I have worked with many sales people across multiple industries every month in my role of mentoring and deal coaching. Many meetings feel like Ground Hog Day or maybe I’m just becoming grumpy in my old age; but here are common shortcomings I see in sales people that make them worthy of being fired.
If you’re a sales manager or CEO, send this to the entire sales team and put them on notice that they will be held to account. If you’re an individual sales contributor, address all of these issues now to save your career. I’m serious – stop screwing around with your success; be the professional you’re paid to be. Here are the things (in no particular order) that make your boss look bad and you look amateurish.
- Not being across the detail of your key deals. Stop giving long-winded waffling answers when asked about the status of an important deal. The senior executives above you are busy and don’t want a bedtime story. Be succinct in your responses. Start at the end and provide a summary before diving into detail. Say something like: ‘It’s forecast for the 13th and their executive sponsor has confirmed with me that the date is confirmed with their internal team. Everyone in the power-base is on board and procurement is in the loop. There are two risks that I am managing…’
- Failing to have a strategy. Never use the words ‘hope’ or ‘hopefully’. In every major deal you need to be thinking about what could go wrong and manage the risks. You must have a strategy for relationships, the competition (including their internal options), and engineering their processes for evaluation, selection and procurement. Hope is not a strategy. Being passive and failing to create any level of positive tension is professional malpractice. You're not a professional visitor or observer who reports back. Make it happen by building positive relationships with the right people inside the customer organization.
- Failing to work hard. Sustained success is never the result of consistent luck. Work ethic is prerequisite for anyone performing at the top. If you’re not 'blowing your numbers away', then you sure as heck had better be seen to be working hard. Work ethic is what smooths out the peaks and troughs of sales performance; to be consistent month-in and month-out. The time to be working hard is when you don't feel you have a weak pipeline of qualified opportunities – things change quickly. earn your success with the sweat of your brow. Look yourself in the mirror, and your boss in the eye, knowing you've earned the right to be successful.
- Wasting time and being late for meetings. Every meeting should have an agenda and confirmed in advance. Time is precious. If you can't manage yourself, how in the world can you manage complex sales processes and expensive company resources. If you don't respect the time of others, why should they respect you? Being on time means being at least 5 minutes early. Sit in a nearby coffee shop and prepare, think, plan – take the stress out of meetings. Arrive early and stake the perfect seat, arrange the room. Every pilot knows that their mind must arrive well before the plane if they are to be truly professional.
- Failing to take notes and follow-up. It staggers me how often I see sales people not taking any notes in meetings. ‘I have a good memory’, they say. I don’t care if you have the memory of an elephant! It’s about the customer, not you. They need to see you being fully there and vitally interested in their every word. Taking notes also enables you to break eye contact (the only reason you should) and show them that they are important, that you don't want to forget, that you’ll follow-up, that you’re a professional. Imagine how you would feel if a builder came to your home to provide a quote for your big renovation and he didn’t measure anything and failed to write anything down... 'I have a good memory love; no worries, she'll be right'... Next!
- Not using sales tools provided to you. Your company has invested huge sums of money in sales methodologies and tools... use them! By all means pragmatically, but use them nevertheless. Show people that you've qualified the opportunity and that you have actions in play to address weaknesses and gaps. Complete call plans and share with your boss before all important meetings. Build close plans on all the big deals to show you understand the customer’s internal approval gates, procurement processes, compelling events and dates. Here is an ideal meta framework for opportunity management.
- Not keeping the CRM up to date. How can you claim to be a professional when the CRM shows that the deal is still at qualification or discovery stage yet you submitted the proposal last week? Why is the CRM ‘next step’ something that is trivial and happened 3 weeks ago? Why are all of your forecast close dates the last day of the quarter? Professionals keep their records up-to-date to help their boss help them – if you want the resources of the organization invested to help you pursue big opportunities, then earn respect and support by how you operate. How can marketing assist you with inviting prospects to events if you don't bother to put them in the system. Why should you be allocated any more leads when most of the ones you've been given are languishing in the CRM without any notes or change in status? No wonder so many marketing and management people have low opinions of sales people.
- Being a shocking lone wolf. Being a lone gunslinger cowboy may suit your persona but success in complex enterprise selling is always a team effort. It’s amazing what can be achieved when you don't care who gets the credit. Work well with others; collaborate and be a team player. If you read between the lines, The Challenger Sale says to fire Lone Wolves when they start missing their numbers.
- Being a ‘Social Selling’ illiterate. LinkedIn is the new phone for securing appointments. Your LinkedIn profile is the platform for establishing your credibility before you even meet. Your LinkedIn Publisher posts are how you set the agenda and deal with objections in advance. Twitter is how you amplify your insightful publishing to spread the word. YouTube is how you avoid having to do high risk, time wasting, tire kicking, mind-numbing, Russian roulette high risk demos. Social selling is highly relevant in the world of B2B enterprise selling... get on board before your career sails away without you!
- Failing to create the necessary value to fund your role. One of my European clients did an extensive study concerning the cost to the company every time a sales person pulled-up outside a client's premises. Field selling is expensive... here is the answer $476. The number is accurate – they have annual revenues in excess of $1 billion in Australia and hundreds of sales people. They asked two questions of every manager and sales person in the company: When you visit a customer or prospect, are you creating $500 of value for them and us? If you asked the customer and your boss to split it; $250 each – would they be willing to both write you a check?
- Breaking the circle of trust. Lying to your boss is the beginning of the end of your relationship with them. Trust is everything – with customers, colleagues, your partner, everyone! Without trust you have nothing in professional sales. Your personal reputation is the most precious thing you have. Who is in the mirror staring back at you? Is there a look of conviction or an empty suit hoping not to be found-out. Don't cheat your boss out of time or steal their money. Be honest about the state of your deals.
- Inaccurate forecasting and fantasy pipeline. Everyone above you has the living crap beaten out of them when they miss their numbers. It felt like I aged a whole year at the end of every quarter when I was managing the region for American corporations. Regular ugly surprises at the eleventh hour make heads explode. Squirming out of commitments damages you enormously... be a person of your word and don't over-promise. Bad news early is manageable but consistently delivering ugly surprises at 3 minutes to midnight is terminal – for you or your boss.
Beyond stupidity, incompetence or arrogance; are there other factors that destroy a sales career worthy of mention – what are they?
P.S. Here is what I tell sales managers concerning who belongs, or not, in their team. Every sales person should understand this formula.