Failure in sales: Ways to mitigate them

Hiring in sales is truly a tough process. Even tougher is to hire someone really experienced in their industry, a star performer. But the toughest I guess, is to witness, when they fail to deliver results. So what goes on behind the scenes?

Let’s take this scenario where Stella was hired 2 years ago with ‘XYZ’ company for a specific role. Prior to joining, she was in the sales profile for over 3+ years. After 18 months of successfully managing and growing current customers, she was moved to a role of finding and winning new customers. Despite her experience in the same industry, it was noticed that she is unable to achieve her targets! Stella had received in-depth training and had the best qualification and experience in this industry, but she failed! You know she came with a good track record, but things didn’t really work out well. Why did she fail? Well, it is quite difficult to identify the reason for the failure.

A very interesting piece of information was uncovered during this study.  Research showed that what you sell is as critical as how you sell it. Selling a BMW and selling technology products are two different processes altogether, and this is very vital while transitioning to a new company in the same profile. Also what matters is the ambition to do your job well, and create a brand out of yourself! Determination and passion for what you do go hand in hand in creating and replicating success stories. If you do not believe in what you do or sell, it will show!

Also, further studies from the sales management perspective show that certain factors like poor listening skills, failure to focus on top priorities, lack of sufficient effort, inability to determine customer need, lack of a sales planning presentation and inadequate product/service knowledge, to name a few, are still coherent as missing skills in seasoned sales professionals. Astoundingly, multiple surveys done with experienced sales professionals point to the result that the lack of basics result in failure to achieve targets.

Some other factors like loss of key accounts, bad work habits and unethical behavior also contribute to failure. To summarize, failures are induced due to factors controllable by the sales rep, whereas uncontrollable factors like work ambiance are least significant. A surprising 70% of businesses have no formal policy to address these failures!

Churchill, Ford & Walker, “The Sales Scientists”, identified activities like territory design, selection, training, motivation (both financial and non-financial approaches), supervision, leadership and evaluation, can have radical effect on experienced sales professionals.  While selecting individuals to fill sales positions, the management tends to examine physical, behavioral and psychological traits. Psychological traits and abilities include such aspects as aptitude, personality, and skills; the former two are enduring features of an individual, but the latter one can change over time (through experience and training). No tried and true method exists to identify that a particular individuals will be effective performers.

Sometimes, the wrong people can be hired for sales positions. Sales managers must be extra cautious when hiring sales personnel. Even if data and statistics matter, use of managerial instinct, company and industry experience, and observation may be useful in reducing the number of “go” and “no go” hiring errors.  Certain general guidelines may be followed. For instance, job matching has long been suggested as a means of aligning the right person with the right job.

What challenges have you seen in hiring experienced sales professionals and what has been your observation? Share your thoughts below.

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