Stop throwing sales people in at the deep end

Isn’t it about time we stopped throwing our sales people and sales managers in the deep end and expecting them to swim – or sell and lead with no support or training in this case?

Shouldn’t we talk frankly with potential recruits about what sales and sales manager roles really entail and make sure they have the skills, mindset and knowledge to take on these roles and not just take their word that they say they do?

There is enough information about how to recruit, induct, train and coach our sales people and sales managers yet too many businesses still take short cuts. Many managers, CEOs and business leaders are still throwing people into these roles with little preparation, expecting them to succeed and then wondering why they are annoyed and frustrated when these people don’t make it.

What is the cost to our businesses of not having the right foundations?

Well, frankly, the costs are astronomical. Let’s just start with the flow-on effects of a new recruit failing (an estimate amount would be at least five or six times the cost of their employment within six months): financial impact on sales; erosion of team morale; and poor customer experiences.

Of course, these factors then lead to more subtle issues including: poor perception of a company’s brand; and loss of staff and further recruitment difficulties that erode the company’s reputation among staff, potential recruits and buyers. All of this impacts a business’ financial success.

We lose so much when we leave our sales capability, our sales engine, sales talent, and sales results to chance by throwing sales people and sales managers in the deep end. Admittedly, some do make it, but not by design and then the cycle usually repeats itself. Your new recruits learn bad habits and when they become managers they endorse “sink or swim” all over again with the new recruits.

I beg that you please consider the consequences of expediency and opportunism. Weigh up the need for immediate results at the expense of a solid sales foundation. Consider relevant recruitment practices, proper training and coaching, clear goals and internal support.

The damage to people, let alone your sales results and reputation, is devastating. We meet sales staff thrown in the deep end and struggling to make it, often breaking under the pressure. Instead of transparent, adult discussions about sales performance based on clear criteria, we see, all too often, avoidance, bullying behaviour or both by managers dealing with poor sales or sales management performance issues.

A number of these sales people and sales managers suffer depression or sustained anxiety and wonder why they are a ‘failure’, further eroding their ability to recover and perform. Others cope by going into denial, blaming their lack of success on the company and everyone in it, often with little or no self-awareness about their situation. They are defensive and frightened and so they lash out at others making their plight even worse. It sets up a vicious circle. With relentless pressure from above to succeed, it’s a wonder anyone has made it in sales and survived to tell the tale.

Of course, ideally, those going into a sales or sales management role would know what it entails and how they are matched in terms of capability from the outset. What a wonderful world it would be if these recruits knew what steps to take to master their role; if they coaching and training support to become effective. Clear expectations, measures and consequences to gauge and track the recruit’s performance would be even better.

If you think I am looking through rose-coloured glasses, you’re wrong. It can and does happen in many organisations.

At Barrett, we’ve worked with many businesses that have turned their sales culture and sales performance around for the better. All it takes is a clear vision and the courage of business leaders and managers to act.

A couple of very relevant quotes spring to mind. Charles Dubois said: “The important thing is this: To be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.”

Or how about Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Another quote (paraphrasing Albert Einstein) that springs to mind: “Stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

Last week a client of nearly two years admitted to cursing me for a year. They admitted cursing me throughout their transformation project and cursing me for the all the changes introduced to create the sales foundations. They cursed me because they had to undergo the pain of introducing sales disciplines to an otherwise ‘free-for-all’ approach.

We all know that change rarely goes smoothly. When we’re in the fog, we find it hard to see the light at the end. This is because we are replacing the familiar – often messy and unstructured – with something more stable and replicable.


Help your sales people understand this.

This business has undergone significant changes in the past 12 months and, despite the cursing, they agree it has been worthwhile. Admittedly it has looked a little like the picture above (or at least felt like that), but they know the pain has been worth it. While it will always be a work in progress, there is a light at the end — and it is not a train coming the other way.

So if you want better sales people, better sales managers and better sales results, you know what to do:

  • improve your definition of what good sales and sales management performance looks like;
  • commit to better recruitment practices which allow us to select a better standard of sales person and sales manager;
  • resolve to provide clearer performance expectations, standards and measures;
  • give better coaching in the field and performance management.

Not only will you have better sales managers and results, you’ll have happier sales people, staff and customers.

So, what are you waiting for?

Remember everybody lives by selling something.


Sue Barrett practices as a coach, advisor, speaker, facilitator, consultant and writer and works across all market segments with herskilful team at BARRETT. Sue and her team take the guess work out of selling and help people from many different careers become aware of their sales capabilities and enable them to take the steps to becoming effective and productive when it comes to selling, sales coaching or sales leadership.To hone your sales skills or learn how to sell go to


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