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Research Into Why So Many Sales People Fail: Part 4

The previous three articles in this series have looked at the critical nature of sales coaching and shown it is a key differentiator in success or failure in salespeople.  They have also shown that most sales managers coach, badly, inconsistently or not at all.

This, the final article in the series, summarises on the data collected by Prosell, which looks at practices, other than coaching, that lead to large numbers of sales people failing.

If you wish to see any of the previous articles, click here

In this article we have concentrated on practices that are almost exclusive to the sales environment.  We fully accept that there are a number of common reasons why employees in many roles may fail, such as;

  • Poor interviewing skills
  • No reference checking
  • Subjective recruitment criteria
  • Poor induction
  • No setting of expectations or standards

and many more besides.  Sales operations however, are more guilty than most of the 3 reasons listed below.  These are all linked to each other and together create an environment for unacceptable numbers of people failing.


1. Measuring the Wrong Things

In any sales operation, in broad terms, we have to get two things right, quantity and quality.  Quantity – are we doing enough of the right things?  And quality, are we sufficiently skilful when doing these things to win our share of the business?  Prosell’s data (collected over 27 years of trading, with sales operations around the world) shows us that many organisations measure quantity (activity, results), but fail to measure quality (skills, effectiveness and customer perception).

If you don’t measure it, you have little chance of improving it – or even keeping it at a reasonable standard.

For a lot of companies, the soft stuff is the hard stuff and they lack the tools to measure soft skills.  So they focus on the figures.  As Jason Jordan and Michelle Vazzana point out in their book, Cracking the Sales Management Code, you can’t manage a figure.  What you can manage is the inputs that make up the figure, but in order to do that you need to measure them.


2. Making HUGE Assumptions About Capability

Linked to point 1, many sales roles require a range of skills to be displayed at a reasonably high level;

  • Justifying an appointment
  • Articulating your company’s value proposition (differentiating from competition)
  • Identifying key commercial reasons for customers to buy
  • Articulate and compelling proposals (either verbal or written)
  • Negotiating
  • Managing a sale to a successful conclusion

And many others.  Yet how many sales operations spend time observing sales people to the point where they can say ‘our people are more than competent at all the skills required to win?’

We cannot count the number of sales people we have met and observed, who have never had anyone thoroughly check, through observation and analysis, whether they can actually do the job well enough to be successful.

We hear, ‘we recruit experience’, ‘we trust our sales people to know what to do’, ‘we don’t want to upset the customer relationship by observing them’, and many varieties of these.  In many cases, where managers do go out with sales people, they just take over and never sit back and observe their people in action.

The end result of all this is people being left alone to do things poorly, or just avoid the more difficult things they know they should be doing.  This is almost unique to sales.  A mechanic is not left to make it up and try their best.  As new employees their work is thoroughly checked.  This is true of even most junior roles.  Yet many sales people are simply left alone to fail.  And more are failing in a tighter world economy, where better and different skills are needed.


 3. Wrong Training and Poor Education Techniques

Much sales training and education, particularly bought from suppliers who already have a ‘methodology’, ‘process’  or ‘model’ doesn’t actually address the challenges the sales people face and in some instances, makes performance worse.  Be wary of this.

If we accept that markets, customer behaviour and expectations have all changed dramatically in the last few years, then have you checked what your sales people really need to be better at and are you happy you have a process in place to align training and direction with current market challenges?

In a tight economy, we have to win business from the competition, rather than just get business because our customers are growing.  This is the difference between a growth strategy and a market share strategy.

A market share strategy means you need to be able to beat the competition and take business from them, which in turn means good competitive knowledge and the ability to articulate your value proposition in a compelling and relevant way.  Has your training or support for sales people changed to reflect this (and other market changes?)

When we talk about poor education techniques, there are two that seem to be most frequent.  The first is the practice of putting a new person with an experienced one, so the new person can ‘learn what they need’.  Copying someone else in selling technique rarely works.  We all have different styles, terminology and personalities and need an environment where we are able to use these things as we learn.

The second is scripting.  It is a poor substitute for development and let’s face it, scripts sound like a script being read.  Have you ever bought from someone who was reading a script?

Referring back to the other articles in this series, it is no surprise that good coaching has such a significant impact on results, because it goes a long way to resolving these 3 key problems.

Good coaching means you have to set clear standards of sales execution, observe and check those standards in the workplace and deliver coaching / skill development in the areas where sales people need development most.


Hopefully this document has given you food for thought and an insight into what to focus on if you wish to improve sales performance.

Prosell’s Licence to Coach™ program achieves all of this, as it focuses on developing coaches in the workplace, to the point where they are measurably changing the performance and motivation of others.  So if you want to significantly improve coaching effectiveness and sales figures, then give us a call.


  • Prosell offers a program that combines sales training and sales coaching.  It is based on recognised research, which tells us that training alone has limited impact and that when supported by skilful coaching, has 74% more chance of being implemented.
  • Prosell has resources to deliver these programs across Australia, covering Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Canberra.




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Prosell provides customised training, coaching, and program choices that cater to teams with expertise in sales, retail, corporate, call centres, and customer service. These options are specifically designed to meet the needs of clients and are accessible in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, and Canberra, New Zealand, and the Asia Pacific area.

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