Why (at least) 50% of your salespeople are underperforming

50 percent of your workforce is underperforming

Although most organisations depend on selling to survive, a huge amount of business is missed when salespeople fail to close that vital deal.

So why do so many companies employ salespeople who appear unable to sell? We know that they CAN sell…after all they managed to sell themselves at the interview! But what goes wrong once the ink is dry on the employment contract?

While the old adage says that a good salesperson can sell anything, nothing could be further from the truth. Even past sales success is no guarantee of a future till-ringer, because trying to extrapolate success from one area into another is a high-risk strategy.

Imagine the different requirements for someone selling high-volume commodity products as opposed to someone selling long-term consultancy projects…’s not surprising that so many salespeople disappoint their employers.

50% of sales people are selling the wrong product!

Rather more surprising is research (across multiple industries and every size of company) which indicates that a massive 50% of sales people are selling the wrong product!

Even more worryingly, the research revealed that:

  • 25% of salespeople don’t have the skill and abilities that are absolute prerequisites for a successful salesperson (i.e. they can’t sell!), and
  • 80% of sales are produced by 20% of salespeople.

So how do you avoid employing highly paid, but totally ineffective, salespeople?

Should you steal your competitor’s best salesperson?

‘Aha’ you might say, ‘if I steal my competitor’s best salesperson, I’ve eliminated both the possibility that they can’t sell at all AND the fact that they can’t sell my product.’

But you could be wrong. Sales success in one place can’t automatically be translated elsewhere because a large part of a top salesperson’s success is linked to company culture. Success in your business will depend on redefining the role, training them well and getting them to think about selling differently for your company.

In short, although prior sales success is often the sole criterion that recruiting managers look for, you can’t, necessarily, import previous success without key changes – either to the individual OR your organisation.

Don’t let your search start and end with your candidate’s immediate past.

Of course, a previous track record is not a bad thing to look at – unless it’s the only thing you’re looking at. The following process will help:

  • Don’t let your search start and end with your candidate’s immediate past.
  • Study your own company and customers and think about what you want sales excellence to look like.
  • Look at people in your company who are already successful in sales and still growing, achieving ever-higher quotas and building on their successes. They will provide you with the standards you need to hire future top salespeople.
  • From those people, you can create the benchmark against which your future recruits can be measured.
  • Use the benchmark that you create, and the candidate’s results against that benchmark, as a key part of your recruitment process. This will ensure that, when a candidate matches your existing stars, you have a much better chance of getting more of the same good results.

That same benchmark can be just as effective with poorer performers already in the business. It will help you identify the gaps between average or poor performers and the stars. If the gaps are small, you can coach those employees to perform better. If the gaps are large, you can consider redeploying them to a role that better suits their skills.

Extensive research by Hunter & Schmidt in the Harvard business review quantified the productivity difference between an ‘average’ performer and a ‘superior’ performer as 32%. In essence, if you recruit a superior performer, you will get 32% more from them than an average performer. Better still, if you can coach your existing average performers to be superior, their performance should improve by at least 32% (it can be even more for senior sales people). Even if you find yourself with no superior performers at all, the productivity difference between a ‘poor’ performer and an average performer is also at least 32%.

Take the Great People Inside performance check:

  • Look at your current salesforce.
  • Evaluate how many Superior, Average and Poor performers you have.
  • Imagine being able to move even some of them to the next level and you will be able to quantify the size of the prize.

If you like what you see, contact Great People Inside and we will help you get where you want to be.

Great People Inside is the world’s leading provider of customised recruitment assessments. We offer proven, successful assessments to help get your sales recruitment right.

If you want to know more about how our psychometric assessments can help your company measure every potential sales recruit’s suitability before they join your team, then email us at or call 01494 573 572.

Ready to make better hiring decisions with easy to understand psychometric tests?

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