The Two Primary Symptoms of a Serious Sales Leadership Problem

The Gist:

  • The first symptom of a serious sales problem is too few opportunities.
  • The second symptom is a low win rate.
  • Leadership failures underlie both of these problems.

There is no end to the number of potential sales problems, but the presence of two symptoms—too few opportunities and a low win rate—often doom any sales organization’s goals. In both cases, we can lay the blame directly at the feet of their leadership.

Too few opportunities

Too Few Opportunities

We often mistake a symptom for the underlying malady. In this case, some would say that low activity is the root cause of winning too few opportunities. That may be true, but while it wouldn’t hurt for a sales force with this symptom to pick up the phone and make more calls, I think it’s more likely that their overall approach to asking for a meeting is stale, outdated, and fails to entice a prospective client into giving the gift of their time.

While you cannot reach your goals without winning deals, you can’t win any deals without first creating new opportunities. Sales managers are often highly engaged in deal reviews, and many enjoy working on deals with their team. For the most part, though, sales managers and other leaders don’t show the same interest in creating new opportunities. Most prefer to spend the same time or energy on things like targeting strategic prospective clients, nurturing the contacts within those companies to capture mindshare, and advancing effective prospecting strategies. Too many sales managers and leaders take a hands-off approach to opportunity creation, ending up “opportunity starved” and desperate.

The root cause is not too little prospecting, or too little effectiveness, or even some combination of the two. The problem is that the leadership is not holding their team accountable for creating new opportunities. Those leaders are also to blame for their team’s ineffective approach to generating meetings: not creating enough value to command a conversation that would lead directly to a new opportunity for the client and the sales organization.

As a leader, no matter how powerful your argument about the sales force’s effort or effectiveness being their own responsibility, this symptom will continue unless and until you address the root cause of the problem.

The closing rate is too low as salespeople attempt to capture value with bow and arrow

Too Low Closing Rate

One sales organization I know had a twelve percent win rate. Each person on the team was doing about as poorly as the next, give or take a few percentage points. Their collective effectiveness was so low, it was difficult to reconcile their win rate with the number of presentations they made to the decision-makers and shapers.

After a few questions, I discovered that the sales force only replied to unsolicited RFPs, scoring well enough on the responses but never meeting a single person on the buying team until they showed up to present. A bad sales approach with a bad strategy is a terrific way to squander opportunities, even though calling them opportunities was a stretch. Mostly, they were reliable column fodder for brokers.

A low win rate is a symptom of a much more debilitating illness. It is evidence that the salespeople involved are not creating value for their prospective clients in such a way that they create a preference to buy from them. I don’t need to list all the resulting problems for you to see that any sales organization doing that poorly has a sales effectiveness problem. Trying to solve an effectiveness with more activity is like running faster on a treadmill: you exert a lot of energy, but you still don’t go anywhere.

Whether the sales force is using an old, outdated, legacy sales approach, or they have lacked the training, coaching, and development opportunities necessary to improve their win result, there is only one group of people responsible for enabling their low win rate and limited effectiveness: the sales leaders who fail to address this issue.

A salesperson struggles due to the weak foundation of a mountain peak as a reference to the weak sales force

Resolving the Underlying Illness

The remedy for the underlying illness is simple to explain but difficult to achieve, especially when you lack the necessary resources and are already struggling. No transformation comes without continuous effort, pain, and the kind of real change that is often difficult to create. Organizational transformations also require strong, engaged leaders who are willing to raise their standards and create a positive culture of accountability.

There are two types of hierarchies in organizations. A dominator hierarchy is more autocratic, often featuring force, coercion, and transactional approaches to leadership. By contrast, a growth hierarchy creates a culture that is demanding in a different way: it values and thus requires the growth of individuals and teams, the fastest and surest way to produce the best results.

When it comes to reaching B2B sales goals, there is no better insurance policy than a pipeline of opportunities. The problem of too few opportunities is only solved by creating more opportunities, which may mean increased activity, increased effectiveness, or both. Without the structures and accountabilities that result in new deals to pursue, goals are worthless. There is no reason to avoid accountability for one half of what you do in sales, which is creating new opportunities.

There is no greater priority for a sales organization than developing their salespeople and ensuring they can help their clients make good decisions and better results. It’s tough to lose a deal to a competitor, but it’s just tragic to waste an opportunity because the salesperson was unable to create enough value for the decision-makers and decision-shapers, forfeiting the right to keep competing for their business.

Do Good Work:

  • What is your sales force missing that, if obtained, would result in more new opportunities?
  • How would you improve your sales force’s overall effectiveness, a score that is captured in their win rate?
  • Who is responsible for a team’s performance and what do they owe their team?

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