Setting Clear Expectations: It's What Great Leaders Do

Sales Management | Managing Performance


Abraham Lincoln was known for his uncanny knack to lead others – even those with whom he disagreed.  Click here for a great book on the subject. He was also known for his ability to simplify. One story goes that he would often line up troops from the most senior rank to the lowest.  He would then begin at the lowest ranking soldier and ask him to explain the next mission objective, and why they were pursuing that course.  If the lowest ranking soldier could not answer quickly with utmost confidence, Lincoln would berate the highest ranking leader.

What’s this got to with sales leaders? Well, a lot actually.

I can tell how well a sales person is led by how they respond when I can ask them casually “So what are your top three objectives for your territory right now?” Their answer will tell me a lot about the clarity they are getting from their immediate manager. If they respond quickly: “well there are three things my manager is insisting on: 1) A, 2) B, 3) C

This is not the marketing strategy, product positioning, or a competitive comparison. It’s also not a to-do list. These are the visceral “Critical Few”. The non-negotiables. The crystal balls: they break when you drop them. 

When a salesperson responds quickly with A, B, C, I know that their manager has been setting clear expectations. We would do well, like Lincoln, to simplify… Salespeople suffer from a myriad of distractions. This clarity is vital for the representative to be able to answer the question “What should I be doing today?”  A simple list of critical objectives allows them to say ‘yes’ to the right things, and ‘no’ to things that are not core to the strategy. 

By the way, I can count on two hands the numbers of times I’ve seen a salesperson respond quickly and accurately to this question… Is it their fault?  I doubt it….


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About Jenner Marcucci

Jenner has over 20 years of Fortune 100 experience working with top-tier organizations. He is sought-after as a dynamic speaker, facilitator, consultant and coach. Jenner has an infectious enthusiasm for learning, listening, and solving. He has worked with several industry leading clients including Abbott, Allied Barton, Catalina, Novartis, Pfizer, and Westin.