Why Salespeople Fail

Posted by Doug Davidoff

Aug 4, 2008 1:50:22 PM

I remember the childhood joke that the only thing worse than finding a worm in your apple is finding half a worm. I thought of this joke when working with a prospect recently and we agreed that the only thing worse than not having a sales force is having one that is not effective.

I do not believe that most businesses can grow effectively without building a high-performing sales team. Therefore, the only option today is to build one that is high performing. An average, or even above average, sales team will not be able to overcome the challenges of commoditization, and will actually contribute to the underlying causes of commoditization.

And the fact is that sales teams today are less effective than ever!


Well, we’ve been studying this issue for the last 18 months, and I have to admit that I was perplexed in determining the underlying cause(s). I can report to you now, that while we may have not yet completely solved the riddle, we’ve identified the key cause for the struggle. Simply put, salespeople (as a whole, and in great numbers) lack business acumen.

At Imagine Business Development, we define business acumen as:

The ability to intuitively grasp the performance drivers for someone else's business – and then clearly explain how your product or service will drive THEIR results. It's an "ROI on the fly" conversation that's an equal mixture of business understanding, asking the right questions and pouncing on opportunity when it presents itself.

Sales professionals that possess business acumen will have the greater advantage positioning their offerings for greater success (measured by faster sales cycle and pipeline cycle times and greater margins) than their competitors while operating in the same external landscape as their competitors.

Salespeople who fail to develop business acumen will be forced to battle in tighter commoditized spaces, looking to eek out decreasing margins against higher expenses – not the future I’d like to live in.

This means that salespeople must – I repeat, must – become more adept at understanding business – and the key drivers of business success. In a previous post, I highlighted the insight that it is no longer enough to be the best at something, you must know your customer’s business model and your customer’s customer’s business model to succeed. You cannot do this if you do not have adequate business acumen. And if you can’t understand the business model, you can’t understand the results your offering is supposed to provide.

Stay tuned to this blog for more about business acumen for salespeople and what we at Imagine are going to be doing to support your efforts in developing or increasing it. Your feedback and insights are welcome.

Topics: B2B Sales Strategy, Sales Training/Coaching