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When Sales Reps Aren’t Selling, What’s the Real Problem?

Author Kendra Lee

So often when sales reps aren’t selling the first inclination is to blame the sales rep. They aren’t making calls. They aren’t going on enough appointments. They don’t know how to close. The opportunities are too small, not qualified, the wrong solution.

The list goes on and on, and we hear it frequently from the business owners and sales managers that come to us.

Yes, the opportunities probably are too small. And yes, the rep probably isn’t making nearly enough prospecting calls. After all, you have the sales metrics to prove both facts.

But, when these situations are occurring, whose fault is it really? What’s the real problem behind poor sales results? Is it skill, inability? If you and I were having a one-on-one conversation, I’d tell you that it’s leadership that you need to examine before sales skill and inability.

If you hired reps who you believed could sell, and who proved that they’ve been successful selling in the past, then the first place to examine when your reps aren’t selling is your sales leadership. Here are the 7 points I believe a good sales leader implements to motivate their sales reps to performance. Whether you have one rep or thirty, your leadership is the critical successful factor.

The Leadership Responsibility

1. Set sales performance expectations. Every one of your employees needs to know what success in their role looks like from your perspective. Sales reps are no exception. From a quota to activity expectations, give your reps a roadmap to guide their daily efforts.

2. Set the right compensation plan. Fact: the majority of sales reps are motivated by money. Be sure your compensation plan is motivating them to sell what you want, to who you want, when you want. Then put some extra bonuses in for over the top performance.

3. Put a sales process in place. Yes, you’ve hired reps who know how to sell. But do they know how to sell your services? Process provides the path to consistent performance. When your reps aren’t selling, it’s likely there is no consistency in what they’re doing.

4. Provide some tools. I can’t tell you how many reps hide behind the “no brochure” excuse for poor sales results. And while I don’t believe you have to have tools to sell, I do know that a good solution infographic helps guide sales reps’ discussions to sell more effectively. Give your rep a good solution infographic and teach them how to use it in their sales process.

5. Train them. Look at the activity metrics and forecasts to identify where opportunities are falling out of the sales process. If there aren’t enough new leads, you have a prospecting problem. If opportunities aren’t closing, you have several different potential problems. Examine the metrics, then do some training to help your reps over the hump.

6. Hold them accountable. Use the sales performance expectations to hold your reps accountable. Use reporting and meetings to check in weekly to be sure they’re doing what you expect. If they aren’t, take action and have direct conversations. You can’t avoid it or your company will suffer.

7. Model the way. Whether you’re the business owner who knows sales isn’t your first skill, or the sales manager, share the sales strategies you know work for your solutions.  Ride along or listen in on sales calls and provide constructive coaching. Support your sales rep.

What about Lead Generation? Notice that I didn’t say that you’re responsible for providing leads to your reps. That’s because I do believe you can hold your reps accountable for prospecting. Make it part of the job expectations. Give them the tools, process and training, then turn them loose. You don’t have to provide all the leads.

I’m the Sales Rep

Now, what if you’re the sales rep reading this? Does that let you off the hook because your business owner or sales manager isn’t providing you with good leadership? No way.

Start setting your own expectations, using your own sales process, and building the tools you need. Make it happen.

Here’s a book I highly recommend that can guide you: Agile Selling by Jill Konrath. It steps you through learning what you need to learn to be successful when sales leadership is lacking. Jill doesn’t say that in the book, but when you read it, you’ll see what I mean.

You don’t have to change jobs yet.

Leaders Aren’t Off the Hook

That being said, leaders, you do need to step up to manage and lead your sales reps. When you do, you’ll find that they perform at a level much more in step with what you expected. And if they aren’t performing at that level after you’ve put the expectations, process, tools and leadership in place, let them go. They aren’t a fit for your organization.

Yes, we can help you with all these areas. If you’re frustrated that your reps aren’t selling and would like to discuss your situation, just reach out and let’s see if we can pinpoint which leadership area you need to focus on first to get sales back on track.


Kendra Lee is president of KLA Group, which works with companies to break in and exceed revenue objectives in the Small and Midmarket Business (SMB) segment. Read more blogs from Kendra here.

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