Sales Training Article: Seller Underperformance An Issue of Can’t or Won’t?

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

Often managers tell their direct reports what to do and expect tasks to be successfully completed. This approach works well when employees are aware of how tasks must be done and ideally have received training.

As a sales manager in companies I worked for, none had a defined sales process or even a consistent approach to selling. When I had salespeople that weren’t achieving their numbers they either left for hopefully greener pastures or were put on a plan overseen by Human Resources and me. In most cases this meant the seller had to get YTD against their numbers in about a 3-month timeframe. There was an agreement made as to the numbers of calls/day that needed to be done, amount of time trying to uncover new opportunities, etc.

I don’t ever recall any plans that resulted in the seller being able to reach a YTD position and keeping their job. What I later came to realize is that performance issues for sellers can be attributed to one or both of the following reasons:

1. Sellers are unwilling – an attitude problem that managers must try to address.

2. Sellers are unable – a skill competency issue.

You can ask sellers to perform tasks they can’t complete, but managers shouldn’t be surprised by the results. It’s analogous to a major league player whose batting average is .200. Whether getting 10, 100 or 500 at-bats, his batting average won’t improve without coaching/skill development. Most sales managers focus on a higher quantity of work (more at bats) but have little or no impact on the quality of effort (batting average).

Being a first level sales manager is an extraordinarily difficult task. Within organizations that don’t have standard pipeline milestones and a common skill set designed to allow sellers to achieve them, the mountain is significantly more difficult to climb. When underperformers are asked to call high, don’t lead with product and establish value (as my first manager implored us to do); the elephant in the room is many sellers don’t have the skills to do so.

Take a look at the sales training workshops available to you.