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A couple of years ago we hired what we thought was going to be a stellar sales rep. He appeared to be smart, well-spoken, and had the individual charisma that we thought was going to make him a star.

So when the numbers came back after six months, I was surprised that he was nowhere near hitting quota.

“Hmm, that’s interesting,” I thought. “I figured he’d be a star, let’s give him a little more time.”

End of the next quarter, same results. Now I was panicked. How could he have possibly been failing? What had I done wrong? What was wrong with our sales process? If this “superstar” sales rep wasn’t hacking it, surely we had to fix something, right?

I talked to the front-line sales manager about ideas. We went over sales collateral. We reviewed pitches and product demos. We mentored.

And what we discovered was that in spite of his evident natural talents, they never really translated into the rigors of his daily work. There was an intellectual laziness, an assumed air of success–“This is going to work simply because I’m the one doing it.”

Now of course some long-time sales professionals might argue the point. “Of course you have to assume success,” they’d say. “You have to have confidence that you’re going to get the sale. If you can’t be confident, you can’t succeed.”

Which I completely agree with, but with this rep it was different. His confidence was purely internal, not external. His confidence in himself never translated to confidence in management’s goals and directives. It never translated into confidence in our sales processes and technologies.

There was no question he wanted to succeed, but he wanted it to be on his terms, on “his watch.”

Needless to say, his close rate never improved. His pipeline was always full, but at the end of the month/quarter revenue was scarce.

And worst of all, the rest of the reps had picked up on the fact that he wasn’t really being a team player. They resented when he would get “hot” leads, because, they grumbled, “He’s never going to get anything out of them anyway.” Letting him go ended up being a double-positive, because the rest of the team worked harder, and we weren’t throwing good leads into a dead pool.

Ultimately I learned a few things:

1. Trust the numbers, not appearances. Baseline numbers are set for a reason, so unless they’re a complete sham, use them. If you don’t trust your quotas, why have them?

2. If you don’t trust the numbers, you don’t trust your process. If you can’t believe what the numbers are saying, it means you believe there’s a break in the system.

3. Employee failure is expensive, but the situation allowed us to get a fresh look at what we were doing. Stagnation is today’s ultimate business-killer, and while a total overhaul of a team or process isn’t always necessary, a minor “reboot” isn’t a bad thing. Embrace opportunities for change.

4. Reps need to be aware of the line between confidence and intellectual laziness. It’s okay to occasionally do an “end around” past company process if it’s going to make a prospect happy. But constantly justifying breaking the rules because “It’s the way I get success” should be a red flag that something is amiss.

Author: Ken Krogue |
Summary of Ken Krogue’s Forbes articles

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