The Key to Account Executive One-on-Ones: Modern Performance Expert Roundup
One-on-one meetings are integral to fostering team chemistry, maintaining accountability, and managing conflicts. Prioritizing one-on-ones on the calendar, one-on-one cadence, and the use of performance metrics are among the many important factors to maximize the value of the types of staff interactions discussed here. Modern Performance asked managers at top firms such as Lever, Lending Club, Datanyze, Intercom and Affirm to weigh in on everything from agenda generation to neural pathways, suggesting some of the methods they’ve found to be effective in successful one-on-ones.
I meet with most of my team on a one-on-one basis each and every week. With new hires we do it maybe twice a week. Then, as they get ramped, we move it down to once a week. I see my more senior team members every other week because their schedules tend to get pretty crazy. In one-on-ones the secret is just being present. I know that will sound a little San Francisco-new-agey, but it goes a long way to have your laptop closed and to take notes. It’s their thirty minutes. You want to commit to that as soon as you walk in that conference room door. It’s important that one-on-ones are consistent and predictable. Do them on a regular cadence, and follow the same agenda so that things don’t fall through the cracks. You have to come prepared. Spend fifteen minutes before each one-on-one reviewing last week’s notes, preparing this week’s notes, and dropping in Salesforce links, so you can have a really great thirty minutes. Set the right expectations from day one. I guide new team members by saying, “These are the topics we might talk about. I can help you choose the first few.” I want to help coach them and get them to the point where they understand the value of it.
“There are two time slots every day that I reserve for personal work time so that I can have some time to come to one-on-ones prepared.”
I spend a few minutes in the late afternoon looking at my meetings for the next morning and a few minutes right after lunch looking at my afternoon meetings. The team has to know, “If I come prepared, if I have questions to ask, then it’s going to help me in my career, with my deals, and with my bottom line,” all of which are important to them.
I have a one-on-one weekly with everybody on my team. I take the stance that the one-on-one is for the account executives and other managers on my team, not for me. I have them send me their agendas in advance.
“When there’s a conflict on my calendar, I will move or cancel basically any meeting, but I will never cancel a one-on-one.”
The one-on-one, to me, is the most crucial and important meeting that I will have every week. Of the four one-on-ones each month, three are focused on active deals, deal flow and any pressing issues that arise. The fourth is set aside for professional development and training. For those, I usually do a walking meeting to get out of the office.
I tell them upfront that I want to see progress, I want to be useful to them, and that it’s their time. There may be one or two things that I require out of a one-on-one, but the majority of the agenda is going to be driven by them.
“Putting my team members in charge of the agenda puts the opportunity in their hands to talk about whatever they want, but it also helps them create some rigor and discipline, getting ahead of their own career, problems with clients, whatever I can help them on.”
I require them to send an agenda ahead of the meeting to helps guide us and give the meeting some purpose. Otherwise, it can really quickly get into just catching up on what’s happening. I also offer the option of a walking one-on-one periodically. I recognize that there are times when you just need to talk something out, and it’s going to be less structured. Usually we’ll have some sort of theme that the team is working on during each quarter. For a while, it was leading with insights. I wanted an example every week of how each person on the team led with insight to a client in the last week. In a one-on-one, to keep it moving, you also have to know when it’s time to move on from a topic. I try to bucket into inquire, inform, or decide. When somebody offers up an agenda item, I’ll say, “Are you inquiring something of me and it’s my job to answer this for you or are you informing me of something like, ‘Hey, I’m going on a trip.'” Does this item require a decision, like, “Should I take this approach, or this approach with a client? Then it is a joint discussion and that could lead to an action item for me or them.
The agenda is key. For me, one-on-one meetings, you have to create an agenda that is valuable for that particular individual. In the first three weeks after their hire, I do hour-long one-on-ones once a week, which is more than what most people do, but I think it’s very important to have a strong connection to new hire. We establish the agenda by asking, “What are they hoping to get out of this session?” Part of that might be day-to-day concerns, but also what are some articles or posts we can go through that can improve your development. I like to identify helpful content in the space that we’re selling into, constantly staying on top of new information that’s available and identifying takeaways. Usually, one meeting would be in the office on a monthly basis and the other 3 meetings would actually be walking meetings.
“I definitely prefer a walking meeting. From a scientific standpoint, your neural pathways are activated as you move so you’re going to have better conversations when you’re moving. It’s also just nice to be outside and usually your employees will open up a lot more as you take them for a walk.”
It extends the branch, “Yes, I know that you’re an important part of the team, I want to support you.” They’re probably more open to talk about sensitive issues outside of a four-walled office. And they create the agenda. Really if you’re a leader, you don’t manage people, you lead them. I try to remember that it’s their time with me, not my time with them. They should be able to talk to me about anything that’s on their mind, and tell me what I can do to help them learn and improve.
I know this is really simple, but you need to set a recurring one-on-one that works for you and your employee and stick to that as consistently as possible.
“Don’t move one-on-ones to different days and times just because you think you’re so busy. Employees will usually say it’s okay that you’re moving things around, but it’s really not. It’s disrespectful to them and a big indicator that you don’t value your employee’s time and their voice enough.”
Keep in mind, if your people are engaged and they want to improve every week, the one-on-one with their manager might be the highlight of their week, because it’s the only time that they get some solo time to voice their concerns, their feelings, their ideas and really talk through different methodologies for their improvement. I think this is a common error for particularly new managers but also managers in general.
“I meet for an hour every week with my managers. I like to have a regular cadence, so we get in the rhythm and they know what to expect of me, and I know what to expect of them. Usually, the first 30 minutes, I have a set agenda. Then for the second 30 minutes, I leave it up to the managers to have their own set agenda.”
My agenda usually involves going over forecasts and projects that they’re running. We’ll also talk about the performance of certain people on their team based on previous weeks, whether they’re improving, or finding challenges with things, with a focus on people development. For their half of the meeting, my managers often come with challenges that they’re facing, or maybe deals that they’re working on that need a little help. In the morning before the meeting, I’ll send out an email with what I want to talk about, and then they’ll populate it with what they want to talk about. We have some direction going into the meeting, so we’re not starting from scratch. The colors test that I was talking to you about before, that plays a key role as well. This product we use gives you a full evaluation for each type of person. I’ll make sure I read that for all of my new hires, and then revisit it every 3 or 6 months, just to make sure I’m not missing anything. I use the advice from the colors assessment to help inform how I communicate with my employees and to make sure that I’m delivering messages in the way that resonates, and will motivate them.
“We report team metrics in our weekly stand-ups. For each role we also have a couple of, what I call, ‘metrics that matter.’”
Whether you’re an inbound SDR, outbound SDR, AE, or account manager we agree at the beginning of the quarter on three metrics that we’re going to manage toward this quarter. Then we do a weekly check-in on how we’re doing, how team members are performing from week to week, and their performance compared to the rest of the team. It can be the same metrics from quarter to quarter, or we could change them once we feel like we’ve gotten to where we want to be with those particular measures.
Obviously, being a data analytics company, we’ve got to put our money where our mouth is. So we also use our own platform to manage toward these metrics. If the team is off track, then that’s on me. I need to go in and figure out if these are the right metrics. Are these goals attainable? Is there an outside factor that I didn’t take into account that’s created a hurdle to meeting goals?
For one-on-ones, the first thing to do is ask, “Is this a pattern for them, or just a one-off?” If it’s a one-off, then let’s just get back on track, pick up the speed, and make up some ground. If it’s a recurring thing, then that’s when we really have to dig in deeper with them and figure out what’s going on. Is this a mental block? Do they absolutely hate doing outbound prospect emails? Is it that they were stumbling with their demos? Were they were taking too long to prepare? Sometimes it’s something they can’t get over, and that’s a whole different story.
The crux of all this is communication with your team. If you have spent the time to build a great relationship with them and spent the time facilitating open conversations, then it’s going to be a lot easier and faster to identify why they’re not hitting their metrics or why they’re not engaged in their one-on-ones.
We make use of performance metrics, as everybody absolutely should, they are a key aspect of running an effective sales team. We have dashboards that we review during our one-on-ones and do a pipeline list.
“I think metrics are a great way to set goals and also uncover weaknesses or untapped opportunities. But I think it’s important not to hide behind the metrics as the only way to judge performance.”
To really get to the core of the things that folks are working on, I try to understand that whole partnership process from the very beginning. Whether we’re running an effective process, if we’re speaking with the right people, if we have a clear understanding of goals and return on investment.
I use performance metrics to track progress in our one-on-ones. I get a really quick, one- or two-minute snapshot from reviewing their pipelines and we focus on any problem areas, any roadblocks I could help remove. Maybe it’s a hold-up with credit or billing, or there’s a problem with the contract we use. I could step in and help resolve that or escalate that. As a team, performance metrics help assess our progress towards our goals, measuring against quota, against past quarters, against other AM teams. There are secondary metrics that affect the primary ones, like, “Where is your pipeline and how many campaigns are you currently live on in one-on-ones every week?” To me, performance metrics measure the outcome of whatever actions you’re taking. If our focus for the quarter is leading with insights, then if my team was following through on that and delivering recommendations to clients using metrics is that influencing revenue for our team? Are we able to move revenue faster than other teams as a baseline? It’s serves as reinforcement to the story.
I really try and come prepared to meetings, having looked at the latest metrics from my managers, team KPIs or their individual sales rep KPIs.
“I think metrics matter because ultimately, they’re a key indicator of current performance which ultimately drives career progression.”
In my one-on-ones, I want my direct reports to have a clear idea of exactly what they’re doing great at and maybe a few things that they need to improve upon, as well as how they can go about making that change. I also think it’s important not to just leave a one-on-one giving your direct report a list of things to do on his or her own. That’s part of it, but also, as a leader, you need to ask yourself, “Have I given them all the tools and resources they need in order to be successful?”
I try to stay away from the obvious, which for sales people, is bookings. They know how they’re doing against quota. I know how they’re doing against quota. I try to dig in to actual emails that they’re sending to prospects and customers.
Same for the number of phone calls they are making or how many demos they’re doing per day or per week. I’d rather see them have 5 quality demos per week than 25 low-quality demos. We also have them create deal plans for some of the important deals that they’re developing. We’ll evaluate those deal plans for holes or gaps. I’ll challenge them on whatever I find, with a focus on quality of communication over volume of activity. It’s a little bit more difficult because you can’t just run metrics in Salesforce and show them. We do go over sales numbers so they know where they stand amongst the team, but I find it important to dive deeper into what they’re actually saying on phone calls and the content of emails that they’re sending, to make sure it’s bringing value to the prospect or customer.
Learn more from our experts, and see full profiles, here:
Justin Roberts, VP of Sales at Lever:
Jeff Rothenberg, Senior Manager of Sales for Personal Loans at Lending Club:
Daniel Barber, VP of Sales at Datanyze:
Chris Schwass, Head of Relationship Management at Intercom:
Alexis Zhu, Director of Revenue at Affirm:
Annelies Husmann, Director of Sales at Mode Analytics:
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