Why Sales Leaders AND Sales People Fail

Sales people and heads of Sales, from the sales manager all the way to the CSO fail because they don’t know how to get it done. It is that simple.

I’ve spent much of January listening to my clients and their sales staff go through their 2013 sales plans. Sales plan reviews are no small order, they traditionally last 2 hours per rep/sales leader. They are 8-10 hour days, sometimes two or three days long.  Sales plan reviews are no joke and should not be taken lightly. They are the cornerstone to success.  It’s the most accurate vantage point sales leaders will have into whether or not their team is going to make their number and what I see in every review meeting, whether it’s with the sales leaders or the sales people is, too many folks don’t know how they are going to get it done. They know “WHAT” they have to do, but they don’t have a clue on what it’s going to take. They just don’t know how.

Sales people, especially B and C players are genuinely good at knowing what they need to do. If they understand the market and their personal selling metrics (length of sale cycle, closing percentage, size of pipeline, average deal size, etc) they can get to what needs to be done fairly quickly and most do. The problem starts when sales leaders and sales people are pushed to explain how they are going to do it.

No matter how well a sales person or sales leader understands their environment, the challenges or the opportunities, they also need to understand how they are going to make it happen. Understanding how and having unique, creative ideas around how they are going to respond to their observations is what makes sales leaders and sales players successful. It’s the creative how that separates A players from B and C players.

Think about like this. Imagine it is determined that net new sales is critical to be successful in 2013 and that farming the base won’t cut it. B and C players will build a plan with a strategy of getting 5 new logo’s. They will tell you what they are going to do. They say they will prospect more and target new companies, great!  But they won’t say how? B and C players don’t have a clear understanding of how they are going to prospect or how they are going to target the new companies. Their plans will lack creative specificity on how they are going to get 5 new logo’s. When I listen to B and C players they spend a lot time talking about what they are going to do and not enough time on how they are going to do it. B and C player also lack creative solutions and approaches to how. There are very few unique approaches to execution.

A players, on the other hand, are very creative and specific in their approach. It’s not enough for A players to increase net new sales via 5 new logo’s. They will have a very specific set of strategies or initiatives to achieve that goal.   They might commit to joining the Chamber of Commerce, they may partner with a non-competing supplier, they might join a leads group, they might invest in their own content marketing strategy, they may create their own newsletter, they might ask marketing to commit to a monthly webinar, they might increase their use of social media, they might consider . . . you finish the sentence.

A players don’t just say what they are going to do, they tell you how they are going to do it and are extremely creative and specific about it.

Many years ago, I was talking about my start-up with Professor James Schrager from the University of Chicago, Booth School of Business. I had an idea and wanted his opinion  Schrager teaches strategy and I loved his class. It’s an awesome class.  I recall him liking my idea, but he asked me a question that has always stuck with me. He asked “how” I was going to get users. My answer; “we are going to be viral.” I explained the “viral” nature of what we were building and how it worked.  I remember him agreeing with what I was saying and even suggesting it could be huge. In spite of his approval, he asked me the same question again. But, this time he added “viral” to the end of it.

He asked, “How are you going to get users virally?”

I started to explain our concept again and he interrupted; “You said that already, I know what you want to do, but how are you going to go viral?

He asked me the same question several times.

I remember being frustrated and feeling he’s not listening. In the end however, it was me who wasn’t listening.  I didn’t have an answer.  I was a C player entreprenuer.  I didn’t have the slightest clue on how to go “viral” and more importantly I didn’t understand that a strategy to go viral was a shitty strategy.

B and C sales players act similarly. They will tell you “what” they need to do, but they lack a clear understanding of what it’s actually going to take to execute. Their strategies lack creativity and more importantly specifics.

A players are very good at going the next level down and knowing what it is going to take to be successful. They leverage creative approaches to drive their agendas. They search out new, effective and creative ways to accomplish goals. They don’t leave it to chance.

My start-up failed.  Why? We were unable to grow fast enough. We couldn’t get users at the rate we needed to. We had a fantastic, highly interactive user base, but were unable to figure out HOW to get more users faster. We knew what we needed to do, we just didn’t know how to do it.

Sales leaders and sales people, ask yourself this question; “Do you know how you are going to get it done?”  Because, knowing what you are going to do just ain’t enough — trust me!


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