Targeting Sales Opportunities – The Hidden Truth


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We frequently discuss reasons why salespeople fail, the differences between successful and unsuccessful salespeople, and scenarios where salespeople make good versus bad choices. Those aren’t the only topics which separate good selling from bad. Salespeople make other decisions which impact the likelihood for success and today’s article takes a look at one of those.

Targeting is a fairly simple practice, but when sales management doesn’t perform this activity for their salespeople (as in, “Mary, call on these 27 accounts.”) and salespeople do it themselves, it leaves plenty of room for trouble.

Take the case of the salesperson who targets hospitals, oil companies, banks and insurance agencies. You might say, “Good for her.”; until you learn that these markets are the most difficult verticals to which one could sell and the company would rather have her call on technology, distribution, manufacturing and professional services.

How about the salesperson who chooses to call on VP’s? You might say, “Good for him.”; until you learn that VP’s are very resistant to the offering and that most business is conducted in the C-Suite.

There is also the case of the salesperson who calls on the right people in the right industries (so far so good), but all of the opportunities are the wrong size. They’re either larger than the company’s sweet spot or they are too small (easy enough to close, but not large enough for the company to profit or the salesperson to earn sizable commissions.)

Why do salespeople make these ill-advised choices? Here are four possible reasons:

  1. They don’t know any better and are reinventing the wheel, perhaps calling people and companies on whom they called in other roles or jobs.
  2. They’re getting neither proper direction, coaching nor feedback from sales management.
  3. They aren’t being held accountable by sales management.
  4. They aren’t comfortable with where sales management wants them to focus, so they focus on that with which they are comfortable, even if the results don’t justify it.

Comfort. It’s responsible for choices. It’s responsible for the skills, strategies, tactics and practices which are applied in selling. It’s responsible for the weaknesses which salespeople successfully overcome as well as those that aren’t. It’s responsible for how much money for which they can ask and get, their need to discount, allowing prospects to comparison shop, whether or not they ask the tough questions and so much more.

The biggest challenge is that comfort is hidden, not communicated, and difficult to observe. However, a sales force evaluation can successfully uncover all of their discomforts and identify opportunities to increase sales.

Everyone has salespeople like this. The question is, can you identify them, refocus them, and help them to become more successful before having to replace them for under achieving?

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Dave: I concur with the comfort zone issue. And I’ll agree that often management doesn’t offer salespeople sufficient guidance. “Here’s your patch. Go make your number!” But you assume that a salesperson who blazes opportunity trails does so to evade doing something he or she finds unpleasant.

    Just as often, I’ve found, a salesperson might sense opportunities that sales management didn’t recognize. When I covered a geographic territory for a manufacturer of bar coding hardware, I could have called on traditional manufacturing and distribution accounts–the supposed bread and butter opportunities for my company. Except for one problem: there were few such accounts in my territory. I had to get inventive, and discovered that healthcare and biotech offered lucrative opportunities, and I began to cultivate those.

    While my company saw revenue in labeling and scanning boxes, I saw gold in doing the same for test tubes, vials, and petri dishes.

    Looking outside the box for revenue opportunities is something salespeople should be encouraged to try. A sharp manager will equip them to go about it intelligently.

  2. Hi Andrew,

    You provided a perfect example of what great salespeople do to grow the business. While my example demonstrated what stubborn, misguided salespeople might do and why, your example shows what a determined, hungry, creative salesperson will do if sales management doesn’t resort to micro management. It’s funny that most salespeople choose polar opposites – they either micro manage salespeople out of the company or ignore their salespeople until they leave!


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