There are Too Many Bad Sales People



I’m going to interrupt the normally cheery, uplifting, feel good nature of this blog with a black cloud observation. I suspect, like many of my posts, this one is going be controversial and going to piss a lot of you off. However, my thoughts on that are, if this post pisses you off, it’s your subconscious telling you something. Therefore, you might want to listen to it. It’s not too late to change.

Here is the deal. Most sales people suck. Period, it’s that simple. There is a shortage of good sales people. The talent pool of sales people is desperately small and it’s not improving. The numbers seem to prove this out as well, as some recent surveys suggest less than 50% of sales people meet or exceed quota. Anecdotally, having spent the last 4 years reading, writing, coaching and consulting, the data is telling me the same thing. Sales people suck and there just aren’t that many good sales people out there.

Why? What happened to all the good sales people?

Nothing and that’s the rub. Nothing happened to the good sales people, and everything happened with the selling environment.

Over the past 4-8 years, (it’s hard to pin-point exactly when it all started) sales started to change AND sales people have not kept up with the changes. The selling environment has and is changing yet the participants, the sales people themselves have not. To make things worse, sales training, coaching and consulting has lagged behind, just now having begun to embrace the changes.

Here are the reasons there are so many bad sales people:

Sales people themselves: I have always marveled at the contradiction that is sales people. We hunt what we kill, rely heavily on creativity and resourcefulness, yet are the most conservative and slow to adopt new things folks on the planet. Every sales person on the planet needs to read “Who Moved my Cheese?” because we’re terrible with change.

Sales people have been awful, I mean straight up terrible at adopting social media and social selling. For years the most common phrase I heard out of sales people’s mouths was; “I don’t care what someone had for lunch.” Social media and social selling have moved so far from that it’s a joke. Social selling matters.

In addition to not getting on board with social selling, sales people are unbelievable self-absorbed focusing on their product, it’s value proposition, making quota, their commission plans etc. This self-centric, my needs first, selling approach is a liability that doesn’t allow sales people to truly, teach, consult, engage, or develop solutions that matter for their clients. Sales people are still pitching, telling, yelling and cajoling. It has to stop.

If that’s not enough, sales people have become lazy. Yup, lazy. If I hear another CSO, SVP of Sales, head of sales etc. say their sales people are complaining about the leads they get or how they need more support, I’m gonna throw up in my mouth. Since when has sales become a spoon fed career? Since when did the success of sales people become dependent on the organization, marketing etc?

Yes, there are tremendous new tools, approaches and strategies to enable and support sales people to be more effective, however these things don’t mean sales people don’t have to sell anymore. It doesn’t mean we still don’t have to be the bad asses of the organization capable of brining the big kill and making rain. We’ve gotten lazy and it’s obvious.

The Internet, information and Google: Not long ago, sales people and their organization controlled information. Buyers needed sales people to help them with the buying process. Sales people had most of the information. They used this information to drive the sale. Today, information is ubiquitous. Buyers don’t need the sales person until much later in the sales process. We’ve all heard the stats about how most buyers are anywhere between 40 to 60 percent through the sales cycle before they talk to a sales person. A Google search has usurped much of sales people’s traditional selling power and position. The amount of information sales people need today to make the sale far exceeds what was necessary only a few years ago.

Most sales people have yet to embrace this change. They don’t have the knowledge and insight required to support a client. So, what do they do? They sell features and benefits. They push the value of the product unable to go off script and engage the buyer on their turf, in their terms.

Poor Leadership: I believe effective and impactful sales leadership is at an all-time low. Sales leaders have become increasingly prescriptive, hierarchical and micro-managing than ever before. In response to the increased complexity of sales and the new challenges, sales leaders have continued or even worse reverted back to the days of heavy oversight, demanding quotas, micromanagement, and directive leadership. It’s destructive.

The numbers are proving this out as well. The average tenure of a sales VP is less than two years, with some studies suggesting 18 months. VP’s of sales are getting slaughtered. Most lack the ability to effectively run and develop a sales team capable of excelling in todays selling world. Their sales organizations lack effective team assessment processes, coaching cadences, deal strategy development, people management processes, and more. Straining from the pressure of the organizations demand for more revenue most sales leadership defaults to what it knows and that is what was learned 10, 15, 20 years ago and that’s a problem.

In addition to the ineffective management, just like sales people, most sales leaders have been slow to embrace the changes in the sales world. In A Sales Guy Consulting’s “Social Media and Quota Attainment” report, only 22% of companies provided social media or social selling training to their sales team. This is a complete sales leadership miss. Sales leadership hasn’t been preparing their sales teams for the changes that have been happening over the past 4-8 years. In some cases, sales leadership has just flat-out denied they were happening.

Most sales people suck. It’s that simple. They don’t sell, they are still too busy pitching. They don’t know how to effectively use social media, if they are using it all. They expect the organization to do all the work for them. They lack the in-depth knowledge required to teach and educate their customers beyond their products. They are not perceived as industry experts. They don’t know how to prospect. They complain about lead quality. Their sales managers live in the dark ages. They don’t have solid coaching. They aren’t provided, effective career development and process improvement support. They are too “me” centric. Should I go on?

There are too many bad sales people today. It’s ashame, because our profession is a good one. Nothing happens until a sale is made. It’s time sales people catch up. It’s time to the turn the corner. It’s time for us to focus more on the customer and their needs. It’s time to fully embrace social media and social selling. It’s time to stop micromanaging. It’s time to provide more coaching and stop being prescriptive. It’s time to build teaching organizations rather than selling organizations. It’s time to align sales organizations with outside realities of selling. It’s time to makes sales people suck less.

The good news. It’s not too late.

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