What Would You Do? Sales Force Attempts to Maintain Status Quo


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Understanding the Sales Force by Dave Kurlan

wrong stuffWarning – this story is disturbing and contains actual quotes from its participants.

The president of a small company, suffering from years of declining sales, asked us to evaluate his small sales force (3 salespeople and sales manager). He hoped that our data would prove, both to him and his small sales force, that they could grow their revenue to the level of their peak years.

30 days later, when we met to review the findings from the sales force evaluation and answer his questions about potential performance improvements, there was some good news, but most of it was bad.

The good news was that with time (30 months), higher expectations, along with some training and much better coaching, his goals were achievable. The bad news was that his salespeople were seriously among the worst we have ever evaluated and his sales manager, not much better than his salespeople, seemed disconnected and disinterested from anything other than managing his existing personal accounts. Did I mention they were the worst we have ever seen?

We also produce individual sales and sales management evaluations for sales team members so that they can better understand their selling strengths and skills, and begin to overcome their selling challenges. We always ask them to provide some feedback, some of which makes its way back to us.

Objective Management Group (OMG) has evaluated more than 650,000 salespeople from more than 10,000 companies. It isn’t unusual or unexpected for a salesperson to disagree with a finding or two. After all, if they were aware of their skill gaps and challenges, they might have attempted to work on them by now. But in this particular company, everyone on the sales team believed that their sales and sales management evaluations were wrong. According to this exceptional group of salespeople, all underachieving to the tune of more than 100%, OMG doesn’t understand selling…but they do.

Here are just a few of their comments:

From the sales manager:

First of all, management growth potential of 71%?…this is insulting and demeaning. I seem to have performed pretty well everywhere I have been employed for 44 years while providing pretty well for my family at the time. This is unbelievably pathetic.” [Note – 71% growth potential means he can improve that much and he is deflecting his and the team’s pathetic results on our findings. He also said the following:]

I don’t take responsibility? I do not handle joint calls effectively? How does he know? To my knowledge he has never been on a sales call with me or interviewed me. I do not have a selling system? Ever hear me talk about SIHBC which was taught to me by P&G over 40 years ago…” [Note – this sales manager is still operating as if it was 1973 and that’s what his salespeople were taught to do.]

From his salespeople:

“It’s all crap” [Note – The strengths and skills that we identified must be crap too]

“You do not understand our industry. I am the entire sales department, service department and customer service department for our company.” [Note – he is a bit overimpressed with himself.]

“My sales numbers could improve but my history has proven my abilities.” [Note – another one stuck in the past.]

“Too much talking – really? Isn’t this what we are supposed to do?” [Note – like I said, stuck in the 70’s.]

“The report said I do not have a “consultative sales approach”. That is what we do every day. We try to sell value and problem solve. We do not sell “price” but we sell better results and we do save them money even if our [their products] cost more.” [Note – this salesperson believed that telling people what they should do and why they should do it equates to a consultative approach.]


This isn’t normal or expected, so why did it happen at this company and what does the future hold for them?

This is what can happen when salespeople have zero concept of selling; when knowledgeable, technical people are moved into selling roles without being trained to sell; when the sales manager is more interested in selling than managing; when the president doesn’t hold the sales manager accountable; and when there isn’t a sales culture.

If the president of this company gets serious, replaces the sales manager with a motivated, committed and talented sales manager, and hires strong salespeople to work for the new manager, this company can thrive. On the other hand, if he sits back and hopes for the same dysfunctional team to suddenly change their behaviors and performance, he will be extremely disappointed.

Was OMG wrong? Yes! We predicted that this group could be developed, trained and coached, but the sales manager-led rebellion against change from the status quo undid all of that. Were we wrong about how bad this sales team was? Not a chance. They were statistically at the bottom of all sales teams.

What would you do if you were the victim of a sales manager-led rebellion against change?

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Dave: I’m not disturbed by this exchange, but one thing that’s abundantly clear is that there’s more than enough defensiveness to go around – from you and your client. If I encountered this level of vitriol from a client (I note that you said ‘this isn’t normal or expected’), I would first look to see how I presented the findings, and whether that might have contributed to the obvious pushback.

    One concern that jumps out immediately to me when I read ‘salespeople have zero concept of selling’ is whether this sentiment came across just as strongly in the findings you submitted to your client. If so, right or wrong, I’m not surprised that they took umbrage.

    You’ve presented an interesting case. I sense from your description that the performance issues they are facing have been ongoing for a long time. Frankly, I don’t read this as a company that’s stubbornly clinging to the status quo, but rather a company that’s struggling to find the right answers, and probably one that’s not well prepared to hear them. If that’s the case, I believe the problems they are experiencing are probably farther upstream from the president of the company holding his sales manager accountable. The dysfunction is probably rooted in how the company thinks about revenue, how it’s organized to capture it, and grow the top line of their income statement.


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