The Root Causes of Your Poor Sales Results

An exhaustive list of all the reasons your sales results aren’t what you want them to be would require a vast number of posts. The menu here is what I see right now with some ideas about what you might do to eliminate them. None of these are easy to resolve, as they all require behavior changes and tough conversations. You have to solve the root causes of your poor sales results if you want them to improve.

No Effective Role Clarity

The Account Executive, a pure sales role, is often found doing the work that belongs to an Account Manager. The Account Manager ends up doing the work of Customer Service (or some similar role). People in operational roles who are struggling to serve the client pass their challenges to the person most competent to deal with the problem—and the client. When you pull salespeople out of a selling role, their sales decline.

Salespeople don’t spend enough time selling for many reasons, including distractions, being burdened with email communications, and time spent taking care of their responsibilities to their company. When there is confusion about their role and outcomes, they spend even less time selling. A lot of the things Account Executives spend their time on when it comes to taking care of their clients feels like work, but it isn’t the right work. They need to own the outcomes, not the transactions.

Imposing role clarity doesn’t require a purity test that forbids the salesperson from being engaged in a serious challenge serving the client, but it does require removing them from the day-to-day management of their clients.

Recently, more companies are trying to model SAAS companies, slicing the sales role into thinner and thinner slices. The idea is old enough to include Adam Smith’s division of labor and Frederick Winslow Taylor’s scientific management. These companies struggle when reality doesn’t match their theory about roles. By pulling their senior salespeople out of the prospecting role, they deprive their prospects of conversations with the person who is best prepared to help them.

Whatever the design of your structure, it should both serve the outcomes, and provide clarity about each role’s responsibility.

No Strong Direction

People need to be led. More still, they want to be led. They want to know what they’re supposed to do and how they are supposed to do it. They want to succeed in their role. When you deprive them of strong direction from leadership, they tend to struggle. Sales leaders who struggle with establishing noon-negotiables worry about being autocratic when they should worry more about setting high standards.

Leaders are often too removed from their teams to provide strong direction. Their communication isn’t frequent enough, nor is it direct enough about what they want, why they want it, and how their teams need to go about producing results. The communication also isn’t consistent enough to make it believable as a real priority.

I have spoken to a sales organization three years in a row, each year bringing a new primary goal, a new strategy, a new methodology, a new structure (or modifications to the existing structure), and a new compensation plan. What was most important just twelve months ago went unachieved.

Strong direction and high standards are foundational to strong execution. For most sales leaders, the most effective new strategy they could pursue would be to execute their plans over many years with firm direction before ever looking at something new.

No Accountability

No organization produces the results they are capable of without accountability. There is a lack of accountability in sales now, and you will find it in most organizations, invariably in the activities that fall under the category called opportunity creation. There is too little willingness to hold salespeople accountable for prospecting and scheduling first meetings with prospective clients. Managers don’t want to be micromanagers. Accountability is not micromanagement; it’s macro-management.

Senior sales leaders look at forecasts made up of opportunities that will soon be celebrating their fifth anniversary of being entered into the CRM (I only wish I was exaggerating). Sales managers allow their salespeople to hide behind a couple of big deals they claim to be working, optimistic about winning them and avoiding any conversation about new opportunities. They also accept excuses for not prospecting because the salesperson suggests they were too busy taking care of their existing accounts (see Role Clarity above).

Salespeople need to be accountable for precisely two outcomes: 1) opportunity creation, and 2) opportunity capture. Both of these outcomes require role clarity, strong direction, and accountability. While I don’t believe any sales leader would argue with these outcomes, there are too few who are willing to impose the necessary accountability. Instead, they tinker with the compensation plan, mistakenly believing that everyone on their team is solely motivated by money.

If you want a result, you have to hold people accountable for producing it—and doing the work necessary to make it so.

Avoiding Tough Decisions

Avoiding tough conversations and tough decisions lead to increasingly poor results.

  • A person is allowed to remain in the wrong role indefinitely, even though they are failing and unhappy, and even though the leader is unhappy with their performance.
  • The senior person who is negative and cynical infects others with their disease in private and public conversations is allowed to infect others with debilitating beliefs without consequence.
  • The operations team passes their problems to the salesperson to solve, and no one has yet broached the subject of their hiring people with the competency to manage the day-to-day client issues that pull salespeople out of their role.
  • There has been no accountability for so long that it is difficult to imagine how to start imposing it now. No one wants to hit the reset button and begin the process of transformational change.

If you are a sales leader, I guess that you could very quickly write down the names of the individuals in the scenarios above (only because they are so universal that any leader would have no trouble with this exercise). Leaders are required to make decisions, including the tough, but necessary calls.

Presenting Problems and Root Causes

The presenting problem is poor sales results. The root cause is something else, and probably many factors. Better sales results are only possible when you treat the root causes.

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