5 Reasons Your Sales Team Underperforms

And What You Can Do About It

When your sales team underperforms, you miss sleep worrying about the solution.

If the numbers look bad, you look bad, and everyone loses.

I spoke with five sales leaders at a recent training session who faced this sleep-depriving dilemma. I wanted to know why their people missed quotas and what they planned to do about it?

Case No. 1:  Little Time Selling

The sales leader from a medical device company recognized his team’s underperformance was a direct result of not spending enough time selling. What?

Yes, they weren’t proactively seeking new opportunities from existing customers and not working their targeted prospect list.

But they held dual roles: account managers and salespeople. The sales team spent too much time in project management, dealing with operational issues. The sales leader had assigned them to many tasks that should be delegated to others. Sales reps were pulling products off shelves, dropping off samples, and following up on orders.

It was obvious the sales leader had the wrong people in the wrong slots, not using their sales skills in a hunter capacity to open new business. Using OMG’s Assessment, we found several salespeople lacked the sales DNA and skill set for business development, the larger reason behind the failure to open new accounts.

Even more interesting from our OMG Assessment, it became clear the sales leader’s skill set and sales leadership DNA hindered his salespeople’s success. Although he was an outstanding salesman, in a leadership role, he did not hold people accountable. And he provided little training and no coaching.

Many companies begin their growth trajectory with a small sales team. However, their go-to-market selling model never changes. We must begin with good sales management. While we know this intuitively, it’s tough to execute. To help you, read HubSpot in its blogpost, The Anatomy of a Modern Sales Team, which outlines the core components of an efficient sales organization.

Case No. 2:  Lack of Qualified Prospects

With sales leader number two from a retirement advisory firm, he believes his people struggle with the business development side, as well as closing sales.

He expects each one of his advisors to prospect new opportunities. And they do through cold calling, e-mailing, attending trade conferences, and reviewing RFPs (request for proposals) that land on their desk. E-mailing and calls led to few substantive conversations. But they appear to spin their wheels and waste a lot of time on non-productive activity. When they do arrive at a hot prospect, the lead dies a slow death, ending in no-decision.

Here’s the odd part. The firm has a great reputation, many quality clients and contacts with many centers of influence such as law firms, accounting firms, and other advisors, well connected to the retirement firm’s desired prospects.

We studied the prospects’ buying journey, mapping it out against their sales process, and identified the problem. The firm’s salespeople were selling way to fast without doing research on the prospect on the front end.

What’s more, we found they did not ask for referrals or use their credibility with existing relationships to network for new opportunities. What a painful oversight.

Referrals cut the time to reach prospects and convert them to clients by 50 percent or more. To solve this problem, we rebuilt the sales messaging and used the CAVP formula from my new book, MERGE 2.0 (publication date late March).

This retirement firm had ample sales leads but didn’t convert them. By organizing a referral plan and doing in-depth research, the sales team was able to shorten its sales cycle, reduce the cost of sales, and ace out the competition. No other business-development strategy can come close to reaching these results than opening doors under favorable conditions with a good referral.

Case No. 3:  Who’s Accountable?

In our third sales leader case, one or more of the following factors is likely at play:

1) The salespeople are not held accountable for sales results.
2) They are not tracking their activity with useful metrics.
3) They are not filling the top of the sales funnel with leads, let alone closing deals on the other end.

In this scenario, the sales manager did not manage. He set budgets at the beginning of the year. Then, he merely listened to his sales team’s excuses every quarter why business did not close. It’s a mystery why this production void didn’t bother him. After we evaluated each salesperson’s pipeline, we found they wasted time with prospects who would never buy.

Using a funnel scorecard, we examined the deal characteristics they won and lost. Next, we developed a scorecard against which to benchmark each opportunity. This detailed information provided the sales manager with a powerful tool to manage the pipeline, as well as to coach his sales reps.

Case No. 4:  No Sales Process

With our fourth sales leader, I found the most common reason for underperforming sales teams—no sales process.

The leader allows everyone to do what they want; however, they want, which is described below as a random sales process. No consistency and no standard way of doing anything exists.

The best recommendation I can offer any company with underperforming sales teams is to implement some type of sales process, even an informal one, and then search for the weak links around which you can make systematic and educated improvements.

We know from a CSO Insights’ study, moving a sales force from Level 1, a random process, to Level 2, an informal or formal process, improves sales reps meeting quota from 53 to 58 percent. And if you can move to Level 3, your reps’ ability to meet quota ratchets up from 53 to 64 percent.

Case No. 5:  Coaching and Assessment Process

My fifth and final conversation centered on a sales leader struggling with his team’s sales performance. He confused his performance review process with his sales team’s assessment and coaching process. It’s almost impossible to be consistently successful without a process in place to assess the team. Then, you must leverage the learning gained from the process and align it with relevant coaching.

So, I asked him to identify three major weaknesses and strengths of his collective sales team. Like many sales leaders, he couldn’t do it.

A well-structured assessment process delivers the knowledge you need to make immediate adjustments to the collective and individual strengths and weaknesses of the team.

We decided to apply Selleration’s Sales Intelligence Score™. We placed all his people into the sales simulator to assess their sales skills and sales judgment against the requirements to do their job. You will enjoy this exercise as it creates a direct path to building your training and coaching plan.

The beauty of the simulator is immediate insight: we could see whether sales reps were improving their skill set—one of the most difficult things to do during a long sales cycle. As reps go through various conversations in the simulator, they learn new skills and see firsthand where they need additional coaching and training.

This cross-section of sales leaders produced five critical reasons why they thought their sales teams underperformed. But they missed the reason behind the reason. Let’s recap:

1. Not Enough Time in Front of Prospects Selling

  • Sales leaders assign too many account management and operational tasks to sales reps.
  • Wrong reps in the wrong slots (Use the OMG assessment tool to find your hunters).
  • Assign the right person with sales leadership DNA to train and coach.
  • Great salespeople do not always make great sales leaders.

2. Lack of Qualified Sales Leads

  • Reps allow good leads to slowly die from no-decision.
  • Reps waste too much time on non-productive sales activities.
  • Reps fail to use their credibility with current clients to ask for referrals.
  • Reps sell too fast without doing their prospect research.

3. Failure to Hold Sales Team Accountable

  • Sales leaders fail to manage the pipeline effectively.
  • Sales leaders do not track activity with practical metrics.
  • Sales leaders do not hold each member of the team accountable for results.
  • Reps waste time with prospects who never intend to buy.

4. Sales Team Operates Without a Sales Process

  • Sales leaders do not manage via an informal or formal sales process.
  • Need the consistency and standardization of sales activity brought by a sales process.
  • A sales process enables educated improvements in team performance.
  • Move to Level 3 dynamic process, watch reps improve meeting quota from 53 to 64 percent.

5. Failure to Identify Major Strengths and Weaknesses of Sales Team

  • Do not confuse a performance review process with a sales team assessment/coaching process.
  • Consider Selleration’s Sales Intelligence Score™ for assessment.
  • Leverage findings to build a coaching process.
  • Assessment teaches reps new skills and behaviors.

Apply these strategies and create new stretch goals. The days of underperformance will be a distant memory.

See you on the upside,


For more information, 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

News Alert

MERGE 2.0, read my latest book, now released by the publisher and available on Amazon to purchase.  Learn everything you need to know to book revenue in the new realities of B2B professional selling.

And, if you’re not a reader and prefer interactive learning, take our MERGE 2.0 online learning course.  Go here for more info.

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