Poor Sales: Useless Sales Reps? Useless Sales Manager or what? Time for root cause analysis!

As many companies are battling on the sales front, there’s always a tendency to immediately blame lack of sales on salespeople. “They can’t sell”, “They don’t close”, “They’re chasing unqualified opportunities”, “They aren’t seeing enough customers” are just some of the comments I hear from sales managers and business owners in general.

Yes, most definitely there may be those on your sales team who need further skills training or an attitude ‘klap’ as we say in SA. However many sales issues stem from other root causes.

Here are the three most common that I’ve come across:

1. Ineffective sales management: If the leader of the sales team doesn’t know how to recruit the right salespeople in the first place, doesn’t inspire or motivate the team, isn’t coaching the team on their areas of improvement, isn’t tracking the pipeline effectively, doesn’t hold individuals responsible for sales results, etc. etc.  this could be the start of your sales problems.

In my experience it often boils down to incompetence – there are so many sales managers out there (with no formal management qualifications, let alone formal sales management qualifications) who end up doing nothing more than put out fires all day, or sit in their offices running reports and doing admin instead of getting out there with each rep and seeing what’s happening at the coal face with their customers.

Apart from lack of sales management know-how, another issue is the management style of the team leader. I’ve previously mentioned my firsthand experience of a sales manager who,  with a hangover, boast about starting a Monday sales meeting with a snarl that he was “in the mood to fire someone today”. Then wondered why he had a constant turnover of sales staff – many of whom had stellar sales track records at other companies and were indeed the right people who should have taken their sales to new heights. He put the high turnover of sales staff down to “slim pickings” or to their inability to sell, not even his lack of ability to recruit the right sales performers. They were all to scared to confront this volatile character. Time after time within months, each person mentally disengaged and focused on finding a new job. The general consensus from those leaving was that he was umm …..  ‘a self-centered, egotistical moron’ (to put it very politely). Sadly, five years later he is still there and the cannon fodder/revolving door approach to sales recruitment continues unabated. The company still putters along, thanks to a few low-profile long-term sales stalwarts who can tolerate the abuse and negativity as they benefit financially from being able to take over the accounts of all those who come and go.

2. Poor product or service quality
Could you confidently sell a product or service with serious flaws to a customer? One that didn’t deliver on the value promise? One that could burst into flames and seriously hurt someone?  One that you already knew wouldn’t do the job? Sadly, products and services like this are sold all over the world but does that make the people selling them sales stars because they made money for themselves and for their companies at the expense of the buyer’s interests? If it does, then no wonder the business world in general has a poor image of the sales profession. No wonder there is such a trust deficit between buyer and seller these days.

3. Systemic issues at the company affecting sales performance
A top new business developer with a stellar track record came to me for guidance on how to get her manager to see that the pure volume of administrative load she was carrying was preventing her from getting out there to make enough sales to hit target. The whole sales team was battling under a mountain of contractual paperwork that kicked in once the sale had been agreed. This was a systemic or structural issue within the sales department – once we put in enough sales support and took the admin burden off their shoulders, sales went through the roof.

Ditto for when we’ve sorted out issues like effective opportunity management, put in sales processes and streamlined CRM input requirements. Sales go through the roof

My message is simple – don’t simply jump to the conclusion that it’s the sales person’s “fault” that he or she can’t hit their target and replace with another warm body. The red flag here for management is the rate of sales staff turnover. The higher it is, the longer it continues, the more likely the root cause of poor or drastically reducing sales revenue lies somewhere else.

Take a step back, apply serious root cause analysis thinking before you go after your ‘non-performers’.

By Suzanne Burgess – please sign up for my free weekly SalesBrief here – quick read on a Monday, filled with tips, ideas and sales insights. In the market for a senior sales or sales management position in Gauteng? Is your company looking for sales achievers? – then get in touch with me too!

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