Why Salespeople Fail: 5 Factors that Prevent Sales Teams from Closing New Business

Sales coach and bestselling author Mike Weinberg flags five reasons why salespeople fail, and provides tips for helping them better utilize their most powerful sales weapon.

5 factors that make salespeople fail

Up until recently, many salespeople had it relatively easy. Under sunnier economic conditions they may have even found that performing just the bare minimum – dialing someone with a pulse or simply caring for existing customers – was sometimes enough to keep them afloat in the sales world. Today, of course, is a different story, but incredibly, many salespeople’s attitudes haven’t changed. In fact, according to sales executive and consultant Mike Weinberg, it’s one of the biggest reasons why salespeople fail.

As Weinberg explains in his new book, New Sales. Simplified: The Essential Handbook for Prospecting and New Business Development, one of the costs of the good times salespeople enjoyed for so long was that they spawned a culture of laziness in which sales became robotic and many survived in a purely reactive mode. The art of selling was ignored and, in the process, salespeople failed to cultivate the skills that really mattered.

Weinberg, who was named one of OpenView’s top 25 sales influencers for 2012, sat down recently to discuss four more reasons why salespeople fail in today’s sales environment, and what companies should be doing to help their salespeople tell a more effective “sales story.”

In your book, you provide several reasons for why salespeople fail to develop new business. What are the most common ones?

I don’t want it to sound like I think sales team failure is some new concept. For the last 20 years, I’ve seen salespeople and sales teams fail to pick up new business for a lot of different reasons — some of which were self-inflicted, and some of which were not.

When I say “fail,” I’m referencing salespeople’s inability to identify and acquire legitimate new business opportunities. After all, that is the essence of sales. Many salespeople are good at several aspects of selling — customer service, relationship management, problem solving — and while those are certainly important, what’s most needed now is net new business.

With that said, I think the five most common reasons why salespeople fail are:

  1. They’ve never had to prospect for and acquire new business: It’s really that simple. Anyone who is my age or younger has spent the majority of their career in booming economic times. As a result, most salespeople have never really had to get down in the dirt and turn over rocks for new business. In essence, they are victims of past success and easier times. When the economy went south the game changed. Prospecting and sales fundamentals became important again, and far too many salespeople lacked those skills.
  2. They’re terrible on the phone: This builds off my previous point, but it also has a lot to do with the new generation of salespeople’s unfamiliarity with basic phone call technique.  In spite of what many so-called experts are saying today, the phone is still a critical sales tool. Telephone prospecting can be the most effective method for scoring a meeting with key prospect. Yet, a lot of salespeople would rather scrub toilets in the bathroom than pick up the phone and call a prospect.
  3. They lack a good sales story: Most salespeople deploy a boring, self-absorbed sales story that fails to compel prospects to listen to them. They drone on and on about product features and how wonderful their company is instead of focusing on issues that are on the mind of the customer. A big contributor to this problem is that companies often fail to support their salespeople with the resources and content they need to tell a compelling story.
  4. They can’t conduct effective face-to-face sales calls: I’ve been on a couple thousand sales calls in my career and I have seen sales calls botched in every conceivable way.  Most salespeople don’t plan or conduct their calls properly. Typically, these calls are a disaster because salespeople don’t structure the meeting effectively, they talk far more than they listen, and they confuse presenting with selling.
  5. They aren’t cut out for new business development: This is the hardest reason to share, but it must be said. Some people simply are not built to develop new business. Far too many sales roles are populated with salespeople who are too relational to succeed as sales hunters. Simply put, prospecting involves conflict, risk, and rejection. People who are overly relational can’t stomach those things. If you put someone in a sales role that should really be in a customer service position, then you’re setting that person up for failure.

There are more examples, but I think those five issues provide a good overview of some of the most common reasons. Sales is a tough job, especially when the economy is weak and competition is stiff.

Going back to the lack of a sales story, what tips would you give salespeople (or the marketers working with them) to develop a more compelling narrative?

I’m glad you brought this up. I think the sales story is a salesperson’s most critical weapon. It’s the foundation of other weapons, as bits and pieces of the story end up in our e-mails, telephone calls, voicemails, social media profiles, sales calls, presentations, and proposals. It’s absolutely essential that we have a succinct, compelling, client-issue-focused, and differentiating sales story.

A great sales story is really made up of three parts:

  • The customer’s issues your solution addresses (pains removed, problems solved or results achieved)
  • The actual offering; what you sell and its key features
  • The differentiators that set your offering apart from alternatives in the market

It’s critical to note that the order in which you introduce those three chapters of your sales story is very important. The absolute best way to engage a prospect’s mind and heart is to talk about what matters most to them. So, make sure you lead by addressing a prospect’s issues (needs, pain points, or desired results) and only jump to product features and differentiators once you’ve captured their attention by talking about what matters to them.

The most important thing to remember is that your sales story is not about you. No one cares how smart you are or how great you think your solution is. Prospects want to know what’s in it for them. Your sales story is like the table dressing at a nice restaurant. You might be selling a beautifully cooked $50 filet mignon, but if you try to serve it to your customers on a paper plate with plastic cutlery, they’re not going to buy what you’re selling. Your story helps justify your premium price.

Your new book is the “#1 Hot New Sales Release” on Amazon. What prompted you to write it and what were you hoping to accomplish?

I’ve been nagged by friends and clients for 10 years to write a book. When I got back into consulting a few years ago, I started blogging about the trends and problems I’m seeing in sales teams today. I wanted to write the book for three reasons:

  1. I was concerned with sales organizations’ general inability to acquire new business
  2. I wanted to set the record straight that sales isn’t about magic bullets or crackpot theories
  3. I felt compelled to provide sales leaders and salespeople a handbook filled with easily understood and actionable ideas to develop new business.

Sales is simple, and I think that people who describe new business development as complex are using that supposed complexity as a smokescreen to hide poor results. People have ignored the fundamentals of sales for too long, choosing instead to focus on tools, toys, and tricks. With the book, my hope is to remind people of forgotten timeless truths and remove the cloud of mystery about prospecting for new business.

Tell us about your sales fail!

What are some of the top sales fails you’ve learned from? What is the most important fundamental skill a salesperson should have?

photo by: hans.gerwitz

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