context of high academic pressure, rather than moving on to immediately professionalizing, potentially international, courses such as a Bachelor’s degree.

Last but not least, in the 12/14/2023 edition of L’Express, philosopher Julia de Funès wrote an article on the virtues of authority, explaining that “recognizing and accepting superiority is the only way to avoid the prevailing egalitarian nonsense, without reverting to the authoritarianism of yesteryear”.

However pungent and thought-provoking this diatribe may be, it is nonetheless very accurate, and may lead us to reflect on its implications for sales team management.

The diagnosis of a sales team, its observed skills and its state of mind, is one of the very first responsibilities of a manager. A manager who is told from morning to night (clearly since at least the 2000s) that he or she must demonstrate benevolence, assertiveness, empathy, relational intelligence, etc., at the risk of appearing like a totally dehumanized authoritarian dictator.

And who therefore feels a little out of step, or even guilty … if he dares to talk about emulation, to underline individual performance in the face of a group, or even to tell his colleague frankly that his results are not satisfactory, or at any rate not up to the level of expectations.

Yes, Julia de Funès is right to write that “we are all equal before the law, but that doesn’t mean we are equal. Some work better than others, some have more merit than others. Not to admit this is to refuse to recognize people at their true worth.”

And what if this is where true managerial courage and leadership lie?

This in no way means leaving salespeople in difficulty by the wayside and recognizing only the talent of the best, but on the contrary stimulating (or resuscitating) a taste for excellence in everyone. Because let’s not forget that improving overall performance will come from a real “move the middle” dynamic, the famous “60% of sales people who contribute 60% of performance”, and how I can ensure that this “middle” can be animated by a momentum of excellence, a desire and an ability to do even better.

Several levers can be used to achieve this:

  • first of all, diagnose not excellence in the singular, but plural excellences, and the holders of these excellences, i.e. identify (and thus return to the diagnosis of skills, the cornerstone of all management) the key success factors in the company’s business and the employees who are potential contributors to excellence in these key factors
  • be transparent with the rest of the company, make sense of things, explain why, and don’t be afraid to show the results of these key success factors… while creating permanent collective emulation over short periods (so as not to stick to over-established positions and give everyone the chance to demonstrate their contribution).
  • ensure that these contributors of excellence are able to pass on and share their best practices and day-to-day “recipes” with their peers, if necessary by devising financial and/or coaching support systems (to encourage transmission)
  • finally, work on “the mind to win”, not by imagining, deluding oneself – sometimes even in a caricatured way – that pseudo-seminars or immersions in extreme environments will magically resolve faulty mindsets… work on your posture, your mindset in a more subtle, more in-depth way, firstly by investing time in getting to know yourself, your personality, your style, but also your deep-seated fears, your constraining messages, the impact of life’s ups and downs, to then define your own roadmap on your areas of work, your points of vigilance but also your strengths, and here the posture of manager-coach takes on its full meaning … as does the relevance of being accompanied by a coach.

At Halifax, we’re working on these issues, we’re also equipping ourselves more and more, and we’re providing coaching and methods to a large number of sales managers and sales departments who share our vision of putting high standards and emulation back at the heart of the game. And we’re also trying to apply it to our own sales challenges.

If the subject interests you, or even if you don’t agree, let’s talk about it.

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