5 Reasons Sales People Fail

How often do you get it right when hiring a new sales professional? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as the company I’m working with has been hiring sales people.

In talking with friends throughout the industry—several of whom run some of the largest sales organizations as well as some fast-growing startups—the best I’ve heard is one in three sales professionals meet or exceed their sales objectives and stay with the organization for more than 2 years. This is a staggeringly low ROI when you consider the recruiting, onboarding and development costs per new hire, which can be 2 or 3 X salary and benefits in the first 12 months.

Let’s assume we are hiring people who have a previous track record of success. Why doesn’t past performance translate into future success more often in sales?

Here are a few themes I’ve uncovered:

  • The ability to “sell internally” (unfortunately a key skill) does not transfer from company to company.
  • Selling cycles are long while company patience is short.
  • Sales people spend 40–50% of their time internally focused.
  • The ability to originate/create demand is extremely rare.
  • We don’t invest enough in continual learning and development.

The blame and responsibility is evenly shared between the company and the sales professional. From my research, low success rates in sales are a universal challenge with the common enemies of organizational complexity and lack of skill, time and support.

I asked a friend and great mind in our industry, Randy Illig, to read this post before I went online. He explained that “We often hire based on previous success only to be disappointed. So previous success is a variable—but what are the others?” Randy proposes to include product quality, pricing strategy, team dynamics, relationship with a direct manager, account or territory assignment and strength of brand.

Here are a few simple approaches—all within an organization’s control—that will improve the success rates of newly hired sales pros:

Hire from within. Find people who deeply understand the company and have an internal network. When someone has the drive and the raw attributes such as strong instincts, resourcefulness, grit and character, selling can be taught.

Build a farm system. Too many organizations believe you need gray hair to get into the C suite. It’s not true. Hire early-experienced professionals, train them and create a clear career path. They may not only be you future stars—they could also be your current ones.

Continually develop people. Many companies hire sales people for their skills and previous experiences but neglect to continue to grow them. Selling may be the oldest profession, but it’s still evolving and so should our people.

Teach sales professionals how to market. Marketing strategies (for example, creating or curating content) is not just for the marketing pros anymore. Salespeople need to be known for something. They need to answer the question “Why should I talk with you?”

Develop a mentoring program. Mentorship is important on many levels and it should be a reciprocal two-way street. Find mentors who are open to being mentored.

These approaches will not only help more newly hired sales people achieve their objectives—they become necessary strategies to address the serious shortage of experienced sales professionals that we are all facing. Let me know what you think. Happy selling.