why-salespeople-failThis may sound simplistic, but there are really only two reasons why salespeople aren’t successful:

  1. They don’t do enough of the right activities to get enough opportunities
  2. When they perform sales activities they aren’t very good at them

You may say “So what?”  But it is critical that the sales manager know which situation is the cause of the problem, because the each problem requires a different type of intervention.  The first is more of an accountability intervention and the second requires a coaching intervention.

Accountability intervention addresses lack of activity

When a salesperson is not doing enough of the right activities, do the math to understand what the level of right activities should be.

  1. Start with the closing ratios.   Understanding the closing ratio makes it easy to calculate how many opportunities must be in the pipeline, especially how many first appointments with prospects are necessary each day, week or month.
  2. Define what it takes in terms of steps and time to get a FIRST appointment scheduled.  This could include cold calling, asking for referrals from clients, using LinkedIn to reach targets etc.  Working with the salesperson, create an appropriate activity plan to get those first appointments and make sure that the salesperson takes ownership of the activity plan.
  3. Insist on activity reports. It is the sales manager’s job to ask the salesperson to report on their activity each week, every two weeks or monthly to insure they are doing the activity.  If they aren’t doing the appropriate level of agreed upon activities then the sales manager can simply ask two questions:  1) Why did you not meet the activity requirements?  And, 2) What are you going to do differently this week?  If they continue to lack appropriate results and are not changing their activity level, then an obvious conversation needs to take place.

Coaching intervention fixes poor execution

The second problem, lack of effectiveness, can more easily be identified if it has been determined that the first problem is not present.  If the salesperson is doing enough of the right activity and is still not closing enough business, then it is time to kick into intense coaching.

  1. Practice.  For starters, an increased emphasis on role playing, or practicing is necessary.  If the salesperson is lacking effectiveness in closing business then increase the practice you engage in with him or her.  Do not let them practice on prospects.
  2. Pre-brief each sales call following a prescribed sales process where the possible outcomes are identified and the salesperson is coached on what to say and how to address various situations.  Next, additional joint sales calls may be in order.  Do not take over the call, let the salesperson do the work.
  3. Debrief each call with the salesperson.  What went well?  What could have been improved upon?  Do we know enough to move to the next step in the process?  If the salesperson messed up, encourage them to learn from the mistake, maybe engage in additional practice so they are more comfortable the next time, then if appropriate call the prospect back and ask to try again.

There may be situations where the salesperson is not improving even when engaged in additional coaching and practice.  It is okay.  Not everyone is well suited for sales.  Just like most of us will not become Olympic medal-winning sprinters, no matter how much practice we do, some people will not progress in their sales skills.  The important thing is that the sales managers know why the person is floundering and then intervenes with accountability and/or coaching.  If  the salesperson is unable to improve activity or execution, the sales manager will know that he or she has done everything possible to assist.