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Sales Performance, It’s Not “Them”

by David Brock on November 15th, 2017

Not long ago, I received a call from a frustrated executive.  I listened as he went through a litany of complaints about the sales team.  You can probably guess them:

  • They weren’t hitting their numbers, in fact they were missing by a long way.
  • They weren’t making quota.
  • Their win rates were abysmal.
  • Sales cycles were way too long.
  • Forecasts were terrible.
  • There was too much discounting.
  • There was a fair amount of turnover in the organization.
  • …..and the list went on….

I let him get everything off his chest, after he ran out of steam, I suggested, “Maybe it isn’t them…”

Over the phone I could almost see the flash of anger on his face.  He said, “Do you mean it’s me?  How can you possibly say that……”

I let him vent again, after he calmed down we started walking through the situation.  It wasn’t him, but he was part of the problem.

Too often, when we look at performance issues, we tend to assign blame to the individuals.  They are the wrong people, they aren’t doing what they should be doing, they don’t get it and any of the litany of complaints we have about them.

It may be the individuals, at least some of them, but when you see consistent performance challenges across the organization it is seldom just them.  More likely, the problems are the result of systemic issues in the organization or even with management.

Stated differently, when you start to see the same issues arising with more people in the organization, it’s usually not their own failings, but something else that may be impacting their abilities to produce the desired results.  It can be any number of reasons—sales process, training, systems/tools, market fit/knowledge, organizational impediments, and so forth.

When we start seeing systemic performance issues, we can’t fix them with the individuals, but instead we have to understand the root causes, identifying and fixing them.

Broadly speaking, there are generally two types of performance issues impacting the results we get–individual and organizational.  It’s actually pretty easy to distinguish these.

When we start seeing the same issues impacting larger numbers of our sales people, it’s not likely to be something specific to them, their skills or capabilities.

For example, we may see an individual with bad qualifying skills.  Generally, our approach is to start coaching that individual, improving their qualifying skills.   But if we start seeing the similar qualifying issues arising time after time, across many different sales people, there is usually something other than their qualifying skills that impact them.  Maybe we haven’t defined the Ideal Customer Profile well, or our people don’t understand how to use it in qualifying.  Maybe it’s changed and we need to refine it.

As you assess performance in the organization, start assessing patterns or commonalities in performance issues.  While you see the issues at an individual level, consistent performance challenges on key issues is seldom just a problem with the individual.  Make sure you are addressing the right issues to drive performance of the organization and each individual.



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