8 Reasons Salespeople Fail & How to Avoid Them

DCCCF4AC-52C9-4633-9774-E6BD87F42056Too many salespeople don’t succeed.

Out of the thousands of sales people in the world, most are not “crushing it”. Unfortunately, it’s reality.

There are some in sales who do quite well. But that’s usually not the majority, and typically when you look at the percentage of a sales force that hits quota, it’s usually not more than 60 percent.

An article published in Forbes last year cited that 57% of sales reps missed target in 2017. For most sales people, the story line plays out a couple different ways.

The most common scenario is: the salesperson jumps from job to job, and has really good stories (either blaming the prior company or telling a grass is greener story) as to why they needed to make the jump.

The other script is the tenured sales rep, who has never performed at plan, and is left alone because the leadership of the company doesn’t take the steps to correct the situation. Maybe it’s an HR or a loyalty issue, but the bottom line is, it’s bad leadership.

Harsh reality: either the person needs to be coached up, or he needs to be coached out of that position.

Usually, people just need coaching up.

This requires properly diagnosing why a person isn’t succeeding, giving them proper feedback, and putting specific accountability measures in place to help that person out.

If one of your sales people is currently struggling, or if you’re a salesperson and find yourself in this position, here are the 8 most common reasons sales people don’t succeed and thoughts on how to avoid them:

1. They don’t believe they can succeed

Often times sales people do not believe they have what it takes to succeed. This can be especially true for new salespeople. I know, because I was in this same boat 18 years ago as a brand new sales rep.

In my book, The Selling Edge: How to Reach the Top in any Sales Industry, I discuss what it took to go from starting my career with 12 straight no-sales to becoming one of the high achievers in a very short time frame.

If someone on your team is struggling to believe, match them up with one of your top reps as a mentor. Show them the evidence of success, and have one of your top reps show them step-by-step how to do it.

James Allen once said, “The will to do springs from the knowledge that we can do.”

If sales people can see evidence of success and learn to emulate the habits that create superior results, sooner or later they will achieve those results.  Then they will believe as well.

2. They’re not provided proper training and onboarding

My boss often says, “You live with what you launch”. In terms of team and employee leadership, there is no truer application of this than in onboarding and initial training. This is one of the biggest developmental gaps for most people managers, especially those who are new to leadership.

Put yourself in the shoes of a new hire.

New hires are joining a new company, and they really don’t know what to expect. They could be doing a new industry altogether. Furthermore, they may have even turned down a counter-offer from their prior company.

There’s a built-in level of apprehension that all new hires have. They’re trying to figure out a new job while also hoping they made the right decision joining a new company.

So get them started out on the right foot. Make sure all their electronics and email addresses work and are ready for them, have their desk (if working in the office) set up and ready, make sure everyone on the team personally welcomes them, and have their first two weeks mapped out impeccably.

Most companies have the HR and paperwork piece handled. However, making someone feel welcome and their first day memorable involves a lot more than supplying an I-9 and a W-4.

3. They shouldn’t be in sales in the first place

When interviewing candidates, I love asking how they got into sales. The answer to the question usually gives me a good indication if we should proceed with the candidate.

Some candidates will give an entrepreneurial or business-type response, how they’ve always been a go-getter, are goal-oriented, want to control their own paycheck, want to get paid what they’re worth, have unlimited income potential, or answers like that.

Those people are often times a good fit to continue in the hiring process.

The other most common answer is: “Well, I got to the end of my senior year in college, and I always got good grades, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do still. Then, I went and met with a counselor (also insert, professor, grandparent, friend, aunt, or uncle, or best friend’s mom or dad), and they told me I should get in to sales because I’m good with people.”

Now, that doesn’t mean I would automatically rule that person out. And there are plenty of top sales people who stumbled their way into this profession. But make sure they are in sales for the right reason and have a full understanding of the grind before moving them forward.

As the great Tom Hopkins likes to say, “Sales is the highest paid hard work, and the lowest paid easy work.”

Sales is hard, and it’s not for everyone. As hiring managers, we owe it to prospective employees to make sure the business, and the effort and actions required, are truly for them.

4. They don’t follow the training

It amazes me how many people try to reinvent the wheel. This sets them back in the training process and doesn’t set them up for success.

With most activities or endeavors, there have already been trailblazers who have figured things out, usually the hard way. Sales is definitely one of those endeavors. Even if the company training program isn’t that great, there’s usually immense value in following it.

Follow the program, at least initially. After about 100 appointments or customer interactions, you can adjust if necessary. In my experience, most sales companies do a pretty solid job at training new hires.

Sure, some don’t. But if the company has been around for a while, generally the training program is good enough to achieve some level of success.

If the employee doesn’t follow the training, that’s another story. As a sales leader, you must also sell the new hire on the necessity of following the program and ensure that happens.

5. They don’t take enough action

Sales people need to know the volume of specific actions that are expected of them, and they should also be shown the exact steps that top producers are taking daily.

This was one of the mistakes I made when I was new in sales. After I got through my initial training, I was eventually making some sales. However, my overall revenue wasn’t growing as rapidly as it could because I wasn’t doing enough appointments.

To get more appointments, I needed do engage in a higher volume of prospecting activities, which back then was phone calls. I needed to make four times the amount of phone calls than I was.

So I went field training with one of the top reps (shoutout to Adam Curchack), watched him do four sales appointments and watched him do phone time. After that day, I realized that I wasn’t working nearly as hard as I thought I was or needed to.

6. They’re not given proper ongoing coaching

Coaching makes all the difference in the world, especially in sales. Coaching can come from several different angles.

Sales people need feedback and coaching, regardless of how tenured they are. Hall of Fame quarterbacks have coaches and coordinators. Baseball players have hitting, pitching, and position coaches. Golfers have swing coaches.

Sales people need coaching too. At all levels.

A common mistake sales managers make is not actively coaching their best people as hard as they do their newer employees and under performers. Big mistake.

The best people want to be challenged, coached, and developed. One of the keys to having a high-achieving organization is to have the most talented people possible.

Getting the people is one thing. But work with them. Develop them. And don’t stop coaching.

7. They’re not held accountable to adapting

In today’s world, being adaptable wins over most other qualities. It’s right up there with work ethic in my book, especially in the new world of sales we live in.

Sales today isn’t done the same way it was 10 or 15 years ago, and that’s in all businesses. We can thank the online world for much of that.

Markets…customers…competitors…technology…education…economics… it all changes over time. If your sales people aren’t nimble and able to make adjustments to how they approach their business and customers, they won’t make it long term.

The best read on adaptability is Who Moved My Cheese by the late Spencer Johnson. It’s a classic on how to deal with change, both personally and professionally.

I’ve bought several copies for my sales teams over the last few years, and it’s always been a hit. If you, or people on your team have already read it, have them read it again.

8. They quit

The harsh reality is, a lot of sales people are not succeeding at high levels because they’ve simply given up. They may not have formally resigned, but they’ve quit.

How many people on your team have quit?

If you feel this is the case for anyone on your team, you need to work to re-engage them, or they need to leave. Maybe there’s an opening in a different department, or even on a different sales team.

Or maybe they need to exit the organization, which can be a positive thing for all parties, if the situation truly isn’t a good fit.

However, most sales people don’t quit, unless several of the first 7 points in this article ring true. Engage with your team, and make sure that doesn’t happen.

What are your best ways to ensure salespeople succeed, thrive, and develop under your watch? Please feel free to provide comments below.


Bret Barrie was a Hall-of-Fame and President’s Club-winning sales rep and is a top-producing sales leader in the medical device industry. He is also the author of The Selling Edge: How to Reach the Top in any Sales Industry. A baseball enthusiast and fitness junkie, he is happily married with three children and lives in the greater Sacramento area. For more information, visit bretbarrie.com.

About Bret Barrie

Husband & Father | Sales & Leadership Expert | Baseball Enthusiast
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