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3 Reasons B2B Salespeople Fail

by Doug Davidoff | Apr 20, 2015 12:00:00 PM

iStock_000042055722_LargeIn 2011, Harvard Business Review released a study on sales performance finding, among other things, that only about 37% of B2B salespeople are consistently effective.

Three years later, in 2014 a study done by Kurlan & Associates found that 3 of 4 B2B sales reps are failing. I regularly hear from my clients and business friends expressing extraordinary frustration with both the process and results of their sales teams.

What’s interesting is that they all seem to think that everyone except them (and their salespeople) have figured it out. So, I guess the good news is that they all have plenty of company. The bad news, however, is if companies don’t find an effective way to fix the problem, the future is going to continue to be difficult and disruptive.

As I share in my post on both studies, when the failure (or struggle) rate is as high as these studies show, the problem is not about the individuals; it’s about the systems and structures that no longer work.

There are several reasons that individual salespeople fail. The most common are:

  • Lack of business acumen
  • Poor skill set
  • Poor sales approach
  • Talent mismatch
  • Lack of motivation

Frankly, the individual reasons are fairly easy to detect and fix (when fixable). Far more damaging are the underlying causes of consistent failure. These structural issues are endemic in most organizations (especially in small and mid-sized organizations, SMBs), and the issues surrounding sales team performance and consistency are merely symptoms of deeper problems that must be addressed.

The upside is that by addressing these endemic issues, executives not only create an environment where hiring successful salespeople is no longer mysterious, but they also create the momentum that allows for predictable, sustainable sales growth.

1.  Poor Lead Generation

When I started Imagine, our focus was on the bottom of the funnel. We provided sales advisory focusing on sales process development, training, coaching and system design. The more we worked with sales teams, however, the more we realized we were focused on the tip of the iceberg.

I’ve written much (some would say too much) about The Zero Moment of Truth and how customers have fundamentally changed the way in which they learn, engage and buy. If your lead generation approach hasn’t evolved to this new world, your sales team will be hamstrung.

I typically see three manifestations of this problem, all of which will lead to degraded performance:

  1. Not creating enough leads.
  2. Lead generation not aligned to the value propositionhttp://blog.imaginellc.com/3-reasons-why-your-website-is-failing-to-generate-b2b-leads.
  3. Relying on the new sales team to create their own leads.

2.  The Sales Development Chasm

A crucial question that must be answered is, “At what point should the new sales team engage with prospects?” If they engage too early, you waste resources and reduce the likelihood of success. If they engage too late, you have the problem that I just described.

As I recently reviewed, there’s a chasm between where a lead is created and when it’s “sales ready.” I call it the Sales Development Chasm. To create predictable sales success, you need to build the nurturing and sales development process that ensures your selling efforts are aligned with your buyers.

3.  Misalignment of Approach

The problem with the term salesperson is that it carries too many different meanings. The type of sales you are making, the size of the sales, issues surrounding the decisions being made, who you’re selling too and many other factors will determine the best sales process approach for you and your team.

Unfortunately, few companies pay this type of attention when developing their sales approach and end up with a misaligned process.

Recently I was working with a company that was complaining that their product had become completely commoditized. After completing an assessment of their approach, I uncovered that while there was certainly a lot of competition in their space, the very approach they were taking was causing their prospects to commoditize them.

The approach they were implementing was designed for commodity products that were regularly purchased. Their product, however, has infrequent buying patterns and they were focused on a superior value proposition.

Creating A Structure For Growth

Edwards Deming taught us that if you desire a result, you must build a system designed to achieve that result. Addressing the structural issues that impair successful growth is an effort that is often overlooked by SMBs.

Yet, as the philosophy dictates, if you spend more time working on the business, not just in the business you’ll sustain better results. When considering your growth initiatives, make sure you’re working on these areas.