I wrote about this a few years ago in a series of blogs but I wanted to do an update that sums up the common causes of problems with sales teams — and their fixes — in a single article. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list.

Here are five of the most common defects in sales teams:

1. Your salespeople aren’t asking enough open-ended questions.
2. Your salespeople wait for leads to come to them.
3. Your new salesperson didn’t turn out to be the person you thought you were hiring.
4. Your salespeople go after the wrong deals.
5. Your salespeople don’t close.

Problem #1: They aren’t asking enough open-ended questions.

Possible Cause Potentially Fixable by Manager? Possible Solutions
They don’t know what questions to ask.  Yes Revisit (or establish) your onboarding program. A cornerstone of a good onboarding program is a comprehensive list of questions, possible answers and what answers might mean in terms of qualifying a lead.
They are scared of offending/annoying/pushing the prospect by asking too much. Yes Teach the salesperson effective phrases to use in these situations and practice through role-playing exercises until they are comfortable asking them.
They think they already know what the prospect thinks/needs/wants so they don’t bother to ask. Yes A) Diagnose whether this is due to lack of emotional discipline on the salesperson’s part with an assessment tool.
B) Implement a repeatable selling system to prevent this from happening.
They want to show off their smarts and educate the lead. Yes Prepare them by rehearsing commonly asked questions and possible responses so they feel very comfortable with them. Let them know they don’t have to have all the answers and what to say when they don’t.

Each of these possible causes for not asking enough open-ended questions has their own set of causes. For example, the salesperson may be insecure, scared, or have a need for approval that leads them to respond this way. Once you know what motivates your particular salesperson, you will be much better equipped to address it. A Salesperson Evaluation does just that. Learn whether your salesperson is likely trainable or whether there is an underlying factor that will continue to hold them back.


Problem #2: They wait for leads to come to them.

Do you have someone like this on your sales team? One who doesn’t like to hustle to generate any new leads but waits for the leads to call or email with a request, or tries to get by on leads that are passed to them? Why are you allowing this behavior?

Possible Cause Potentially Fixable by Manager? Possible Solutions
They are used to a previous job or previous era where leads dropped in their lap magically and they didn’t have to proactively generate their own leads. Yes Be sure you have clearly communicated expectations — not just in terms of closed sales revenue but also in terms of aplan with agreed-upon activities, and agreed-upon consequences for failure. As a Sales Manager, it is your job to hold them accountable to this.
They are unable to do what is necessary. ? This is where a sales assessment is helpful to understand whether your salesperson is likely to be trainable or whether they just don’t have what it takes to perform in this role.


Problem #3: They didn’t turn out to be the person you thought you were hiring.

The truth about hiring the wrong salesperson is that no matter how bad they are, it’s still the fault of whoever hired them. The good news is that when you start to hire strategically, you never have to hire another bad salesperson again.

Possible Cause Potentially Fixable by Manager? Possible Solutions
You hired based mostly on gut instinct/ good feeling/ candidate’s likability in the interview. Yes Use a candidate assessment tool before you even review resumes or meet candidates. Weed out those who the assessment tells you will not perform (ours is 96% accurate). When you interview them, don’t make them feel comfortable and wanted. You want to see how they respond to prospects (who realistically will be less excited about them). Use a repeatable interviewing process and ask behavioral questions.
You took the resume at face value, sorted candidates based on resume claims and then failed to question every claim made on their resumes. Yes Pick apart every claim they make on their resume. Verify what it says.
You took the best option from a poor pool of candidates. Yes Sales people are exceptionally hard to hire. Most middle-market and smaller companies do not have the internal resources to effectively recruit the right candidates for this particular role. Retain someone specifically skilled at recruiting salespeople.
They are not getting results because they don’t know how. Yes Do you have a repeatable 90-day (or more) sales onboarding program in place? If not, read about how to set one up in our eBook here. You have to give your team the tools they need to perform.


Problem #4: They go after the wrong deals.

Do you have a salesperson who is closing deals that you don’t even want? Don’t let your business be shaped from the bottom-up. Business leaders determine what kinds of business it makes sense to go after and Sales Managers make it clear to the sales team with consistent review and reinforcement.

Possible Cause Potentially Fixable by Manager? Possible Solutions
They don’t have enough leads in their pipeline and it seems easier to fight for the poor-fit, lame deals than it does to go get fresh and better
Yes This should be addressed by you (as the Sales Manager). You are supposed to be holding your salespeople accountable to a healthy sales pipeline. If pipelines are getting fluffy, look at when and how you are reviewing them. They should be reviewed routinely, frequently, and on an individual, per-salesperson basis. You should be asking about the deals in their pipelines and why there are in the stage they are in. Are they fully qualified? Are they sitting there when they should really be dropped?
They are set in their ways of doing things and unwilling to get out of their comfort zone. ? If someone exhibits lack of commitment, unwillingness or inability to focus on the right deals, then you need to consider replacing them with someone who will.
They have a high need for approval and have a hard time pushing back or even being upfront with prospects. Yes A salesperson that does this can change, but it may take a lot of work. You would have to be very diligent about pre-briefing and de-briefing sales calls, helping them to plan what to say and be comfortable with it. It will take a lot of role-playing. Just as importantly, you need to build up this salesperson’s self-esteem so they aren’t so dependent on what prospects think of them.
They are not given clear, consistent messages about which leads to go after. Yes Have you communicated this clearly to your sales team? Are there defined criteria to qualify the right leads? Are those priority leads supported by the sales compensation / commission structures? For example, do you tell them to go after one type of deal but actually incentivize them to go after another based on what they earn per closed deal? Get this in order and it should resolve the problem.

Problem #5: They don’t close.

Most people perceive the inability to close as the problem. It’s more accurate to view it as a symptom of the real problem, which is inability to properly qualify leads. Here are some of the reasons why your salespeople aren’t qualifying leads properly, which is interfering with their ability to close deals.

Possible Cause Potentially Fixable by Manager?  Possible Solutions
They are uncomfortable asking the prospect for a decision because they need to be liked. Yes The way to prepare salespeople for potentially uncomfortable situations is through pre-briefing and scripting, so they know what to say and are comfortable saying it.
They have no clue when the prospect is ready to buy. Yes Have a standardized, repeatable sales process in place to clarify the buying process. All of your salespeople should understand the gap between what a lead has and what they want to have . . . as well as the economic impact of not getting what they want. Your salesperson should understand their decision-making process (who, what, when, where, why and how). Without understanding how the prospect will make a decision and what is important to them, the salesperson will not likely be able to propose a solution and close effectively. Rehearse the sales process with your sales team and hold them accountable to following it. This should boost your close rate and cut back on time wasted with leads that won’t close.
They don’t understand the prospect’s real needs . . . and for that reason are unable to present an effective solution. No This is something that superstar salespeople are able to do well. It has to do with understanding the emotions behind the buying process – what would cause the prospect to act and how compelling the reason is. This ability lets them focus on the right leads and waste less time with the wrong ones. This ability may not be teachable but you can determine someone’s likelihood to possess this skill through a candidate assessment.

Hopefully this gives you some ideas about how to get started fixing dysfunctions in your sales team. If you have a problem with your sales team, a sales performance expert can help you uncover the true causes and address them with the best solutions based on your circumstances.

If you have not already viewed the detailed candidate assessment we use, grab your copy here.