Challenges, problems, and triumphs
-- from a manufacturer's perspective.
Five Common Afflictions of Sales Teams
The result: Bad
morale and lower sales.
by John R. Treace (March.21, 2011)
(Note: John R. Treace has 30+ years
experience as a sales executive in the medical products industry. He
spent 10+ years specializing in the restructuring of sales
departments of companies that were either bankrupt or failing.
Investor groups and venture capital firms hired him to manage
turnarounds of pre-IPO companies. In 2010 he founded JR Treace &
Associates, a sales management consulting business. Treace is the
author of the new book, Nuts & Bolts of Sales Management: How to
Build a High-Velocity Sales Organization.)
I've been a part of many sales teams in my career, and over and over
I've noticed five common afflictions that affect them, each of which
reduces morale and sales performance. They can be found to some
degree in most almost every organization. Smart management teams are
aware of these afflictions and work to avoid their potentially
destructive impact. Any one occurrence of these problems will not
necessarily hurt the sales effort, but if allowed to progress to
extremes, or if multiple conditions exist at once, they can be
Affliction 1: Wasting sales representatives' time
A prime afflictions of sales teams is forcing them to spend time on
non-sales tasks -- for example, making accounts receivable
collections, managing product recalls, or filling out reports that
do not directly relate to the sales process. Non-sales management
often requests that reps perform these tasks, but great care should
be taken before delegating them to valuable salespeople. If you, for
instance, divert five percent of a sales team's time to managing
customer collections, you effectively reduce the number of feet on
the ground by the same amount -- and the reverse is true as well.
Sometimes it's necessary to assign non-sales tasks to salespeople,
but before this is done it's worthwhile to audit a company's sales
process to determine whether they could be assigned elsewhere.
Finding as many ways as possible to remove unnecessary tasks from
the sales team's shoulders will result in sales increases that will
more than pay for the adjustments in duties.
Affliction 2: Poor sales meetings
The objective of any sales meeting should be to increase sales --
period. Every high-performing salesperson who attends a meeting will
be thinking, "Is this meeting making me money, or is my time being
wasted?" Powerful salespeople are self-motivated, and they
intuitively know if their time is being wasted. If it is, management
is hurting sales and morale. Wasteful or unnecessary meetings also
send a clear message that management doesnít know what needs to be
accomplished to increase sales -- and no good salesperson will have
confidence in that type of leadership. The simple way to ensure
effective sales meetings is to develop a statement of strategic
intent that includes clear success metrics. This statement will
define in specific terms what needs to be accomplished and the
metrics needed to determine whether the goals set in the meeting
were accomplished. It takes a deep understanding of the business,
the market, and the competition to write an effective statement of
strategic intent, and managers who canít write them need a better
understanding of the business. The bottom line is that powerful
sales meetings produce sales and keep morale high.
Affliction 3: Poor strategy
Ineffective marketing or sales strategies will always negatively
impact the sales team, and this is especially true for teams selling
commodity products or services. A player with small market share who
enters a commodity market without a well-defined and
well-implemented strategy can be assured of certain death. These
types of companies usually say, "Itís a huge market, and we can grab
some of it," but it's not that simple. The sales team will recognize
ineffective strategy and will lose faith in the managers who
developed it. If the players on a sports team lose faith in the
coaching, the path to winning will be difficult, if not impossible;
the same is true with sales teams. Don't let lackluster or
nonexistent strategy cause this lack of faith.
To compound the error, companies often try special promotions to
save sagging sales on products that are ill-conceived or supported
by poor strategy. Special promotions can be very effective, but
managers should never call for a pointless charge of the light
brigade. Sending the sales team on a promotion in support of a poor
product or service is a severe tactical error. A successful sales
effort hinges on good strategy, and companies that fail in this
regard severely handicap their sales teams.
Affliction 4: Capping or reducing income
Powerful companies have managers who do not get envious when large
paychecks go to the sales force. Managers who are resentful of this
often respond to rising sales income by reducing commissions,
capping earnings, reducing territories, or removing products. These
are all practices to be avoided, as they destroy morale, which hurts
sales. When it is absolutely necessary to cap or reduce reps'
earnings, it must be done carefully. If it's done carelessly,
management will send the message that future earnings for the sales
team have been limited. Powerful salespeople want to leverage
today's efforts into greater sales and income for tomorrow. If their
commissions are reduced, earnings capped, or territory removed, they
will feel like that ability has been taken away, and the high
performers will quickly look for employment elsewhere.
Affliction 5: Favoritism
We all have favorites in life and that's normal, but playing
favorites with individuals on a sales team is very destructive.
Salespeople want to work for companies that keep the playing field
level for all. If select salespeople are given extra incentives,
special attention, benefits, or favors not afforded others,
management is sending a clear message that there is a privileged
class within the team. This is one of the best ways to lessen team
spirit, as reps will spend their time trying to move into that
special class and not trying to close sales. Managers can't buy the
loyalty of a team by strengthening a small political power base
within a company. Playing favorites within a sales team causes
problems for all team members (even the favored ones), but keeping
the playing field level will pay big dividends.
Wasting time, poor sales meetings, poor strategy, capping income,
and playing favorites are, with few exceptions, situations to be
avoided. They are destructive to morale and they lead to poor
performance. Effective managers will be careful to avoid these
situations, and astute salespeople will bring these practices to the
attention of management for correction.
(Note: For more on John Treace, visit