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It’s rare indeed for me to see a proactive sales culture.  The norm is an unhealthy one. Take a look at the list below, grouped by Sales People, Sales Managers, and Sales Executives, and see if you have the signs of a bad sales culture.

Then, in follow-on articles, we’ll explore:

  • The good, the bad, and the ugly decisions Sales Executives make that can lead up to a dysfunctional sales culture,
  • How to instill a proactive sales culture, and finally
  • We’ll look at the results one can achieve with top-down driven sales culture.

In the meantime, here are the primary characteristics of a bad sales culture.

Sales People

  1. “Spray and Pray” product pitches.  Unfortunately, many sales people think that “spraying” their buyers with product features is a substitute for need development.  But this type of presentation results in disinterested buyers who conclude that the Sales Person came to sell a product instead of helping them solve a problem.  And, unfortunately, they are correct.
    Spray-and-Pray

    Impact of “Spray & Pray” Product Pitch

  2. Ineffective or non-existent pre-call prep and planning.  There is no substitute for call planning.  Sellers should research they buyers they are calling on.  LinkedIn provides great information.  They should also plan out what they plan to say if they need to introduce themselves or their company, and study any need development tools for the job titles they are calling on.
  3. Using demos to sell rather than to prove capabilities as part of a vision of a solution.  This is nothing more than another perhaps a more harmful version of “Spray and Pray”.
  4. Lots of busy work at the behest of a buyer without any real reason, other than false hope.  If a seller has little control or plans for next steps on a sales call, the call with an uncomfortable question: What should we do next?  The polite buyer, instead of answering “nothing”, responds with, “Give me a proposal.”  And off goes the sales person thinking that they have a hot one.  Nope.
  5. Poor need development, in particular missing the capabilities that differentiate you.  This is one of the top 3 most important skills a seller must master.
  6. Reliance on responding to RFP’s, which you did not help create, instead of prospecting.  Just ask yourself, How many prospecting calls can I/my sales person make instead of responding to an RFP you cannot win? 
  7. Poor qualification during sales calls.  Proper qualification results in agreement to important next steps, such as gaining access to power.
  8. Calling too low in a buyer’s organization, and getting stuck there.  If you look at the average salesperson’s opportunity list, for every opportunity being driven by an “above the power line” buyer, they typically have eight “below the power line”.  Our clients have consistently found that a seller with this type of metric wastes 40% of their time selling to buyers who cannot buy!
  9. Sell cycles that resemble a death march instead of a controlled progression to a positive outcome.  Sell cycle control is one of the most important and easiest skills to master, yet most sellers do not use this skill, resulting in sell cycles that are 3-4 times longer than what they should be.
  10. Poor qualification during sell cycles.  Sales people tend to stay with loser opportunities far too long, especially when there is little else in their pipeline.
  11. Giving things away during negotiations as if they were Santa Claus because the seller has little to no confidence that the buyer truly wants them.  Here is a great little equation:

Winning = Finding Pain X Creating Vision X Accessing Power X Action Plan X ROI

If any of these winning qualifiers are scored low, then the seller does not have “a leg to stand on”.

Sales Managers

  1. Sales managers who play the role of the “white knight” who swoop in to save deals instead of empowering their sellers.  Our jobs as sales managers is to train our sales people to execute well, not be glorified sellers.
  2. Sales managers who act as high paid admins.  The opposite of the glorified sales manager is the manager who spends far too much time assembling and providing reports to execs.
  3. Reliance on the wrong metrics, which could include the number of face-to-face meetings, demos per week, and achievement of quota to assess whether a seller is good or bad instead of metrics that identity true selling difficulties.
  4. No real methods used to ascertain and then proactively develop the skills of sales people.  In my view the number 1 responsibility of the sales manager, yet the one least commonly practiced.
  5. Significant revenue swings that look like a roller coaster ride, tied to sellers trying to prematurely close deals at the end of each quarter and at year-end especially.  The roller coaster ride is due to poor pipeline management.
  6. High levels of stress for most of the team, tied to achieving quarter-end and especially year-end.
  7. Pipelines that are continually out of balance.  In fact, the revenue roller coaster ride and stress levels (numbers 5 and 6 above) are due to poor pipeline balance and management.
  8. Ineffective opportunity reviews.  I saved one of the best until last.  There are six key qualification questions that the sales manager should continually ask about any important opportunity.  They will result in disqualifying bad opportunities or getting good ones on a better path to closure.

Sales Executives

  1. Poorly defined opportunity stages.  This often times overlooked item results in poor pipeline management and balance, and inaccurate forecasting.  Way too many organizations use opportunity stages that are highly subjective (“defined needs”) and leave key qualifiers out (Are we above the Power Line?).  The train comes off the tracks here.
  2. Overall lack of predictability for the top and bottom lines.  This is a result of the above item, combined with poor opportunity assessment on the part of sales managers.
    Forecasting-Frustration

    Forecasting Frustration

  3. A sales organization whose operation is like a ship without a mast.
  4.  Painful forecasting “process”.  This would be a relatively pain free and accurate endeavor if the organization were able to practice bottoms up, opportunity based forecasting.
  5. Marketing and sales at odds with each other.  Too many marketing departments “lead with their product” and unconsciously seek leads “below the power line”, resulting in sales feeling they are not getting their monies worth.
  6. Not achieving anticipated ROI from an expensive investment in CRM.  Too many sales operations use their CRM as an expensive contact manager and inaccurate forecasting tool
  7. High cost of sales.  If you are in this category, look at things like how many demos are conducted on opportunities, the number of face-face calls conducted, etc.

Let’s see:  11 8 7 = 26.  Sorry, that makes 26 signs of a bad sales culture, not 25!