Why Sales Teams Fail And What To Do About It

Why Sales Teams Fail And What To Do About It

Following on from my recent newsletter “Dare to be….Vital sales Data Every Business Should Know” I thought I’d present some more further research into “Why Sales Teams Fail And What To Do About It.”

Research conducted into 2,663 companies in the U.S. and Europe by Sales Activator Company partnered with Nightingale Conant identified some startling statistics:

Sales are the lifeblood of any business and if any of the below statistics are a reflection of your business then it’s important to redress the problems and stop wasting £000’s, losing revenue, wasting valuable time and start winning new profitable business.

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Start with a clearly defined sales process

The research identifies a clear problem that I see with many of my clients – Many salespeople are left to their own devices (one of the attractions for many salespeople) and as a consequence they don’t work in a structured manner, they are trusted to choose the activities that will produce the biggest and quickest wins. They are often not very strategic in their prospecting (focussed on price) and frequently become very inefficient preferring to “look after” existing accounts rather than qualify and work on new ones. They are often focussed on “selling” product feature and not “solutions”. They are impatient for wins so they are often very poor at administration (CRM systems; call reports; professional well written proposals; territory planning etc.), and are very poor at following up and building relationships with key target clients (60% of clients buy after having said no 5 times yet 44% of salespeople give up after the first no, 22% after the second no and 14% after the third no)

What goes wrong with each salesperson differs with each individual but the net result is the same – poor sales, de-motivated people, wasted time and money.

The key to redress this is to develop a sales process based on proven a Consultative Sales Process which has clear step by step activities and outcomes; clear understanding of what materials to be used; a qualification process; the issues to be discussed and resolved; goals that should be achieved. Once this has been understood, defined and written down, then the process can be managed and only then can progress be properly measured, results monitored and problems addressed.

If you think you have a good sales process, can I suggest that you ask each member of you sales team the process they go through from prospecting, market/customer research, to initial  meeting, key questions, objectives of meeting, dealing with trials, quotations, pricing etc. I think you’ll be amazed at the variance in answers you get (if you’re one of the 18% who have a robust system then you no longer need to read this part of the report)..

If you need to develop a structured sales process consider the following:

  • Ask (focus group, survey, 1 to 1 discussions) your existing customers how they like to be sold to.
  • Identify best practice from your top performers – what they do, how they do it, their mind-set and beliefs.
  • Produce a formal, realistic and step-by- step set of instructions of what sales people are expected to do and when.
  • Use the process to identify where competencies need improving in each part of the process. For example Consultative Selling requires good questioning and active listening skills yet most “traditional” sales people are very poor at this and need a lot of support to help them practice and improve.
  • Underpin the sales process with an effective CRM system
  • Make sure that everyone in the company is customer focussed – EVERYONE is in sales and must support the sales process! Success in sales needs a supportive culture – if you don’t have it then you have additional culture change programmes to develop.
  • Make sure that following up leads and prospects is a major element to the plan.
  • Continually measure and monitor sales performance through relentless follow up.
  • Talk to me.
  • Review my previous article: Dare-to-be….have-a-sales-process.pdf

Skill Development is Critical to Success

Finding and nurturing great talent is key to business success in every part of a business and none more so than in sales. Selling is, in my opinion, a hugely difficult thing to do well and requires a very wide skill set and demands great creativity and knowledge. However, modern business demands quick wins almost form day one so the days of 6 month induction programmes have gone. People and sales development have to be conducted in smaller bite sized chunks.

Research has shown that there is a strong correlation between £ spent on training and ROS. So it is important to have a sales training process and the following should be considered:

  • Mentor – have high performing salespeople mentor/guide others within the sales team in a supportive role-model way. The mentor is not their manager but someone who can be approached for advice in a non-critical, confidential environment.
  • Coaching – just like most sportsmen have coaches then why not salesmen. Coaching can be from within the company or from external sources (like Cognisi) where the coach approach will ensure self-learning and be focussed on skills improvement and actions. (See “Dare to be…The Effectiveness Of Executive Coaching”)
  • Training – Ensure that product training is continuous and reinforced
  • Start with employing salespeople who have the right attitudes and fit with your company values (See “Dare to be….how to recruit “A” grade employees!”(Part 1 & 2))


Make Sure Salespeople Are Doing Enough

I see it all the time – salespeople not doing enough. Not enough telephone calls to make appointments, not enough face to face meetings, not enough demos, not enough prospecting, not enough effort in administrative tasks, not enough planning.

Many salespeople have a problem with how to allocate time between servicing existing clients and generating new ones and like most of us they do the things they like doing rather than the things that need to be done.

It’s much easier to talk to an existing client with whom you have a good relationship, it’s easier to be seen working on existing client problems than facing the fatigue of cold calling and the frequent rejection that the process incurs.

We need salesmen to work smarter not necessarily harder:

  • Make sure that you know what you want to achieve over the next three years and in detail for each month of the current financial period – HAVE A PLAN!
    • See “Dare to be…. One Page Business Plan”
  • Make sure that external salespeople are not doing the work that should be done from the internal sales support team. They’ll be looking very busy but not necessarily adding real value or doing what you really want them to be doing.
  • Pareto’s 80/20 rule – Generally 80% of revenue/profits comes from 20% of your customers so make sure that you have key account action plans for the 20%. Look to use internal resources to look after the remaining 80%. This planning process should help tell you how much time is left for prospecting and business development.
  • The sales process discussed above should define what’s “enough” – once defined, measure and relentlessly follow up on the outcomes
  • See “Dare to be….Key Account Management Essentials”

Deal With The Sales Gremlins

As with most things your state of mind is key to success. “If you think you can, or you can’t – you’ll be right”

This is key to a lot of my coaching and is equally important in the field of sales. Dealing with self-limiting beliefs will effect sales performance. If salesmen lack belief in themselves, their products, the company, the service offer, they will unconsciously transmit their attitude to their prospects in a variety of subtle and overt ways.

If salespeople don’t see the value in what they’re offering or believe the price is too high they will not be supportive or to act in the clients best interest (the key to consultative selling).

Self-limiting beliefs tend to be self-fulfilling – salespeople who believe that price is key tend to get more price objections. Salespeople who believe you have to be “the life and soul” tend to talk too much and not listen enough. Sales people who need to be liked often don’t ask the difficult questions that is needed to identify the prospects compelling reason to buy – fearing rejection and a breakdown in relationships.

To avoid these problems:

  • Identify the behavioural styles of each member of your sales team using techniques such as DiSC profiling (see article “Dare to be….Why Do People Drive You Mad At Work”)
  • Review “Dare to be….Challenge The Gremlin Within You”
  • For those in the organisation who don’t like selling or sales – see article “Dare to be….a salesman”
  • At sales meeting explore self limiting beliefs and use coaching/mentoring techniques to explore alternatives e.g encourage people to discuss a time when they didn’t buy on price,
    • Ask challenging questions to statements like: “we’re too expensive” – “compare to whom, how do you know”
    • I’ll never win that business – “what do you need to do so that you can?”
  • Brainstorm the (non-price) reasons why people buy the company’s products or services – these are the compelling reasons that can be used as a basis for the questioning phase of the Consultative Sales Process.
  • Build self-worth in your appraisals and by frequently celebrating success to reinforce the behaviours that you want to see commonly reflected.
  • Beware the siren calls for price reductions (See article “Dare-to-be-….a-price-winner”)

Spend time managing and nurturing the life blood of your company – Sales

The research shows that too many managers (particularly true in many SME’s that I work with where the owner is also the Sales Director) do not allocate enough time to sales management

It is often quicker to do things yourself than spend the time training/coaching/mentoring or showing others how to do it. But that is a dereliction of your role as leader/manager. Sales are too important to not find time to manage this vital function.

The sales manager’s role is to become a leader, developer, to be a resource for help not a do-er.

If your sales manager is doing too much selling and not enough developing the are going to limit the future success of your company. All businesses are only as good as the people employed and if the sales team are not being directed and managed properly then your business is suffering, is being inefficient and you are losing £000’s of revenue and profits. One person cannot make up for the shortfall in others ……… If they are the manager they need to manage and lead.

  • Develop a coaching culture – businesses that do this are more likely to succeed



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