Where Sales Reps Really Go Wrong

Each day, the good people at Harvard Business Review are kind enough to send me an email message called The Daily Stat. Today’s stat is from The McKinsey Quarterly and it is right in our wheelhouse.

The email reads: “The ‘most destructive’ failures of business-to-business sales reps are too much contact with customers (35%) and inadequate product knowledge (20%), a McKinsey survey of sales targets indicates.”

The chart indicates that only 8% of clients complain of being ignored after signing the contract, 8% of salespeople are considered too aggressive, and 9% lack business or industry knowledge about the usefulness of their offering to their client’s business.

The remaining 20% is made up of inconsistent sales team, slow response to sale inquiries, too little contact, no help in organizing spending, no single point of contact, and no meaningful information sharing.

Too Much Communication? As If!

I am not privy to the survey questions or those surveyed, except that article notes that they surveyed 1,200 purchasing decision makers who buy high-tech products and services.

But even though I don’t have this information, I am going to disagree with the premise of “too much” communication. There isn’t such a thing as too much communication with your dream clients. The word “communication” itself should mean that it was a meaningful exchange. My experience tells me that it isn’t the frequency of the communication that is problematic; it is the fact that it is meaningless. It is the fact the communication attempt isn’t made with a meaningful and valuable outcome for the client in mind.

Where Sales Rep Really Go Wrong

Where sales reps go wrong is in under-communicating. They believe that it is necessary to “check in,” or to “touch base.” Their dream clients see these calls or visits as a waste of their valuable time, and the sales rep misses the opportunity to make the contact meaningful by not having an agenda and an outcome for every contact they make with their client.

If you have won the business, there are countless communications that provide you with the opportunity to meet with your dream client and add value. You can:

  • review the progress on your implementation plan,
  • review the progress you have made in creating the value you that you sold and that you promised,
  • review your satisfaction scorecard from the existing quarter and discuss your new initiatives,
  • or you can meet to explore other opportunities to create value that have appeared since you have started gathering an understanding of their business.

Too many salespeople think relationship building is based on acquiring a personal friendship alone. It isn’t. The personal friendship and trust is important, but it isn’t enough by itself and it must be coupled with the value that you create as a salesperson.

Striking the Right Balance

The article states:

Striking the right balance between contacting customers too much and too little requires understanding their stated and actual needs. There should be a clear strategy for reaching out to customers based on needs and profit potential, with schedules dictating frequency. The best contact calendars center around events that create value for customers, such as semiannual business reviews, which provide an opportunity to assess customer needs and ensure satisfaction. The key is to recognize that customers are also looking to lower their interaction costs, so any contact with them must be meaningful.

This isn’t right at all. Not even a little bit. Understanding their needs? Sure. Schedules to dictate frequency? Sure . . . if you think Custer had a pretty solid plan.

Meaningful, calendared events are a wonderful idea. But does your quarterly business review really indicate that you care deeply? Ever show up to one in which the problems your client brought up had been going on for 10 weeks? Did they call to complain? Nope. Should they have had to?

Frequency alone is rarely enough to be considered valuable, except when your presence makes all of the difference in the world. Your client has a major problem. You can’t fix it and you need someone else to. You show up anyway and make calls. Your presence says everything.

You have no reason to see your dream client decision-maker. You stop by and see all of the stakeholders to make sure they are receiving the value you sold them, no other reason. Your decision-maker has a concern about your offering and mentions it to a stakeholder. The stakeholder says: “I just saw him last week. We already made a change.” Same value 13 weeks from now? Not even close.

The right balance is to see your dream clients as frequently as possible with two restrictions. First, you cannot see them without taking on the responsibility of making it meaningful for them. Second, you cannot use your existing client business as a reason not to prospect and develop your pipeline.


Most salespeople, if they are guilt of anything with their dream clients, it is under-communicating, not over-communicating. Clients want to spend time with you, but you have to make it meaningful. Here’s how.


  1. Are you clients more likely to die of suffocation or of neglect?
  2. Do you hope that by hanging around you can develop a personal connection and that that alone will secure your dream client’s business
  3. How do you make each and every call you make meaningful for your dream client
  4. Do you wait for a scheduled opportunity to see your dream clients or do you work to create valuable, meaningful, business relationship nurturing events that you dream client can’t wait to be a part of?

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