Go to Top

What Went Wrong – The 5 Reasons Salespeople Fail to Perform

Reliable CraneHere’s a problem you face at work every single day: You give someone an assignment only to discover later that it isn’t done, or it’s only partly done, or it’s done completely wrong. Now what?

An inexperienced manager would probably just start yelling, calling it a “motivation” session. Or perhaps send the employee off for more training, hoping that will fix it.

When somebody’s performance fails to meet your expectations, there are only 5 possible reasons. That’s it, just 5.

But in order to fix a problem, you have to begin by understanding what’s broken. Fortunately, this is a lot easier than you might think. It turns out that, when somebody’s performance fails to meet your expectations, there are only 5 possible reasons. That’s it, just five.

Before I figured this out, I would have guessed the number was more like 100. “My car wouldn’t start,” “The weather was bad,” “I didn’t have the paperwork,” “I didn’t know you actually wanted me to start,” “The customer was on vacation…” It seems like the list could go on forever. But all of these boil down to just 5 reasons, and once you know which reason it is, you can fix it.

For years, I have had former employees get back to me to say that this is the one most important thing they learned in their business lives. So, if you’re ready, here we go.

1. They didn’t know WHAT to do

Believe it or not, in about half the cases of non-performance, the employee just didn’t know what you wanted them to do. They didn’t get the memo, or they misunderstood the instructions, or you assumed that they knew something that they didn’t.

Clear communication is the hallmark of a great manager, and here we see why: you can solve half of all of your non-performance problems simply by communicating clearly with your people about what you want done, how you want it, and by when.

2. They didn’t know HOW to do it

Sometimes when your people fail you, it’s because they don’t know how to do what you asked them to do. Maybe they used to do it differently at their old company, or they assumed they knew how to do it and tried it that way, or perhaps they were just so overwhelmed by the mystery of  the process that they went into “gimbal lock” and froze with anxiety.

In this case (and only in this case) the problem can be fixed by training. Making sure that your people know how to do what you are asking them to do seems like common sense, but about a quarter of performance failures are caused by this.

3. They were PREVENTED from doing it

Everyone’s workday abounds with obstacles. Successful people know this and make backup plans in the event that their primary route to their goal is thwarted, but even the best-laid plans oft go awry. If your employee arrives at work early to find the door locked, if their company credit card is maxed-out, if the purchasing department won’t approve their expense request or a massive blizzard closes all the roads, they may find themselves unable to do what you asked them to do.

Great managers are able to anticipate potential obstacles and provide their people with a clear path for success. Of course there is nothing you can do about a massive blizzard. Or is there? Had you looked at the weather report, would you have changed your employee’s assignment? Probably.

4. They COULDN’T do it

Sometimes, when an employee fails, it’s because they simply can not do what you asked of them. They don’t speak Spanish, the box is too heavy, or perhaps they lack the manual dexterity or the personality for it.

An easy test for this condition is a thought experiment called the “357 Magnum Test;” if you pulled out a .357 Magnum revolver and held it to their heads, could they perform the task? If the answer is “no,” then they simply can’t do it.

Who’s fault is this? Why, the manager’s, of course. Why would you give a task to someone who can’t do it? To fix it, you’ve got to either change the assignment or get someone else to do it. And yes, that may sometimes mean firing the employee. Not because it’s their fault, but because they deserve to work in a job where they can be a success, and this isn’t it.

5. They DIDN’T WANT TO do it

Sometimes, your people will fail to do something because they just plain don’t want to do it. This is why it seems, at first glance, that there are a lot of reasons for failure, because this is where they will make up all kinds of excuses to justify their behavior. “My dog ate the paperwork,” or “my great aunt died,” or “the client never got back to me” are all examples of these excuses.

The funny thing about this reason for failure is that your employee feels funny about it, too. In the 30 years that I have been managing people using this system, which I have taught to them and which they are totally familiar with, I have never had someone look me in the eye and say “I didn’t want to.” Why?

Because everybody wants to succeed. Nobody WANTS to fail. Failing feels awful. Success, on the other hand, feels great. You are looked up to by your peers and your friends, it improves your self-esteem, making you happier and setting you up for even more success.

“To his dog, every man is Napoleon; hence the constant popularity of dogs.” ― Aldous Huxley

According to Aldous Huxley, the reason why people love their dogs is that, no matter how much you screw up, your dog still loves you and makes you feel like a success. So given all of that, why would ANYBODY not want to do something their manager told them to do?

It’s simply, really. They don’t see how the particular instruction you gave them is tied to their success. Let’s use a really simple sales example to illustrate this.

Imagine that you have a team of crack salespeople who regularly meet their quotas. But you are worried that, since you are always selling to the same customers and doing very little business development, your overall market share is declining while your sales remain flat. To remedy this situation, you tell your sales people that, next month, you need them to bring in 5% of their sales from new customers.

Given that it is 6-7 times harder to generate business from a new customer rather than an existing customer, what do you expect to happen at the end of the month? Will your salespeople have met their sales goals? And will you have the new business you are looking for?

In my experience, the answers are “yes” and “no.” Your salespeople will continue to meet their goals, but they will miss the new customer business goal by a wide margin. And if you ask they why they didn’t succeed on their new goal, they will tell you “the weather was bad,” “it was a short month,” “it’s the end of the quarter” and a long list of other excuses (not reasons) for their performance. Because the reason is “I didn’t want to,” or, translated into our system, “I don’t see how this is related to my success.”

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. But you CAN put salt in his oats.

If you really want to generate some new business, try announcing that you will be paying double commissions on new business next month. Then stand back and watch the new orders roll in.

Once you have demonstrated to your people how a particular instruction of yours is tied to their success, the problem solves itself. Their natural drive for success will take over. But remember, people’s ideas of success are complex and varied; it isn’t just about making quota. For example, asking them to sell a product that they don’t believe in or to sell it in a way that they view as unethical in some way can trigger a conflict in which they measure their success by doing “the right thing,” which may be different than what you asked them to do.

Using the 5 Reasons at Work
This is great, you say, but how do you actually use this system at work?  We’ll cover that next.PUTTING THE 5 REASONS TO WORK FOR YOU

About Us

At Farsyte, we believe that the secret to building the best sales team in the world is investing in your front-line sales managers. We are like personal trainers, working with your high-potential sales managers to unlock their potential to be great sales leaders. Our system uses a unique combination of assessment tools, mobile apps and one-on-one coaching to actually change their behavior, from trying to manage each sale, to multiplying sales by empowering their teams for maximum performance.

Like this article? Get notified of future posts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *