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It’s Never JUST A Sales Problem!

by David Brock on August 25th, 2014

We often get called by execs, “We’ve got a sales problem!  We need your help,” or some variation on the theme.  It could be, “Sales isn’t doing their job,” “They aren’t making their numbers, what’s wrong with those sales guys?”

As we start to understand the situation, it always comes down to, “Revenue/orders are down,”  “We aren’t making the numbers,” “We’re losing share,” “We’re losing customers…..”  “We see sales missing it’s goals year after year after year!”

Since sales is responsible for getting orders, generating revenue, acquiring customers, and growing the business–if we aren’t doing those things, it’s easy to think “We’ve got a sales problem!”

Often, there have been attempts to fix the problems–desperate sales managers try new programs, tools, strategies, methods.  Sometimes we see huge people churn, sales people being replaced, sales managers being replaced.  But the problem persists, revenue goals aren’t being met.

When we dive into the situation, inevitably we find there may be problems in sales.  There may be performance issues, They may be sales strategy, or process, or systems/tools/training, or people, or coaching/leadership issues.  Even in the highest performing sales organizations, there is always the importunity to improve and grow.

But most of the time we find it is never JUST a sales problem.  There are always other issues at play that impact sales’ abilities to perform.  That’s because sales doesn’t exist in isolation.

Inevitably, with the sales management team (sometimes it’s a new management team) we identify the key problems in sales and we fix them.  We get the sales people doing what they need to be doing, the way they should be doing them.  There’s improvement, but we still aren’t achieving the results.  But the organization is still not where it should be or where it wants to be.

It’s then that executives discover it wasn’t JUST a sales problem.

There are always other things at play–we have the wrong products, we don’t present ourselves as well as we should to the markets, we don’t create loyal customers through great customer experience, we have the wrong strategies, …….

When we see systemic issues in achieving revenue, growth, and share goals, sales is sometimes part of the problem, but it’s never JUST a sales problem.  We know we can fix the sales problems, but it will shine a light on the real problems in the organization.We always find other contributory factors.  It’s  never JUST a sales problem because sales doesn’t exist in isolation from everything the company does.

There are always challenges in the sales organization.  Performance can always be improved.  There are always things that can be done better.  Sometimes, there are things that are being done wrong.  But improving sales performance really isn’t a mystery or rocket science–as many sales gurus would like you to think.  Sales performance improvement is relatively straightforward.  It’s a combination of leadership, strategy, sharp day to day business management/systems/processes/tools/programs, the right people, great coaching.  It takes focus, discipline, sharp execution, continuous learning and improvement.  But in reality it’s really not that tough.

But when you see year after year, systemic challenges in achieving the results, in meeting goals, while sales may be part of the problem, it is never JUST THE PROBLEM.

CEO’s, business owners, top executives need to pause, think, and reflect.  The sales organization, like any part of the organization, doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  It’s success or failure is never a result of it’s own efforts.  It’s a combination of the work and efforts of everyone in the organization that drives that success—or failure.

When we see consistent challenges in achieving goals, it always goes deeper than sales.  Likewise, for sales to be performing at the highest levels possible, the entire organization needs to be performing at the highest levels possible.  When we look at great companies sustaining great performance over time, it’s never just a “hot product,” or “great marketing,” “or great customer service.”  It’s the entire organization working together to achieve it’s goals in the markets.

Today’s organizations are very complex, systemic performance problems are seldom a function of one part of the organization, but a combination of factors.  If we want to maximize and sustain high sales performance, we have to look beyond sales.

  1. James permalink

    Another lesson from my teaching stint that applies here: If one student fails, then they have failed. If most of the students fail, then I have failed.

  2. It’s ALWAYS a sales problem, Dave. Haven’t you learned that yet? 😉

    Great post, and thanks for the supporting comments and fair pokes on my Sales Performance Ecosystem post on LinkedIn. Will try to touch on the larger business transformation or alignment issues in parts 2 and 3.

  3. While it is never just a “sales problem,” a superior sales organization will a) as much and as long as possible take responsibility for delivering results regardless and b) as you describe so well, be the FIRST and BRIGHTEST torches to throw light on the root causes of the problems.

    For better or worse, and partly because of bias against sales people as not “understanding business,” we have to be as creative, professional and beyond reproach as possible to have the credibility to push back as necessary.

    Being perceived as whiners just making excuses only deepens and validates the suspicion that the problem is in “sales.” I say “sales” should,

    “PUT up” or SHUT up– but when you DO “put up,” beat the odds and make something happen, it is your absolute right and RESPONSIBILITY to point out when the emperor’s wardrobe is uh, malfunctioning shall we say.

    • Kurt, you are absolutely on target here. We have to make sure we are performing at the highest levels possible–regardless of the challenges from the rest of the organization. Often, it’s hard to see what the root problems are until we fix some of the surface issues (e.g. sales problems). I’ve expanded on that in my “Is your house in order?” post. Thanks for the great comment.

      • Did I introduce you guys? I’m going to regret that. 😉 Seriously, you guys should chat if you haven’t already.

        I can’t keep up right now, Dave, but will be back to read all of your recent posts in this series, more deeply. In glancing, not much to add. I have certainly seen that it’s easier to get execs to consider addressing other org issues if you address a sales one first, see some lift, and are able to say “we could get more lift if we got XYZ issues resolved.” This weekend, I’ll poke into my SPE part 2.

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