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Sales Success or Failure — Whose Fault Is It? By Bill Brooks


I was recently consulting with a very large, multinational firm. In their own heart of hearts – and, in their boardroom – they believed that they had a sales problem. And they do. However, the sales problem is merely symptomatic of a number of deeper issues that need to be addressed before any serious improvement can be made in their sales results.

This scenario, however, is not rare. And it makes no difference whether the organization is large (this client sells $2.6 billion in the U.S. alone) or small, a “ma-pop,” small business or entrepreneurial environment. These situations exist in all organizations. No matter the size. What is believed to be the problem is merely a symptom of a series of deeper, more endemic challenges.

In this case there were a whole series of problems. Fortunately, the leaders of this organization have now seen them, accepted their existence and now, together, we are addressing them. In this particular case here they are:

# Lack of consistent, on-time product delivery

# Incomplete order fulfillment

# Shortage of qualified applicants for support positions

# Improperly designed pay plan for salespeople

# Lack of sales management personnel and a system to train them

# No performance appraisal system or performance management system

Poorly designed structure for field offices in terms of reporting functions and responsibilities.

You see, the problems weren’t whether salespeople knew how to ask for the order, sell value or organize accounts. Those areas, of course, can always be improved. The real issues were deeper, more organizational issues related directly to fundamental circumstances like structure, delivery, customer service, personnel and accountability.

Here is the real point. Quite often there are simple, fundamental reasons behind the most obvious things you see. Things like disappearing customers, cancelled orders, customer complaints, a lack of increased sales volume and stagnant salespeople are not always the fault of a salesperson or even an entire sales organization.

Whenever I encounter this type of situation I am often reminded of the human body. It is not unusual for an ache or pain somewhere to be caused by a problem that is far removed from the actual location of the pain. A headache can be caused by a bad back…a problem in your leg can be traced to your shoulder – you get the picture.

So, what would I urge you to do? Take a look at a few areas where you have difficulties and then try to determine what is really causing them. My suggestion is to look in the following categories of business first:

# Structure and Organization

# Compensation Design

# Performance Appraisal and Performance Management Systems

# Facilities, Equipment and Supplies

# Operations and Quality

# Customer Service

# Delivery

# Credit Issues

# Product Support and Training

# Reporting Function

# Recruitment and Retention Policy

# Product Management

Then – and only then – should you start to take steps to work a direct sales challenge. If any of these 12 areas are incompatible with your overall business strategy, any or all of them can be the real culprit behind poor sales. It doesn’t have to be the sales team that is faltering.

Interestingly, I have encountered a great deal of this where salespeople are physically or geographically removed from a central location. Often they (and their customers) are directly affected by the actions of other departments, philosophies and decisions within the organization. The problem? Salespeople are, far too often, the ones who hear the brunt of the direct customer aggression because they see customers daily. They hear about poor delivery, inferior quality or a lack of customer support. They then have to deal with it directly in spite of their distraction from the seat of the problem.

No one operates in a void within any organization. An organization is just that – a group of people aligned for a specific set of purposes. How well that organization functions is not one person’s or even the organization’s responsibility. Instead, it is the collective responsibility of all people, all departments, all functions and facilities. They all come together to define success or failure. It never is one department’s responsibility for success or failure. It is a collective effort. That includes sales.
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Bill Brooks is the founder and CEO of The Brooks Group. The Brooks Group specializes in building custom training programs for organizations that want a more profitable sales force. We show sales managers how to manage more effectively and we show salespeople how to sell more volume, at higher margins on a consistent basis.