Are You Setting Your Salespeople Up for Failure?

Posted on June 6, 2012.

Ever wonder how top salespeople become top salespeople? Are they just gifted or were they given advantages from the start? As managers, do we pre-determine success by how we dole out leads, territories or clients? What comes first, the opportunity or the success?

I started thinking about this after reading a recent Harvard Business Review article on getting employees to compete with one another and then only doling out the best leads to the people at the top.  But as a former sale manager, I can tell you that there is an inherent unfairness in that practice.  In sales, winning begets winning.  So the first person to get a great lead or get handed a great new customer is more likely to succeed.  Here were the common complaints I heard from my former team:

  • “How can you expect me to compete with Jeff when he has a great territory, and mine is crap?”
  • Peter has the best customers so of course he can build more off that base. My customers suck. Getting any more sales from them is like bleeding a rock.”
  • You give all the best leads to Matt. If I had those opportunities, I’d be at the top of the rankings too.”

I could go on and on, but you get the picture. These are legitimate complaints. A strong territory means more and better prospects.  A strong customer base means they’re likely growing and therefore buying more. And the recipient of a strong lead has been handed a gift.  So how can you even the playing field?

  1. Set sales goals based on opportunity.  Asking everyone to generate the same amount of revenue is the same as asking 10 different people to lose the same number of pounds instead of a percentage of their body weight.  People with the strongest base of customers and prospects should be given the highest goals by revenue, percentage or both.
  2. Create a system of handing out leads.  Keep a log and make sure you are giving everyone an equal opportunity. It might make sense to give Matt a specific lead because he already has a customer in the industry or he has a connection with the prospect. That’s fine, but make sure the next strong lead goes to someone else.

I do agree with one part of the article. Once you’ve identified your weak players, you need to get rid of them. Just make sure you’ve given them a fair shot.