Accountability.  Ask any of our sales training clients in Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton and Calgary what they want their Salespeople to have and that word comes up very quickly.  The dream of every Sales Manager and Business Owner is for Salespeople to have accountability to reach sales targets and be personally responsible for having an active sales pipeline.  Yet, use that “A” word with your sales team and you will run the risk of a sudden disconnect.  Here’s why Salespeople hate that term and how you may best approach the topic.

Many years ago, we were training a group of B2B Salespeople in Western Canada, and I decided to have an open discussion about accountability.  I asked the team what the word “accountability” meant to them.  Everyone looked at me wide eyed and then glanced away.  The room fell deathly silent and no one ventured a comment.  After a few moments, I smiled and tried to lighten the mood by asking everyone for their honest opinion – straight from the heart.  “What does accountability mean to you?”

They started to look at one another and then suddenly a brave soul mustered this answer “Accountability is the word my boss uses when I’m in his office and in trouble.”  After a healthy group laugh, I thanked the Salesperson for saying what everyone else thought.  Accountability is associated with the negativity of being reprimanded for doing something wrong.  I asked if anyone disagreed and everyone smiled and looked at me without any further comment.

Self-accountability, not accountability

I wrote the word “accountability” on the flip chart and then asked another question.

“What happens when I put the word “self” in front of this word.  What does this term mean to you?”

Within a few seconds someone said “Looking in the mirror and holding that person responsible.”  Another reply “Doing what needs to be done to get the job done.”  It was as if the group’s thought process went from a completely negative word to something quite different – far more positive and purposeful.  I knew this would become part of our regular training discussion from that day forward.   How could one simple word cause a complete change in perception?


This is one of the most important things for Sales Managers to remember when trying to bring out the best in their Salespeople.  You have no idea what people have been through in their lives and careers prior to working for your company, so tread carefully.  Certain words can trigger strong emotions and cause people to behave accordingly.   Where did most of us first hear and feel the meaning of the word accountability?  Our youth.   Even if our parents didn’t use the “A” word, we quickly learned in our first few jobs that accountability is spelled t-r-o-u-b-l-e.

So, what should you do?

Get rid of it.  Don’t use it.  I can hear a few Sales Managers saying “Yeah, well, when I was a Salesperson…”  Yes, I know.  Admit it.  That may have been years ago.  If you want your Salespeople to adapt and change then lead by example and show your Salespeople that you are a leader.  Here’s my point.

Why use a word that automatically causes people to have a bad attitude? 

Please don’t think adjusting the term to “self-accountability” makes any difference.  Self-accountability is a decision that is only made by an individual when wanting to look at the things differently and change their perception.  You can’t hand it out and expect people to buy what you’re selling.  It’s a conscious decision made internally.

The answer

Every Salesperson wants to do better.  If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have signed up for a career of delayed gratification where hard work, determination and persistence eventually add up to success.  Sit down with the Salesperson.  Don’t review their numbers – he or she knows they’re bad.  Check your demeanor and body language.  The key is to stop talking and start listening.  Make a real effort to understand what’s going on in the world of Salesperson.

Ask them to update you on what’s happening with all of their accounts.  Review their new business development efforts.  Don’t be quick to offer advice or solutions.  Know that listening is the greatest power of influence and getting your Salesperson to open up and share their feelings is your focus.  Relate and use empathy to reach a common ground.

Years ago, I asked a Salesperson who missed a quarterly budget if she thought that I reached my personal targets every time when I sold.  She just looked at me, not sure of what she just heard – “My Sales Manager is actually admitting that he missed a budget?”  Yes, every Sales Manager did.  Missing it wasn’t the issue.  Knowing what to do to get back on track was the biggest learning experience.  You will learn a lot more from the challenges than the victories in your sales career – and life.

Empower, Partner and Coach

You’ve taken the time to fully listen to the Salesperson.  Now, ask them if they want to work on a recovery plan together.  Provide the training and assistance that you wish you would have had more of when you were a Salesperson.  Don’t do the job for them.  Teach them how to do the job for themselves.  Ask him or her to come up with a 90-day strategy and offer your experience and guidance.  If you can, go on calls with them and give them what they want – your expertise and help.

Create the atmosphere

Instead of using the word “accountability” create an atmosphere of self-accountability, where the Salesperson recognizes their situation and determines what he or she needs to do to change it for the better. Not only are you doing what’s good for the company, you are doing what’s good for the Salesperson.

You are giving them a reason to believe in themselves and succeed.  Salespeople confide in those they trust on their team and your efforts to invest in people come back in spades.  You are increasing morale and making a huge statement to everyone – we work as a team and when someone needs help, we partner with them to create the environment of success.  Think of it this way.

Would a Salesperson want to leave a company where their Manager worked with them through tough times?

So, get rid of the word “accountability” and replace it with actions that show your support.

What do you think?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments box below.  If you liked this post, please share it on your favorite social media platform.  Are you interested in learning new sales techniques?  Check out our online sales training program The Sales Skills Incubator and our book SHUT UP!  Stop Talking and Start Making Money.  Click the links and start making more sales today!





Dave Warawa – PROSALESGUY