Dispelling myths about sales failure. #1: It's not the salesperson

When it comes to sales failure stop blaming the salesperson. But wait, you say, there are a lot of non-performing sales people out there so how can you make that statement?

Here's a reality check: yes, there are a lot of people with sales titles but how many should have never been hired or put in that position? Way too many.

So, don't blame the salesperson ask whomever recruited her why she was hired? How many sales reps do you know who are in sales for the wrong reason? Here are some examples:

⇒"He's been with me for a long time so I promoted him to Sales Manager" ⇒"I need to make money fast so I'll get a job in sales" ⇒"I know this guy in sales and he is making a lot money. I'm going into sales"

Here's why sales managers, or hiring managers tasked with the challenge of finding sales people, fail so often: hiring practices are based on a terrible premise:  "if the rep does not work out, we'll just get rid of her".

Salespersons are not a commodity and anyone approaching this job function as "you either perform or you're out" should not be managing sales. Here are a few reasons why this type of neandertals culture is as close as you come to financial suicide:

  1.  Bad sales reps (i.e., those who should have never been hired for that position) cause more long term damage than anything else you can do to alienate customers.
  2. The cost of training a new rep can easily account for 10%-15% of their base pay when you include team members' time, materials, travel, mentoring and missed opportunities.
  3. Proper training of salespersons is obviously essential but what is often overlooked by sales managers, and those who oversee them, is even more important: the type and quality of support sales reps receive from the company.

The best sales people I have worked with were successful because they work in a supportive environment that provided tools and back office support that allowed them to focus on one thing and one thing only - sales. They, the real superstars of the sales world, didn't spend countless hours on useless debrief meetings, chase communication follow ups that were supposed to have been handled by someone else, and they didn't waste their time babysitting their manager who had to do the obligatory "get out there and see how she's doing" nonsense.

I think that there's another aspect to why salespeople fail. You may find it to be shocking: jealousy that is rooted in a misperception of what salespeople do for a living: "well, you get to travel, eat out all the time and make all this money - maybe I should go into sales?". That's it! The reason why sales people get tripped or don't get the support they need. I would agree that non performing reps do exactly that. But, I have to stand up and defend the good ones, the true professionals who get up at 4am to catch a flight (in coach), spend 12 hours on the road, grab dinner and work on follow up and preparation for the next day until they fall asleep on the bed. And, the next day and the next day.

Sales isn't a glamorous profession and if you think it is you've watched too many Wall Street type movies. It's a thankless job: when the company is doing well everyone thinks the sales guys just got lucky and when the company is doing poorly? Yes, it's all their fault.

The notion that the only way to measure a salesperson is by their performance is flawed. First, we must assess, objectively, whether the company is properly positioned in terms of marketing - do we have a clear, concise and convincing reason(s) why customers should do business with us? Is that reason (or message) consistent across all of our marketing platforms: web, social media, collateral, customer service?

Don't send a salesperson to fight a war with two hands tied behind her back. Sales reps can't, and shouldn't, sell bad products or worse bad companies. Give them a chance to succeed by positioning the company in a way that is sellable. And most importantly, get sales reps involved in marketing - no one knows better than them what's really going on out there.

Have the courage to informally sit down with your sales rep and genuinely ask a few questions:

  1. Do you like what you do?
  2. What can we do to help?
  3. What do you need from me in order to sell more?
  4. If you were me, what would you do differently?

And if you're reading this and saying to yourself "you are giving them way too much credit. They are lazy and just want the easy way out", then please excuse yourself and don't get involved in sales. Yes, you too Mr. CEO. With that kind of antiquated and negative attitude about the only people in the company that can fulfill your vision, you are destined to hire, fire and complain for years to come.

Don't blame the salesperson speak to the person who hired them and maybe that's where you need to make a change.