How to build a culture of sales accountability

Whether you’re new to leadership or new to sales leadership in particular, the word accountability is on your mind.  You have a vague idea of what it might be, and you know what an organization without accountability looks like.  But the real question is this: How do you build an environment of accountability that is constructive in the long term?

In my experience, accountability is an environment that is created once several other things are in place.  The foundation for accountability falls into these categories:

  • Buy-in / Trust
    • Credibility
    • Reliability
    • Intimacy / Vulnerability
    • Self Orientation
  • Communication
    • Communicate Early
    • Communicate Often
    • Repeat yourself
  • Motivation
    • Job Clarity
    • Recognition
    • Success


Buy-in / Trust

Most of you should recognize this outline as that of The Trust Equation from the book The Trusted Advisor.  The basic idea here is that buy-in is earned, and you need buy-in from your team in order to lead effectively and eventually introduce accountability.  Untitled_presentation_-_Google_Slides

In the end, accountability is earned.  A leader earns the right to hold his/her team accountable in a constructive way. It’s not a function of title or being the manager.


Next comes communication.  One of the most common mistakes new managers make is not communicating up front. How could a manager reasonably hold someone accountable for doing something that was never communicated up front?

From this perspective, Communication is one of the foundations of accountability.  Communicate your expectations early and often.  Prepare to get comfortable repeating yourself; that’s completely normal.  As you develop as a manager, you’ll develop your communications skills and you’ll start to learn how to repeat yourself without sounding like you’re repetitive.

Once you’ve repeated something so often that there’s no excuse for not knowing it, then you’re in a position to hold a team member accountable.


As a leader, it should be clear that one of your jobs is to motivate your team.  Very rarely will everyone be 100% intrinsically motivated.  Before jumping straight to holding people accountable, ask yourself: Have you’ve done any work motivating them?

I wrote a post about the sales motivation triangle here, but if a leader has not attempted this, they are probably failing in the credibility or self-orientation bucket up above.  Making the effort to motivate your team correctly should come first.  If you’ve done this along with trust building and communicating, you’re just about ready to start holding people accountable.

Common Mistakes

The most tempting and common mistake a leader can make when it comes to thinking about accountability is to confuse it with fear.

Accountability is not a math equation.  It’s a feeling that is created in an environment when people feel compelled to do something, or people feel strongly when they did not do something.  Don’t be tempted to take the shortcut and lead by fear.  Each of the components above will help strengthen your environment of accountability, but every scenario is different.

Yes, fear can get people to do something quickly in a short amount of time, but it comes with a loss of respect and credibility for the leader. Leading this way will only get the leader so far before they hit the bottom and need to find another way to hold people accountable.