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Are Sales People Inherently Lazy?

by David Brock on August 25th, 2016

Often, I read and hear, “Sales people are inherently lazy…..”  Perhaps, I’m looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, but I believe most sales people want to do the right things.  The problem is, too often, they just don’t know what the right things are.

It’s hard to be lazy and be successful in selling, after all, selling is one of the toughest professions in business.  Sales people face more “no’s” than “yes’s” everyday.  They have to constantly focus on finding new deals, developing new relationships, working on current deals, coordinating resources both within their own companies and with their partners and customers.

I don’t think the majority of sales people are lazy.  But I think there are things management let’s happen that create the perception of laziness.  A few of these things are:

  1. Having the wrong people in the job in the first place.  People who shouldn’t be sales people, who shouldn’t be sales people with a particular company tend struggle.  They often don’t have the abilities to do the things that drive success.  As a result they may be perceived as lazy and/or incompetent.  This isn’t a sales person problem, it’s a sales management problem for hiring the wrong people in the first place.
  2. Not teaching/coaching people on what the right things are.  If the sales people don’t know the best ways to prospect, if they don’t know the sweet spot, if they don’t know how to qualify, if they don’t know how to put together and execute strong deal strategies, if they don’t know how to understand what customers value and create differentiated value, if they don’t know how to help the customer move through their buying process to making a decision, they can be perceived as lazy.  They are doing the things they know, not necessarily what drives the highest success.  It’s management’s responsibility to provide the training, systems, processes, and tools to help sales people not only understand the right things to do, but to execute.  It’s management’s responsibility to continue to coach people, making sure they understand the right things to do.
  3. Letting them take shortcuts or do things that are ineffective.  Smart people will tend to look for short cuts.  They have a natural tendency to look for the easy way to do things.  In some sense, this is a great characteristic.  If the shortcuts or the “easy” methods produce the outcomes we want, they can become best practice.  But it’s when these things don’t produce the desired outcomes that cause them to be problems.  We see it every day, people not following the sales process, not preparing adequately for the call, not taking the time to understand the customer problem.  It’s management’s responsibility to watch for these things, to make sure they don’t become bad or unproductive habits, to correct them through coaching.
  4. Not clearly defining performance expectations and holding people accountable for meeting performance expectations.  This is related to the previous point.  Too many sales people don’t have clearly defined performance expectations and the appropriate metrics/goals.  As a result, they don’t have a framework in which to evaluate what whether they are doing the right things.  Again, it’s incumbent for management to define these expectations, coach people in how they can more effectively meet those expectations.
  5. Having unrealistic or too many expectations, or having a program du jour approach to selling.  Too many organizations operate in a real or “psuedo” crisis mode.  There are constant shifts in priorities.  The things that were important yesterday are not longer important today, those that are important today will not be important tomorrow.  People get confused, they don’t know what they should be doing because it’s constantly changing.  Faced with this, people tend to hunker down, usually continuing to do what they have done, consequently appearing lazy because they aren’t responding to management’s whim.
  6. Having no understanding of why they are doing what they are being asked to do.  We hire sales people who are supposedly smart, action oriented, and want to achieve.  As self directed people, they need to understand the context and the why of what they are doing.  They need to know how to connect the dots between what they are being asked to do and how it helps them achieve their goals.  For example, “Why are you asking me to make 50 prospecting calls a day?”  “Why are you asking me to spend my time on these tools?”  They have to know how what they do contributes to the team’s goals, and the overall organizational goals.  Sales people are no different than anyone else, they want to “belong” and if they don’t know how what they do helps the organization, they don’t understand why they should do it.  As a result, they may not do the things they should be doing and appear lazy.

I’ll stop here, but there are many other examples of where sales people can be perceived as lazy.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some lazy sales people.  But it’s less their issue than it is a management issue.

“Laziness” occurs in an organization because management lets it happen, or unwittingly cause it to happen.  Engaged, motivated sales people who understand the right things to do, why they are the right things; who have the systems, tools, processes, programs, training, and ongoing coaching will never be lazy.

Laziness is not a sales person issue, it’s a management issue.  Lazy sales organization exist because of bad management.  The way you fix lazy sales organization is by fixing management.

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  1. David, great article with tons of great information. I especially like the following:

    1) It starts with the hiring process – by the way this is an entire post on its own however it is really hard to do right.
    2) Defining the “Ideal Client Profile” – then training the reps
    3) Reps do not know why they are asked to do what they do AND they usually get conflicting instructions

    I have to say that you probably only work with the best sales people. I have talked to many sales people through interviews, conversations, meetings, etc.. What I have seen is that when the sales gets tough they quit! Maybe it is not laziness maybe it is just WILL and EXECUTION

    • Dale, thanks for your patience with this discussion. Will and Execution are critical for sales success. I tend to think of will as a hiring characteristic–if they don’t have the will, it is unlikely we will be able to build it. Consequently, if we have people on the sales team who don’t have the will, it’s a hiring mistake by some manager and the current manager has to address it. Execution is critical and covers a huge amount of area–some management error, some sales person error. On the sales person side, it’s important for the manager to work with the sales person, coaching them to improve. If they can’t, then they probably are the wrong person.

      I think all these challenges exist within the organization–laziness, will, execution and more. Fundamentally, it is the front line manager’s responsibility to understand these and fix them. The degree to which they persist in the organization is not the sales person’s fault (though they may be at fault) but management failure.

  2. MikeinLA permalink

    I’m an R&D/scaleup chemist, I also do EPA compliance, have for two separate smaller chemical companies during my career. This makes me the go-to technical resource for the sales staff. At my previous company, most of the salesmen I didn’t like or respect that much as people or as salemen. At my current company, all the salespeople I’ve worked with here are great people, and most of them appear to me to be excellent salespeople.

    That being said, both at my previous job and my current one, a lot of the salespeople do a lot of the same things that definitely come down to laziness. For instance, their customer asks them to fill out a form related to regulatory compliance, they immediately send it blank to me to fill out. The information that needs to be filled in is mostly if not all stuff they know and could have filled in (company name and address, intended use of the chemical, etc) and I could have just checked it over. But instead, I have to call them up and ask them for the information, and then fill it out.

    Another example, I prepare a custom sample of a chemical and send it to their customer, and when I ship the sample, I enter the FedEx tracking number into the appropriate field on the sample shipment record in our CRM software. They could go into the CRM software, which they are supposed to be using more than I am, and see that the sample was sent, see the tracking number, use it to track their sample and see if the customer received it all by themselves, but do they do that? No, they call me up and ask me “did that sample go out? Oh, it did? Could you track it for me and tell me if they’ve received it?”

    Two different companies with very different cultures, yet the same bad habits in the sales staff of both companies. Why? Salespeople are lazy prima donnas. They wanna schmooze and cut deals and get commissions, and they think they’re above having to deal with paperwork or process documentation or menial tasks. It’s tiresome.

    • Mark: Interesting comments/observations. It seems the sales people aren’t doing things that they should. However, somethings to consider: Do they know that they should be doing those things? Have they been trained? A lot of these issues are a result of poorly defined roles/responsibilities or bad habits. I’d suggest working with management to change these behaviors. If. afterwards. they don’t, then I would tend to agree with you.

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  1. Management, Will, or Laziness?? – The Sales Change Agent

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