Define Expectations with Your Sales Team

January 14, 2022
Define Expectations with Your Sales Team

Learning how to define expectations is one of the key responsibilities for any sales manager. But have you noticed that your various salespeople respond very differently when you set sales expectations?

Some salespeople will see any expectation, whether an activity goal or a revenue quota, and do all they can to reach it.

Others may have a lot of questions – how was the activity goal set? Is the activity goal flexible if the revenue quota is achieved?

Others may not seem to need your expectations at all; they seem to be completely self-driven.

Define Expectations Using the Four Rubin Tendencies

I have an interest in motivation and expectation-setting (in fact, I wrote an eBook about it!), and I find Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies to be a fascinating dimension for managers to consider.

Rubin studies habits and how they relate to happiness – you may have read one of her popular books such as The Happiness Project, or you may listen to her podcast Happier with Gretchen Rubin, a personal favorite of mine.

A foundation to Rubin’s work is that in order to impact your habits and performance, you first need to understand yourself. In the same way, I believe that in order to effectively manage a sales team, you need to have an understanding of your team.

Rubin’s four tendencies address how people respond to expectations: both outer expectations, such as quotas or deadlines, and inner expectations, such as resolutions or personal goals. These differences have a huge impact on how to successfully define expectations for your team.

1. Upholders

Upholders respond well to both outer and inner expectations. These are in many ways some of the easiest salespeople to manage, as they tend to work to meet any goals that are established.

Unfortunately, they can be somewhat rigid and inflexible in their desire to meet their inner expectations. They may have habits, systems, and processes they feel are necessary and may not find it easy to adjust in a fast-paced and flexible environment. In Rubin’s studies, Upholders are one of the smallest groups of people.

As a sales manager, it’s important to recognize that Upholders are looking for affirmation and recognition. That can be highly motivational for this group. You’ll also want to monitor your salespeople’s habits and see if there are any that are unnecessary. Define expectations carefully, as your Upholders will likely meet them to the letter.

2. Obligers

Obligers meet outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations. This is one of the biggest categories of people, and it’s probably easy for you to instantly picture people you know in this group. These people will do their best to achieve goals that are set for them, but may sacrifice their own plans and targets.

As a sales manager, the best thing you can remember for your Obligers is to help them establish outer accountability for any goals and expectations. Even if something is their own idea, they will be much more likely to achieve it if you’ve established a schedule for checking in.

Additionally, monitor your Obligers to make sure they aren't feeling obligated to meet expectations that aren't essential to their position. They can get caught up in unnecessary work that's a distraction from their key goals.

3. Questioners

Questioners will only meet expectations if they can justify them internally. So if you set an activity target, they may ask you how it was set. Once you explain that you’ve run analytics of the top performers to set targets, if they find that information valid, they may commit to achieve the goal. But if you set an expectation and they think it’s arbitrary, they’re unlikely to find it compelling.

As a sales manager of a Questioner, be prepared for a lot of questions. And consider the reasons behind any goals you are setting. Define expectations that are tied to an overall strategy and based on sound principles, and your Questioners will dive right in.

Along with Obligers, Questioners are one of the most common categories. In our experience, the majority of your salespeople will be in one of these two groups.

4. Rebels

If you’ve noticed the pattern, you can probably guess the fourth category. Rebels resist both outer and inner expectations.

This is one of the smallest categories of people, but it’s also a category that may find a natural home in sales. Rebels are very motivated by self-determination and tend to focus on the result more than the journey.

As a sales manager with a Rebel on your team, it’s important that your salesperson has a personal desire to achieve results. You may want to consider which expectations are necessary and which can be softened or removed as long as results are showing.

Has this exploration of Rubin’s four tendencies helped you to better understand yourself and your sales team? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

1 Comment

  • Barry Hall - Reply

    Many thanks Elizabeth for sharing a great post. Very interesting and much appreciated. – Barry.

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