What’s the Number One Reason Salespeople Miss Quota?

Blog113_Why-Salespeople-Miss-Quota-1A whopping 45.4 percent of salespeople miss their quota.

According to the CSO Insights 2015 Sales Compensation and Performance Management Study, only 54.6 percent of sales professionals produce enough revenue to meet quota. This deficiency raises an important question: Do 45.4 percent of salespeople not reach their assigned goals because of lack of professional capabilities?

Since meeting quota is such a hot topic, especially this time of the year, I reached out to some sales leaders to find out why salespeople, 45.4% in this study, were not meeting sales quota. I asked, “What is the number one reason salespeople miss their quota?”

Here is what I heard:

  • Not enough qualified leads

  • Lack of sales training

  • No formal sales process in place

  • Managers can’t effectively coach reps

  • Ramping up reps is too slow

  • Lost opportunities to no decision

  • Competition beating us on price

  • Sales burdened with administrative tasks

  • Sales team not properly led

  • Reps assigned unrealistic quotes

  • Deals not closed, but still in pipeline

  • Salespeople not properly hired

There’s an endless number of reasons that sales teams are not hitting their numbers, each one of these reasons could be the cause, but what would be the number one reason?

Since the group I surveyed was small, I searched more data for an answer to my question. Research from SirusDecision, which surveyed hundreds of companies, found that 54 percent of sales professionals won’t meet their 2015 quota. This fact is a harsh reality and a bad nightmare for many sales teams because it means that only a small minority of sales professionals will achieve quota attainment.

The number one reason I found why reps were not meeting their numbers was, “Their inability to provide insight into a buyer, adding value and starting relevant conversations.” In other words, sell their value. Many of the sales processes had salespeople leading with product and service discussions, rather than what was important to the customer.

Qvidian in its 2015 Sales Execution Trends study asked U.S. sales professionals what are the most important goals to executive management: nearly nine in 10 cited improving overall quota attainment – number two response. Increasing win rates and deal sizes─which could both help salespeople reach their targets─were also important, at 94 percent and 83 percent respectively.  Forty-two percent of leaders pointed the finger at an overly high number of no decisions, and 41 percent said their salespeople weren’t able to effectively sell value. Yikes.

Our research arm at CSO Insights has done excellent work in showing how the sales process has an impact on salespeople meeting quota. In a recent blogpost, we discuss the different sales process companies use. As you can see from the chart below, a sales process has a big impact on quota achievement, wins/losses, and the dreaded no-decision.


Source: CSO Insights 2015

Aligning your Sales Process with How Customers Buy

The most important decision we make as salespeople, managers, and leaders is how to connect with our customers/clients/prospects. They expect a perspective; not a sales pitch.

Prospects are not solely focused on your products or services. When they make a purchase decision to solve a business problem, their need is seldom met solely by buying a single product or stand-alone solution. The product or service offering is part of the total solution.

Let me give you an example that you may be all too familiar with. You review your sales funnel pipeline, and you see an opportunity stuck in the funnel. Every review of the sales funnel, the update for a closing date is pushed out. There are many excuses for the reality, but the status is the same─the opportunity is stuck in the funnel. Doesn’t this sound painfully familiar?

As you review the sales process steps, you see that you or the sales rep have completed everything; it’s now a decision you are waiting on from the prospect. Everything’s complete on your side. So the salesperson forecasts the opportunity and projects a close date. However, that salesperson followed his sales process, which was not aligned with the customer/client’s buying process. The prospect isn’t yet certain of the need to change, or change now, but the salesperson is certain it is time to close because, from his standpoint, he has done everything his process dictates.


Source: MHI Global Conceptual Selling®

So to begin with, your sales process needs to be aligned with how your prospects buy. You may want to start with mapping your target prospect’s buying process.

Finding the Undiscovered Need

We’ve all faced trying to find a prospect’s need and fill it. This effort doesn’t sound like a difficult thing to do, especially if you’ve done your homework and understand how to attach your solution. However, the problem with this kind of approach today is that your competition is doing the same thing. As a result, there is no differentiation and not a lot of motivation for the prospect to change the status quo.

Here is an example. A recent Harvard Business Review article quoted CSO as saying, “Our customers are coming to the table armed to the teeth with a deep understanding of their problem and a well-scoped RFP for a solution. It’s turning many of our sales conversations into (simply) fulfillment conversations.

Another example from one of my retirement advisory clients: “We do a good job of engaging with potential clients, uncover the need to reduce expense loads, reduce the investment funds to improve performance and communication, and offer solid communication and administration services, only to find ourselves in that dreaded RFP process.

This lack of differentiation is turning many of these conversations into a commoditized solution. With the only differentiation between vendors being price points. Organizations who want to stand out from the crowd need to be better positioned as a value-added provider or seen as a trusted advisor.

To avoid the perception of being simply “another” vendor and lumped into a commoditized price comparison, your messaging has to create a clear contrast between your solution and that of your competitors. Traditional content strategies begin with gaining a firm understanding of who your buyer is, as well as what his needs and problems are. In this way, you can then develop messaging which resonates with your target audience.  While this point is indeed where you want to begin, creating contrast against your competitors requires you to expand your strategy further by discovering not only the unmet needs of your prospects but by helping them understand their as yet undiscovered and unconsidered needs.

Undiscovered needs fall in the realm of insight selling and thought leadership, focusing on emerging needs and alternative perspectives that buyers might not yet have considered or even be aware of.  Both of these strategies call for vendors to position themselves as trusted advisors with inside industry knowledge, and sources buyers will look to for industry insights.

As we’ve blogged before, these approaches require you to become an expert on all things affecting your target market’s business, including topic areas that not only help prospects fix or accomplish something but things they need to avoid─pending regulations, or trends in related industries, which will reverberate within your prospect’s organization.

While prospects nowadays tend to approach vendors with a well-defined set of needs, you can capitalize on your insightful knowledge and out-of-the-box thinking by letting prospects know which questions they should be asking, revealing needs they didn’t know they had.  Properly done, these strategies engage prospects early in their buyer’s journey, aiding them in their problem-solving process. To be that trusted advisor, you need to show them issues they didn’t see and help them find a solution before they discover it on their own, or the competition does. This diagram illustrates the point.


In our retirement advisor example above, the prospect already understood his issues, and the advisor brought a solution that the prospect was fully aware of. The competition brought one, too. The only thing to discuss at this point is price. This example is one of those opportunities that the sales person sees as deep in the funnel and continues to change the close date on.


Research done by Corporate Visions in conjunction with Stanford Business School Professor Dr. Zakary Tormala validates precisely how much of an impact this approach can have on an opportunity.

They conducted a study, recruiting 400 people and dividing them equally into four groups. They then developed a specific scenario, telling everyone in the study to imagine themselves as a business owner whose company had enjoyed a recent run of success, but is now facing an economic downturn and struggling to stay open. To cope with cash flow challenges created by slow sales and slow customer payments, they’re looking for a financial lending partner to offer them a $10 million line of credit. This cash infusion represents the “stated need.” The study then was delivered into four different lender pitches to each group:

  1. Pitch one responded to the stated need, as indicated in the situation above with a competitive offer for the money and typical corporate presentation content.
  2. Pitch two responded to the stated need with similar positioning, and also introduced “value-added services” in a typical effort most companies employ to create differentiation.
  3. Pitch three responded to the stated need with similar content as the first two but then introduced an unconsidered need at the end of the presentation.
  4. Pitch four opened with the unconsidered need first and then responded to the stated need later in the presentation.

In the third and fourth pitches, the unconsidered need was based on the insight that 42 percent of businesses that take cash infusions during a recession fail due to underlying problems they were unaware they had.

Both of these lenders then said they could come in and analyze the business to make sure there were no hidden problem areas that might prevent them from maximizing the line of credit. Both lender pitches also touted their in-house expertise at conducting this kind of assessment.

So which of the four conditions proved the most powerful?

In the areas of uniqueness and quality, there was a statistically significant effect based on presentation type, and it suggested that both of the unconsidered needs pitches outperformed the first two conditions. Interestingly enough, pitches one and two—stated need and value-added services—did not differ on these measures.

One Clear Winner

When Professor Tormala took a look at the more important choice and attitude measures, he concluded that the unconsidered needs first condition outperformed the other three pitches, which didn’t differ from each other.

By combining the choice and attitude measures with the uniqueness and quality findings, the data suggest that only when unconsidered needs come first do they increase the persuasive power of a pitch.

This finding, according to Professor Tormala, is consistent with uncertainty principles, which hold that when you inject unexpected information into a conversation, you can boost decision processing.

So what’s the key takeaway? You stand to significantly improve your prospect conversations by introducing your prospects to unconsidered needs—but only if you do it early.

Unconsidered needs ask you to determine how you can better address and bring value to your prospect’s underserved target markets. Can your solution help them expand their market, increase revenue, improve profitability, or shave costs in places not previously considered? Or can your solution help them avoid the inevitable?

Answering these questions, as well as gaining the valuable insights necessary regardless of which strategy you adopt, requires you to first acquire a deep understanding of your buyer and their industry.  Talking to your prospects about their known needs, can help you identify additional unmet needs.  Prospect surveys are a great way of engaging buyers in such conversations.  So, too, can you use these same surveys to pose questions that reveal the issues you believe prospects should be contemplating regarding their undiscovered and unconsidered needs.

See you on the upside,

For more information on how to simplify the complex sale, go to www.pleinairestrategies.com Or call William L. MacDonald in San Diego at PleinAire Strategies LLC at 760.340.4277 or 213.598.4700

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