Identifying Barriers to Success in Your Sales Force

Joe Weinlick
Posted by in Sales

No matter how well you structure your sales funnel, you still have to rely on a diverse sales force to promote the benefits of your company and convert leads into clients. Failing to see major flaws in your workflow can affect your bottom line and make it exceptionally difficult for salespeople to achieve their goals. Don't wait until sales plummet to assess potential problems. Evaluate the effectiveness of each step in the sales process, so you can solve problems before they escalate.

How Do Employees Allocate Time?

If you want to know why your salespeople aren't closing more deals, ask for a breakdown of their daily work schedules. Your employees may have difficulty meeting quotas if they are slowed down by administrative work or outdated equipment. Ask employees what obstacles they face, and make sure they have all the tools they need to collect data and answer customer questions on the spot.

Consider your options for streamlining data entry, such as customer relationship management software. Your salespeople can devote more time to forging new contacts if they have a fast, organized way to manage leads and track their sales activity.

Are Your Performance Goals Measurable?

Hoping for sales isn't enough to make them happen. Your workforce must diligently search for opportunities, follow up with leads, assess customer needs and maintain good relationships before and after each sale. As a leader, you can help salespeople stay on track by providing target numbers for each individual task, rather than leaving your employees to figure out the sales funnel on their own.

Routinely review your company's sales patterns to determine your mean ratio of proposals to sales, says Troy Harrison, president of SalesForce Solutions. Take note of the number and type of interactions that lead to closings, so you can narrow the process you take to onboard new clients. Identifying your company's ideal success model helps you develop standard metrics for gauging employee performance. As a result, you can discover whether individual workers are losing traction at specific points in the sales funnel or choosing to take damaging shortcuts.

Do You Have a Clearly Defined Audience?

Salespeople are more successful at finding qualified leads if they understand the needs and standards of both the business and the customer. Qualified leads are interested, ready to make a purchase and able to meet your price point. Your job is to provide a clear image of your target clients and how your company offers value in comparison to the competition.

If your sales force isn't bringing in good leads, find out what questions your staff are asking customers. Look for red flags when reviewing customer interactions, and contact clients to find out what factors may prevent them from making purchases.

Some salespeople may be too aggressive or dismissive, pushing sales without listening to the customer or explaining how your services work. Others may be too timid or undisciplined to make connections and respond to customer concerns. In both cases, it's up to you to assess patterns of behavior and decide whether a salesperson has the talent to succeed with more guidance and motivation.

Do You Provide Coaching and Recognition?

Regardless of skill and experience levels, salespeople thrive when they are constantly learning new techniques for solving problems and pitching ideas. Keep your workforce up to date on best practices, so you can continually move employees up the performance ladder, says Mark Donnolo, found of SalesGlobe. You should also look for flaws in your recruitment process to avoid hiring candidates who aren't likely to improve with long-term coaching.

If your skilled sales force is losing motivation, ask your team how you can improve morale. Foster positive competition and provide recognition by setting up a point system. Reward workers who exceed their activity goals and demonstrate high-quality interactions with good leads to emphasize the equal importance of productivity and customer service.

A strong sales force is constantly evolving to offer competitive products and meet the changing demands of the industry. Complacency and lack of communication can prevent you from maintaining a high level of performance. Make it a priority to identify and address barriers to success, so your business is always moving forward.

Photo Courtesy of Stuart Miles at


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  • Jane H.
    Jane H.

    I have written and conducted corporate training seminars for the mortgage division of one of the largest banks in the world. In that capacity, I applied many of the concepts you mentioned, including having a clearly defined audience. We were regularly working with internationally famous celebrities and the CEOs of major corporations. Employees have a tendency to freeze up when, for example, they realize they have an actual rock star on the phone who needs assistance. Their first impulse is to treat them with awe, but that tends to be off-putting. What high-end clients like that want most is to be treated with the ease and confidence of an accomplished professional who works quickly and knows exactly what to do so this VIP can get on with their day and always have a warm, satisfied feeling when they think about the brand.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the great comments. @Mike you raise some great questions. How can you tell? Maybe by the ones who are enthusiastic during the interview. Or the one who wrote that great cover letter depicting how they can help the company. Maybe one who has not been job hopping but who has spent several years at each position all the way climbing higher and higher. What kind of flaws might be in the recruitment process? Not checking on the facts. Not calling any of the references to verify that this person is for real. Not checking their education before the offer. Many job seekers lie on their resumes/cover letters just to get their foot in the door. Perhaps you could create a test for candidates as part of the interview process. Don't tell them ahead of time that testing is involved but, once they get through enough of the interview for you to determine that they "could" be your next hire, test them. Written or hands on - either way you will be able to find out if they told the truth or not. You will also know, by questions that they might ask, if they are amendable or not. Anyone else have thoughts on this?

  • Mike Van de Water
    Mike Van de Water

    As a manager, what are some ways to identify which candidates are more likely to improve with long-term coaching? And sort of related, what kinds of flaws in the recruitment process could be lead to the hiring off employees who are unlikely to improve? Perhaps a step could be added that challenges candidates with some sort of "outside-the-box" task or mental challenge? At least for me, coachability is difficult to determine before the hire is complete. Thanks for any insights you have!

  • Jay Bowyer
    Jay Bowyer

    This article really gave me a boost this morning. I think perhaps we all feel stuck sometimes, and it's important to try to find out why so that we can keep forging ahead. I particularly like the point made about coaching and recognition: perhaps when we coach others, we also coach ourselves...

  • Abbey Boyd
    Abbey Boyd

    The article suggests asking your team how to improve motivation. Employee input is of utmost significance if a company wants to succeed. Satisfied employees are motivated employees. Listen to them, try out some of their best ideas, and make improvements based on their suggestions. Your employees are the real heart of the organization, so allowing them to shape the way the company works will go a long way toward the future of the company.

  • Jacqueline Parks
    Jacqueline Parks

    Although some employees respond well to positive competition, an overly competitive environment could hurt sales. I think it important to think of the individual personalities on your sales force before implementing any type of competition. I prefer motivators that provide awards for individuals improving their own numbers or for teams meeting goals. Too much individual competition can discourage new team members or those who are seeking help with problem areas.


    I appreciate that this article mentions asking sales force members themselves what target numbers they should have or new tactics to improve sales. What is the best method for asking employees for this information? Focus groups? Surveys? Meeting with each employee individually? I have a feeling that focus groups could be successful because people could bounce ideas off of each other.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Sarah thanks for the question. Asking for a daily breakdown of tasks is probably a good indication that the employee is not living up to their potential and the manager is trying to determine why. Maybe they are spending too much time chasing leads that are not going to result in a sale. Maybe they are spending too much time doing cold-calls and not getting any prospects. Asking for the breakdown could show glaring discrepancies for both the employee and the manager. But, if an employee is doing great -closing on those sales, then a breakdown is truly not needed. @Jacob so very true - clear cut directives coming from just one source is the ultimate. Sadly this doesn't always happen but it should be up to the manager to work this out, not the worker.

  • Sarah Andrews
    Sarah Andrews

    I agree that speaking to the sales team and asking for input is important, but could asking for a break down of daily work begin to move into micromanaging? I do think that information is crucial, but it can be taken too far, and often is, so how can you find balance and not become the overbearing boss?

  • Jacob T.
    Jacob T.

    The biggest barrier to success I've encountered as a sales manager and a sales person, is competing directives from various members of management. Unclear objectives or constantly shifting targets and programs makes it very difficult to focus energy and build success at any one sales goals.

  • William Browning
    William Browning

    I believe one barrier to success on a sales team is a lack of diversity. The more diversity you have among your team, the better chances you have to engage potential customers in sales. That means including all kinds of people on your sales force--men, women, young, old and people with different ethnic backgrounds. Stats show that diverse companies fare better than competitors over the long term.

  • Tara Avery
    Tara Avery

    I think keeping performance goals measurable is so important. It helps the employee have goals to work toward, and also serves to highlight any areas where management needs to rethink goals that are either too easy to reach or too unattainable. By having specific targets, people are never left wondering what to do next, and they can use those goals to best make use of their time.

  • Shannon Philpott
    Shannon Philpott

    I am a huge advocate for ample training to fully arm your sales professionals with the tools they need to succeed. However, I don't necessarily think that asking for a detailed schedule of activities each day is effective. It reeks of micro management and that can serve as a deterrent for productivity. Checking in with your employees is important but asking them to take time away from sales to justify their work can negatively affect moral.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Lydia great questions. Most things can be taught - such as sales. But personality isn't going to change all that much. To be a good sales person you must have great people skills. Whether on the road or in a local shop, a sales person needs to be that outgoing personality type. Teaching sales and teaching technology can be done as long as the person has the right aptitude for sales.

  • Lydia K.
    Lydia K.

    This article raises some interesting questions about assessing a sales team. I wonder however whether some of these issues go back to recruiting. For example, some companies emphasize technical experience over a sales background. So some sales people may know the product well, but they're short on people skills and with others it's the reverse. How does a company strike a balance on these issues? Can you learn to be a good sales person on the job? Or should companies look for strong people skills up front?

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