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Sales Effectiveness: Focus On The Individual Or The Organizational Performance?

by David Brock on October 5th, 2017

The other day, Matt Dixon and I were having a discussion, trying to solve all the problems of sales.  As is often, the case in these discussions, we started reflecting on a lot of broad and, possibly, esoteric issues.

We started talking about what ultimately may be a Chicken/Egg issue.  We were considering, “Where is the next big rock to turn over in driving sales effectiveness?  Do we focus on driving individual performance or do we look at overall organizational excellence?”

To jump ahead, the answer is, “We have to do both!”  Further, the answer to where do we start is, “It depends.”

Sometimes, however, I think we spend too much time focusing on the individual sales people.

When I talk to top executives about their revenue growth and sales problems, ultimately, the conversation get to, “We have to fix the sales people, they just aren’t performing!”  Ultimately, we look at things like turnover/attrition, quota performance, revenue performance, win/loss, activity, do we have the right people, do they have the right skills.  The focus is on sales people as individuals, seldom on the overall performance of the pieces/parts of the organization.

Inevitably there are issues with the individual sales performance.  The execs put in action plans to improve performance.  The action plans are all over the place:  Fire the low performers, invest in training, invest in tools, invest in new programs to help the sales people, develop new incentives, focus on activity levels.

All the actions focus on sales people as individuals.

There may be some blips of improvement, but often these are short lived or insufficient.  Inevitably, these leaders look at the next fix for individual performance.  Give them more training, give them more tools, fire the low performers, give them more programs……..

We keep cycling through things that focus on the improvement of individuals.  Yet somehow, performance improvements aren’t realized.

Perhaps the performance issues lie somewhere else.  Perhaps the overall function of the organization and the interrelationships between all the pieces/parts the sales organization is where some of our challenges are.

But it’s seldom that we look at performance from an overall organizational perspective.

In most organizations and complex B2B sales, the sales person is dependent on a whole number of things for their individual success.  It may be specialists, it may be support from product management or marketing, it can be any number of things critical to the ability of the sales person to lead the sales effort.

In most organizations, particularly larger organizations, the sales person spends a huge amount of time navigating the organization to get things done in moving their deals forward.

In many organizations, the sales people are distracted by well intended people (marketing, product management, customer service) doing their jobs.

All of these have impacts on sales performance.  All of these are organizational issues and organizational performance issues.

Few of these are “fixed” by focusing on sales people as individuals improving their individual capability.

Yet it’s seldom that executives look at these organizational performance/dynamics issues and how they impact sales performance—at least until they become crippling.

I’m seeing more and more organizational performance issues impacting individual sales performance.  For example, it’s not uncommon for us to see “Time Available For Selling” at 9-22%.  As we assess these issues, we see good sales people distracted by the complexity of getting things done in their own organizations.

Increasing voluntary attrition is another indicator of organizational complexity (or bad front line sales management).  We’ve seen numerous cases with unusually high voluntary attrition rates–and very good sales people leaving.  Typically it’s because they find it difficult getting things done in their organizations or have managers that have driven them out of the business.

Driving the highest levels of sales performance requires constant attention on everything that impact performance.  Maximizing the abilities of individuals to perform, as well as tuning the overall organization to maximize its collective performance.  Focusing on one or the other won’t solve the problem.


  1. Dave (and Matt), here’s my take, for what it’s worth: There are nuanced exceptions to everything, and we always need frontline sales managers to work with individuals as part of improving organizational results, but a performance practitioner should be focused on lifting the performance of the organization.

  2. at a high level, the individual reps need coaching on getting great at exectuting the sales process activities, like an economic buyer meeting. An the organization needs to be relentless on simplifying the internal processes to execute the activities. of course you need a buyer journey aligned sales process with the right activities as a playbook before you coach and simplify.

  3. This is precisely why I now send my clients to Dave Brock when the sales org needs help. Dave is a pro and gets what sales needs to be successful.

  4. Don Andersen permalink

    Great post, Dave and spot on. One common denominator that I’ve found in companies I’ve worked for/with is a lack of understanding of sales due to top level leadership background. Most come from other backgrounds and view sales as an expense instead of an investment in revenue. Sales managers are promoted, not hired…or brought onboard through a referral from another top level exec that views sales the same way. Sales reps are hired based on past performance elsewhere. Orientation is considered onboarding, etc…and the “Doom Loop” continues. As Mike Kunkle stated, “There are nuanced exceptions to everything”…my $0.02…

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