Is It the People or the Process? (A Note to the Sales Leader)

alt text image for people standing on puzzle piecesSometimes it is necessary to take a look at yourself before deciding that your salespeople are your problem. But after you have done the thoughtful, soul-searching introspection required of great leaders, you still might not be fair in concluding that your problem is your people.

Where To Look First: Your Sales Process

Before you decide that your people are your problem, take a deep breath (or a few thousand), and look across your salespeople’s results to see what they look like. Ask yourself this question:

Are all of their results less than they should be?

If all of your salespeople are generating very similar results, it is an indication that it isn’t the salespeople that are broken. It’s a greater likelihood that it is something else: namely, your sales process may be broken (or it may have outlived its effectiveness).

Too many organizations have no sales process, and a dreadfully greater number have one that is so loosely applied as to be the same as not having one at all. If you were to ask these organizations or their salespeople to explain their sales process to you, they would suggest something that they believe is an effective path from target to close, something that is likely based on a deal that they once won (a deal that is in all probability a lucky exception).

If all of your salespeople are behaving in ways that are not effective in advancing their opportunities through their pipeline, then the process is broken. If it isn’t being utilized, then it is broken.

If all of your salespeople are performing poorly (and you have done your job well), then you look to the process. If only a very small percentage of your salespeople are doing well, then you look to the process. If many of your salespeople are succeeding, then the people who are not succeeding may be poor performers, and you may need to shift your focus from process to people.

When It Is the People

Sometimes your problem is your people. More likely it is group of them. The easiest way to define your problem as a “people-problem” is to look for two things: their beliefs, and their willingness to change.

The greatest driver of a salesperson’s individual performance is their belief systems. If they don’t believe in their company, if they harbor beliefs like their company is too small, that the sales process doesn’t matter, that their pet impossibility prevents them from winning deals, or that they can violate any of the iron laws of sales, then those beliefs will lead them to failure and there is nothing you can do to help them. People don’t easily change their strongly held beliefs, and do they do so until they reach a point of desperation and frustration that shakes them to their core.

Many salespeople will never acknowledge that they have strongly held beliefs that are contrary to yours (they are salespeople, after all). This makes it difficult to identify their beliefs as a problem. The second way a people problem is identified is much easier to recognize, and that is the salesperson’s willingness to change their behaviors.

When a salesperson harbors an unhealthy belief about sales, usually one that violates the iron laws of sales and is out of alignment with their sales process, those beliefs are seen in the actions that they take (or don’t take), and the results they produce (or fail to produce).

It is impossible not to recognize a salesperson’s unwillingness to change their actions and behaviors, if you pay attention and if you are coaching them to close the gaps in their performance. A few well placed questions about the actions that they took or simply running an opportunity through your sales process checklist will make it clear as to whether or not they are willing to do what they need to do to perform better. While a salesperson may disguise their unhealthy beliefs, it is next to impossible to hide their actions, their results, or their lack thereof.

Start with you. Then check the process. Then you can move on to dealing with the people problems.


    1. Before you start dealing with people problems, do you hold yourself to the highest standard of first checking to make sure that have done all that you could to ensure their success, and then a little bit more?
    1. If all of your salespeople are producing similar results and taking similar actions, have you thoroughly analyzed and verified that your sales process is effective? Have you ensured that your sales process is being followed? Are you coaching to close the gaps?
    1. The technical skills can be taught. Beliefs are harder to impact. Are you paying close enough attention to pick up what your salespeople believe? Are you spending enough time with them to have the conversations that would elicit those beliefs? Are you aware of their unhealthy beliefs but under the false belief that you can change their beliefs?
  1. Do you recognize which of your salespeople are willing to try new things, to take new actions, and to stretch beyond their comfort level? Have you identified those who are performing poorly only because they need your help, your coaching, and your guidance? Are you spending enough them to see that they are trying to behave differently? Are you sure you are not lumping in the underperformers who are not stubbornly clinging to unhealthy beliefs with those who are taking the wrong actions because they don’t know any better?

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