Give me the five top reasons why many organizations have weak sales teams! A senior manager recently asked me during a training session.  This is a question every sales manager, chief executive or business needs to have answers top of his mind. If you are not aware of the causes for sales failure you are likely to be nurturing them in your organization.

I gave the following observations which I call the Common Habits of Non Performing Sales Organization.

  1. Lack of Sales responsibility at the highest levels

If a sales team is struggling the major cause is usually leadership shortcomings at the highest level of the organization where the ultimate sales responsibility resides.

Sales is about people- both the sales people and the customers they sell to. Leadership goal is to get to the hearts and minds of the sales people. Wherever you find a great sales team you also find team great sales leadership. 

Ordinary sales teams usually give only their hands to the job. These people only work during the designated working hours. This only accounts to less than 40% of success in sales. The heart and mind account for the 60%. It is what you may call motivation or fire in the belly or attitude. Only good leadership can achieve this.

No organization that values sales results operates without a strategy. It is the strategy that determines everything that happens in the sales organization. It is the strategy that defines what kind of sales people to hire, what skills to equip them with, what targets to provide and what compensation.

Without sales strategy there is no sense of direction on which opportunities to go out for, how to effectively manage and convert them, and what sales support is necessary to get the results. While many firms spend enormous length of time to develop marketing strategies many of them have either vague or no sales strategies.

Running a sales team without a strategy is equivalent to being in charge of an army. In the military the generals are the ones in charge of the strategy not the foot soldiers. Unfortunately for many sales organizations it is sales people who are left to decide what to do to achieve results. The consequence is lack of a clear sales strategy. The end result is an organization that relies on knee-jerk responses crises caused by market happenings, sales people departures and competitor moves to perform 

I have come across firms that hire when in crises. They train when sales are down. They introduce commissions when sales are down. And everything they do they expect immediate results.

When you hire in a crises mode you expect to hire turn around sales people. The bad news is that such sales people don’t exist. You need to hire when you do not need to and you should train when things are good.  Whenever you hire because you have to you will put too much pressure on the new hires to perform and nothing gets people to leave jobs than too much pressure. Sales people don’t perform because of pressure they do so because they want to, know how to do it and have the right environment to d so. An environment full of pressure is toxic to sales performance.

Organizations that have pressure for quick results will always be in a hiring mode because of high turnover of reps. The consequence is non performance because sales stars are created over time. They are not hired. Longevity makes sales people while there are many who do not persevere but, a lot of turnover is caused by the environment in an organization.

As I write this article there is some football match showing on TV in the sitting room. I love borrowing business (particularly sales) lessons from soccer because business is a game and winning is critical. Can you imagine after spending millions of dollars to buy great talent a team does not invest in continuous training and coaching? The players have to be maintained in the right frame of mind, kept physically fit and keep on perfecting their skills. You should do the same if you expect to have a great sales team.

Many firms will have a one or two day sales training after which they sit back and wait for results. That is not wise for two reasons. First, it is impossible to cover all the basics of selling even in a 10 Day course. Second, you become good at what you are doing by having a coach who helps you transform the knowledge you have gained into behaviour. You may be told in the class how to dribble a ball but you need a coach on and off the field to guide you on how to do it in a real session.  You need continuous feedback before during and after the match. You need to acquire new skills and methods of doing things. You need to become better with time.

All this requires consistent training. You will always have at best average team if you only train them occasionally.

The best way to ran sales training and coaching is to start by identifying the competencies necessary to implement your strategy and achieve the objectives. Then from there you can put together a programme that will develop and perfect these competencies all year through.

You cannot build your sales force using born sales people. While they are good to have, they are too few and far between.  They are not enough for the whole market and therefore you cannot build your team around them. What you need is a sales organization that is nurture ordinary good people to become great sales people.

It is mandatory for you also to have systematic sales system upon which every person can learn and execute their sales tasks around. Every business requires a sales system. A system is your unique way of selling. This system is useful to ordinary sales people as well as the talented ones.

 I also gave a bonus point although he had asked only for five. This in sales is called over delivering.

  1. Lack of objective, regular and constructive feedback system
    You cannot appraise your sales team yearly. You cannot just tell them how badly they are doing and you cannot always tell them that they are appraised on figures they brought in. The most effective sales appraisals I have seen are done monthly or quarterly, they have very objective measurables the person is evaluated on and the feedback given in these sessions is intended to bring out the best in the team. One client whom I designed the sales appraisal programme for does it monthly. The sessions are very candid and the people are clear on what they need to focus on. Problems are picked up early and areas of competency development are identified as soon as possible.

    The consequence has been high retention, improved performance and improved motivation levels in the team. The sales people usually look forward to the session.

All top organizations that have stellar sales force don’t have much of these deficiencies. That is why it is worthy to invest effort, time and resources to address any of these issues if it exists in your organization. If you do so you are assured of having a world class sales organization.

Sam Kariuki is a Sales and Business Growth Expert with Growth Partners. The firm specializes in sales training, sales recruitment and sales and marketing strategy development and execution.

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