Why salespeople fail

This may sound simplistic but there are really only two reasons why salespeople aren’t successful:

  1. They don’t do enough of the right activities to get enough opportunities
  2. When they perform sales activities they aren’t very good at them

Okay, so it’s simple enough.  You may say “So what?”  But for a sales manager it is critical that he or she know which situation is the cause of the problem, because the two separate problems require different types of intervention.  The first is more of an accountability intervention, whereby the manager makes sure that the salesperson first knows what level of activity is necessary to get the appropriate number of new opportunities into the pipeline.

The second requires more of a coaching intervention.  If you have a salesperson who is doing enough activity but is still lacking success then coaching is required.

What to Do about Each Problem

The first problem, not doing enough of the right activities, requires that the sales manager first work through the math with the salesperson to know what the level of those right activities should be.   And, the salesperson must take ownership of this activity plan.  To effectively do this one must start with the closing ratios.  Once the closing ratio is understood then it is easy to calculate how many opportunities must be in the pipeline to generate enough new business.  So knowing the typical closing ratios will lead to determining how many first appointments with prospects are necessary each day, week or month.   The appropriate measurement interval will vary based on the product, market etc.

The next step is to figure out how much effort it typically takes to get a first appointment scheduled.  This could include cold calling, asking for referrals from clients, using LinkedIn to reach targets etc.  It is important to then assist the salesperson in creating an appropriate activity plan to get those first appointments.  Rather than measuring the total number of appointments, it is more precise to measure the number of FIRST appointments necessary for the measurement period.  Then it is the sales manager’s job to ask the salesperson to report on their activity each week, every two weeks or at a minimum monthly to insure they are doing the activity.  If they aren’t doing the appropriate level of agreed upon activities then the sales manager can simply ask two questions:  1) Why did you not meet the activity requirements?  And, 2) What are you going to do differently this week?  If they continue to lack appropriate results and are not changing their activity level, then it is a fairly obvious conversation to have.

The second problem, lack of effectiveness, can more easily be identified if it has been determined that the first problem is not present.  After determining that the salesperson is doing enough of the right activity, and is still not closing enough business, then it is time to kick into intense coaching.   For starters, an increased emphasis on role playing, or practicing is necessary.  If the salesperson is lacking effectiveness in closing business then be certain to increase the practice you engage in with him or her.  Do not let them practice on prospects.  Then, sales calls should be pre-briefed following a prescribed sales process where the possible outcomes are identified and the salesperson coached up on what to say and how to address various situations.  Next additional joint sales calls may be in order.  Do not take over the call, rather, after pre-briefing with the salesperson let the salesperson do the work in the sales call.  Then immediately debrief the call.  What went well?  What could have been improved upon?  Do we know enough to move to the next step in the process?  If the salesperson messed up, encourage them to learn from the mistake, maybe engage in additional practice so they are more comfortable the next time, then if appropriate have them call the prospect back and ask to try again.

There may be situations where the salesperson is not improving even when engaged in additional coaching and enhanced practice.  It is okay.  Not everyone is well suited for sales.  Just like most of us will not become Olympic medal-winning sprinters, no matter how much practice we do, some people will not progress in their sales skills.  The important thing is that the sales managers know why the person is floundering and then jumps in to address the problem.  If it is determined that the salesperson cannot improve, the sales manager will know that he or she has done everything possible to assist.