Why Great Sales People FailIt is commonly accepted that the best sales people are successful wherever and that they go don’t move jobs very often. This is certainly true, but rarely does someone have a perfect career track record in sales.  There are a lot of internal and external factors that can get in the way of consistently achieving quota and even the consistent top sales achievers have blemishes in their career history. Because of the  high level of competition for sales talent and the scarcity of sales people who can consistently produce, it is critical not to reject capable candidates for the wrong reasons.

Here are some of the reasons why great sales people fail:

Sold a Bill of Goods / Mistake in Judgement – Often times a hiring manager will oversell their open positions in order to fill them. They may imply that the job is easier than it actually is, that the compensation and commissions are higher, and/or that the product and offering are more robust than they actually are. While great sales people are good at qualifying companies where they will experience success, in some cases they fall for the hiring pitch themselves only to find out shortly after joining that they didn’t join the company that they thought they were joining or that they overlooked key details which are now a show stopper for them. Since the best people have options, they will usually admit their mistake and move on to an employer where they are set up to succeed.

Personal Changes – There may be many reasons why taking a position makes sense at a certain point in someone’s life, however things change. People get married, have kids, divorce, and/or experience changes in their health which may trigger changes in the types of work they want to perform. I have seen great reps travel 15 days a month, then have kids and resist being on the road, which ultimately affected performance. On surface this would seem like a failure, when in fact, it is simply a change of fit.

Bad Boss – Arguably the most common reason for failure is a sales manager that fails to effectively lead.  Too often the reps are not given enough of the right guidance, development and coaching, or the right structures and support systems are not put in place, which in turn increases the chances that the rep will fail no matter how great their sales DNA.

Poor Cultural Fit – While it is easy to measure sales performance to goals over time and to a lesser extent critical sales capabilities, many hiring managers have no choice but to subjectively measure cultural fit (as will the candidate being recruited). This can have an enormous impact on a sales person’s performance since a  rep is unlikely to perform well if they don’t have good chemistry with their boss or their co-workers, or simply can’t connect with the vibe and rhythm of the company.

The Company Changed – There are times, for instance a significant change in company direction or an acquisition, where a sales rep who was over achieving before the change must adapt to material changes in what they sell, who they sell to or how they sell. While some people can be successful in multiple selling environments, many cannot, and an otherwise great sales person may see a dip in performance. In most cases a sales person with a strong command of their career will quickly realize this and make a change, but we are all human and in some cases the rep stays on and suffers through the drop in performance before inevitably changing employers.

There are many tasks required when recruiting great sales people, and one of the key steps is a careful and thorough review of the candidate’s career history.

Download our free eBook: The Ten Most Costly Sales Hiring Mistakes to reduce the risk that you make a bad sales hire.

To your success!


Image courtesy of  ratch0013 | freedigitalphotos.net  


Eliot Burdett

CEO at Peak Sales Recruiting
Before Peak, Eliot spent more than 20 years building and leading companies, where he took the lead in recruiting and managing high performance sales teams. He co-founded Ventrada Systems (mobile applications) and GlobalX (e-commerce software). He was also Vice President of Sales for PointShot Wireless.

Eliot received his B. Comm. from Carleton University and has been honored as a Top 40 Under 40 Award winner.

He co-authored Sales Recruiting 2.0, How to Find Top Performing Sales People, Fast and provides regular insights on sales team management and hiring on the Peak Sales Recruiting Blog.

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