SPIF Tip #58: Getting Rid of Gnawing Feelings and the Value of Standards

It’s almost easier when things are just plain bad.  Not that it is any fun. It is just easier when a problem is obvious.

Right now, things are unsettled. Lots of issues nagging for a sales leader’s attention.

How do you figure out what to focus on now and what can wait? I am thinking about quality issues.

Right now, things are unsettled.  You probably have some things that are going okay.  Other things you used to count on aren’t OK.  You or your team have new ideas, but it is hard to feel comfortable projecting how they will work.

You are also trying to look around corners to see what is coming next.  There are a lot of things competing for your attention


Feelings nag the sales leader. How do you figure out what needs attention now and what can wait?

Suppose your gnawing feeling involves the quality of deals.  How confident should you be about the near-term deals in your sales funnel?  Are your team members still listening for the right cues from prospects?

Doubling down on the pipeline reviews tends to focus attention for the short run.  It’s called the Hawthorne Effect.  The gnawing feeling will be back.

Fortunately, there is a way to get facts that reveal what’s happening.

Get a snapshot

Choose three of your reps and two prospects for each. Whatever qualification method you use, ask each rep to bring a highly qualified prospect, and a one that is lower.  Ask each for five minutes of their time.

“I am just getting a temperature check.  There are so many moving pieces right now, I want to make sure I am understanding how everyone is thinking about their current situations.”

You will not be challenging or debating them in any way.  You will not be coaching.  It is very important that you not react negatively to their answers.  You want to listen carefully to the words they use.

For each opportunity, start with a general question like “Where were we at when you updated them in the CRM on Thursday?”

Then ask a follow-up question or two.  You want them to describe how they thought about the same specific qualification questions for each of their opportunities.

What to listen for

Part of your takeaway is going to be about the quality of the deals.

Equally important, is how they answered. Here is a shortlist of some things you might reflect on from what you heard:

  • Were they expressing feelings, or observations, or a mix of these?
  • Were the meanings of their answers to the scoring questions consistent?
  • Was their use of the qualification questions consistent with the intent of the questions?

Ideally, everyone talks about observations of their sales opportunities that lead them to their decisions, and they interpret the questions in a consistent way. That will give you the most confidence.

You might find variation in how individual salespeople answer instead.  It could be just style.  Some people lead with a feeling and back it up with an observation.  Others talk about what they think is going to happen or how they think the prospect is reacting.

In sales, we often have a habit of talking in approximations and feelings.  These are sometimes called floating abstractions – linguistic customs representing a hash association, assumptions, or feelings. They can cause a lot of trouble in sales environments if they go uncorrected.

For example,

  • A green salesperson’s excitement about a large new prospect might distract them from the uncomfortable fact that they do not have a strong coach network.
  • A salesperson who doesn’t have the skill or ambition to develop their opportunities might overlook them.

Qualification criteria that are sufficiently defined are invaluable. In operational excellence, this is known as a standard. It enables salespeople to evaluate the clarity and strength of their own observations about their accounts. It takes some time and a few iterations to get there. And when you do, good standards reveal all.


You may be pleasantly surprised and find there is no reason to worry about the quality of your standards or of your deals.  Or you may find a starting point for further discussion to improve the view of the funnel and rectify the situation.

Either way, you’ll be able to ease the gnawing feeling by bringing you and your team closer to the realities you face.


Michael Webb

Michael Webb founded Sales Performance Consultants to create a data-driven alternative to the slogans and shallow impact offered by typical sales training, sales consulting, and CRM companies. Michael helped organize and delivered the keynote speeches for the first conferences ever held on applying Six Sigma to marketing and sales. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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