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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue ScientistThu, Dec 12, 2019 19 min read

11 Rock-Solid Reasons Why Your Sales Team Underperformed In 2019

Improving Sales Performance in 2020

And How To Ensure They Over-perform In 2020

Improving Sales Performance in 2020Getting your sales team to hit its revenue or sales goals is challenging. At my speaking events I like to ask the audience to stand and then sit when they answer “no” to any of these questions:

  1. Did your company hit its stated revenue goals last year?
  2. Did your company hit its stated revenue goals in the first quarter?
  3. Did your company hit its revenue goals in the second quarter?
  4. Did your company hit its revenue goals in the third quarter?
  5. Are you expecting to hit revenue goals in the fourth quarter?

The only people remaining standing are those who have figured out how to consistently hit or exceed their stated revenue goals. That’s typically less than 10% of the audience.

This means 90% of the people cannot consistently hit their revenue goals. Salesforce research shows individual sales reps are just as bad, with fewer than 50% of reps hitting or exceeding their quota. It’s an epidemic.

This illustrates how complex sales performance can be. What should rep goals be? How much is the territory worth? Do they have the tools to exceed performance? In this article, I’ll identify the 11 top contributors to reps missing their goals and show how to fix them going into 2020.

Hold on to your quotas! In no particular order, here’s why reps miss their goals.

1. Your Sales Process Is Not Aligned With Your Prospects’ Buyer Journeys

SiriusDecisions reports that “67% of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally.” Is your sales process designed with the understanding that most of your best prospects are coming to your reps with information, opinions and preconceived notions about your company, your competitors and your products/services?

Your sales process (or lack of sales process) is almost always one of the core reasons for lack of sales performance.

In this case, your sales process no longer matches how people want to make their purchase decision. For example, you want them to make it quickly, so your sales process is designed to push them into a decision in your first call. When they’re not ready to decide, instead of making them feel safe, your process makes them feel anxious and they don’t continue with your company.

The fix is to get intimate with how your prospects want to buy your products and services, and then design a process that matches this perfectly.

Here is a great example to illustrate what I mean. In the agency business, clients need to first decide if they want to invest in marketing and how much. Then they need to decide whether to handle marketing in-house or use an agency.

Next, they need to decide how to select an agency and what type of agency they need. Finally, once they have the agency they like, now it comes down to what services they’ll purchase, how much it will cost and what the engagement will look like. It’s a highly complex set of decisions.

Your prospects are going through the same highly complex set of decisions, and if all your sales process allows them to do is request a proposal, your process is not aligned with how they buy today.

Consider the eight stages of the Cyclonic Buyer Journey and how your sales process supports each stage. Make sure:

  • You know the questions prospects ask at each stage
  • You have highly compelling and educational content for each stage and every question
  • Your process positions your reps as your prospects’ trusted guide and advisor
  • Every single touch point is remarkable, educational and designed to highlight how you can help them

Once you set up the process to align with your prospects’ buyer journeys, you’ll start to see improved close rates and prospects who are referring business to you before they even sign their paperwork.

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2. Your Sales Process Is Not Being Followed Exactly

Marketing Donut published research that shows 80% of sales require five follow-up calls after the meeting, but 44% of sales reps give up after one follow-up call.

Even if you have the best sales process on the planet, if your sales reps are not following it religiously every single time they talk with a prospect, then it’s worthless.

The whole point of a strategically designed, documented and supported sales process is to ensure every prospect is getting the exact same and equally amazing experience regardless of rep.

The fix for this is training, but it’s also technology, which we’ll talk about in more detail shortly. Solid CRM products that have been configured properly help keep reps on track with your desired sales experience. It can remind them to send specific emails or attach specific content, and it can handle a lot of the nurture in an automated way that also helps your process execute consistently.

When it comes to training reps on a new process, they have to understand why this is important. They have to know it’s not optional. They have to know you’ll be monitoring it and there are consequences for not following it. Freelancers and rogue salespeople should be put to rest in 2020.

3. The Comp Plan Is Not Aligned With Your Goals

Sales reps do what you pay them to do, and sales comp plans can get complicated quickly. Make sure your plan is simple and tightly aligned with your company goals. For example, if you want your reps selling new business, don’t give them any incentive for selling more services to existing clients.

If you want them to drive total net new revenue, give them equal commission on revenue regardless of whether it came from net new clients or new business at existing clients.

One other best practice is to never include any caps on sales commissions. If you must include a cap because you are worried about over-payment, make sure that ceiling or cap is as high as possible.

For more information on sales compensation, commission and alignment, consider this report on sales compensation from HubSpot.

4. The Reps Don’t Have The Right Tools

To be clear, the tools I’m talking about are not closing skills, questioning skills or relationship-building tools. I’m leaving those to the experts in sales coaching from Sandler, Richardson and your local sales consultant.

The tools I’m talking about are the communication tools, the content tools, the technology and the advocacy tools that every sales rep and every company needs to execute a remarkable, advisory and guided sales process. Typically, marketing provides these tools, but in some organizations sales operations has that responsibility.

Specifically, these would include email templates for each stage of the buyer journey. The templates might be customized based on role or industry and might be specific to products or services. These email templates (which reps can further customize) help ensure that your sales team is telling the same story day in and day out.

Additional tools include content that helps support and educate your prospects as they move through their buyer journey. Content can include video, e-books, whitepapers, tip sheets, infographics, slide decks, podcasts and blog posts.

Reps need to know what’s available, how to get quick access to it and when to use what tools so they get delivered in context to their ongoing conversations with prospects.

Your CRM should be able to help clearly map out what should be sent and when. It should allow reps to quickly access this content and track its delivery, usage and performance. The performance of these tools is key. If prospects aren’t reading and clicking on tools, then they’re not working and should be removed or reworked.

Finally, your reps need advocacy tools, too. They need active references, referral sources and online reviews. You need a playbook, processes and systems in place to drive advocacy, so when reps need it, it’s readily available. One trick is to consider using a reference reel, which is a video of clients talking about your business. Sending this proactively can cut in half the requests for traditional references.

5. You Didn’t Have Enough Leads

You should know how many leads you’re currently generating. But do you know if this is enough leads to hit your sales targets? Do you know many companies set their sales goals without any knowledge of the lead flow required to hit those goals? A ton.

HubSpot Video

Instead, use our Revenue Cycle methodology and your current data to calculate your own revenue cycle. You can also consider contacting us  we’d be happy to walk you through this and help you calculate your key metrics. Or click on the video (11 minutes) to see me walk you through it in more detail.

Once you know how many leads you need to drive the new customer revenue in your 2020 goals, it will be crystal clear what marketing and sales tactics are required and what budget you need to drive this level of performance. Again, you’d be surprised how few companies actually build their budgets based on the number of leads required.

6. Your Goals Were Too Aggressive

Setting goals is part art and part science. But if you’re consistently missing your goals, you might be setting them too high.

We’ve always recommended clients build their goals from the ground up based on data, not on aspirations, gut and guesswork. Just because you did $5 million last year and $10 million this year doesn’t mean you’ll do $15 million next year.

How much of that $10 million is booked for 2020? If it’s all of it, you need $5 million in new revenue, but if it’s only half, you actually need $10 million in new revenue. Do you have enough leads, and is your marketing and sales execution strong enough to generate that much revenue?

Go back to the Revenue Cycle methodology and build a revenue projection. Forecast for 2020 based on data from 2019 while also considering any improvements in the marketing and sales performance.

For example, if your current close rate is 50% but you have plans, programs and initiatives to improve that to 65% in 2020, use that new number, but understand you might have to work up to that number over a few months or more.

7.  You Don’t Have The Right Reps

Caliper Corporation reports that 55% of the people making their living in sales don’t have the right skills to be successful, and typically 80% of sales come from 20% of the top-performing reps. There is a good chance if you missed you goals this year you already know that you might not have the right reps.

Many of the sales leaders we work with in our sales execution engagements admit they know they have a few reps who are probably never going to hit their goals, but they still don’t want to do anything about it.

I know letting reps go is uncomfortable and undesirable. However, you should be evaluating rep performance quarterly, and you should build in a system that lets the low-performing reps go regularly.

One advantage of letting underperforming reps go is that their salary can be freed up to help fuel your marketing. This should make your remaining reps much more effective.

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8. Your Company’s Story Isn’t Engaging Enough

HubSpot research shows that after a presentation 63% of attendees remember stories. Only 5% remember statistics. This shows how important your company stories are for getting your prospects to remember your company.

Do you know your company’s story? Do all of your reps tell it in the same way? Is it disruptive, compelling and emotional? If not, then you need a better story, and your reps need to be able to tell it in a way that your prospects are moved.

Our story? We’re a revenue growth agency that helps our clients get more clients and close more new business. We can do six months of work in just 30 days and accelerate your revenue generation so that you hit your goals in a scalable, repeatable and predictable way.

Can you articulate a similarly remarkable, clear and engaging story for your company?

9. You’re Using Old Technology Or No Technology

You need a CRM. It’s no longer optional. We don’t see too many companies without any CRM for their sales teams, but we do see some using old, outdated and homegrown or custom CRMs that no longer meet many of the requirements and best practices for a CRM system today.

Your company needs a web-based CRM system that every rep uses for every interaction with every prospect. Your customer information and customer service rep interactions should be in the system, too. Finally, your marketing automation system must be integrated with your CRM, so your prospects flow smoothly from lead to customer to advocate with ease.

This is why HubSpot offers a Marketing Hub, Sales Hub and Service Hub in its technology platform. If you want to optimize revenue generation, this is how you need to start thinking about your use of technology to support revenue growth initiatives. If you’d like to talk about the full suite of HubSpot products, let us know. We’d be happy to walk you through them and show how they work together to speed up your revenue cycle. 

10. You Ignored Current Customers

I don’t mean you literally ignored them, but I do mean you ignored them as a source of new revenue. Just ask yourself: How many of your customers buy everything you do?

When we work with clients, one of the best places to look for incremental revenue is in their current customer base. This means building active marketing campaigns to your current customers. Keep that marketing educational and leverage case studies, testimonials and success stories.

People are motivated if they think they’re missing out, so take advantage of that fear of missing out (FOMO). If other customers are getting something they’re not, they just might want it too.

11. You Allowed The Competition To Catch Up Or Pass You

It’s going to be very difficult to meet or exceed your revenue goals if your competition is offering something or saying something that makes them look much better than you. Whether it’s true or not, we’re talking about marketing here. It’s about perception, not reality.

Your company needs to have something that no one else can say they have. We call this making your business remarkable. If your business doesn’t have anything remarkable to say, don’t say anything at all. We’ve written and published many books, articles and online content about being remarkable. Here’s just one of the blogs we’ve published on this topic.

Hitting your sales goals won’t be easy, but if you work on these 11 upgrades, you’ll have a much better chance to exceed your goals month in and month out in 2020.

Square 2 — Building The Agency You’ll LOVE!


Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist

Mike is the CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist at Square 2. He is passionate about helping people turn their ordinary businesses into businesses people talk about. For more than 25 years, Mike has been working hand-in-hand with CEOs and marketing and sales executives to help them create strategic revenue growth plans, compelling marketing strategies and remarkable sales processes that shorten the sales cycle and increase close rates.