If a sales rep is underperforming, don’t make the assumption it is because of a lack of commitment or effort. It might just be that he or she never learned some fundamental sales skills that we, as professionals, take for granted.

In my experience, sales managers make assumptions regarding sales skills that have been developed over many years of “hard-knocks” selling. The skills become second nature to us, and we therefore assume all sales professionals have the same skill level. Perhaps to you and me these skills are common sense, so we would never bring them up to a younger rep who might be struggling to make quota. And since these skills are foundational to us, we assume all reps are on the same page, so as sales managers we rarely coach fundamentals.

Traditional sales training typically focuses on product-related sales strategies. You learn about your products’ features, functions and benefits; cost justification; the competitive landscape, etc. You might role-play a sales call as well as present a PowerPoint slide deck. While this training is certainly important, if you lack sales fundamentals, your chances of long-term success are highly unlikely.

There is no substitute for experience. All the product knowledge, competitive data and fancy PowerPoint presentations will not win the business if your competitor is a seasoned professional who possesses the fundamental sales skills that you have never developed.

So, as a sales manager, how do you determine if your reps have the fundamental sales skills? The only way, in my opinion, is to make sales calls with them. But most importantly, don’t take over the call. Interject when necessary to keep the call on track, and help guide the discussion if necessary, but don’t completely take control. Then, after the call, spend a fair amount of time debriefing on the call and providing constructive criticism.

Some of the areas that junior reps may need help with are:

  • Identifying the accounts that are most likely to purchase and offer the highest potential revenue
  • Understanding the political landscape as it relates to the organizational chart and the resulting buying process
  • Coordinating the sales campaign at all levels of the organization
  • Determining when and if to use entertainment as a tool to build relationships
  • The use of various other resources to enhance credibility and build trust
  • How to determine if the prospect has no interest in buying from you and is simply using you to get a better price from your competitor
  • How to gain access to C-level executives
  • Understanding how to financially position your proposal so it meets the CFO’s needs
  • Learning when to walk away from a deal that is consuming too much of your valuable selling time

I would venture to say that most, if not all, of these bullet points are not discussed in the corporate sales training that a sales rep would undergo when starting with a new company. It is therefore up the sales manager to provide guidance in these areas.

Unfortunately, if the sales manager does not have the time or, in some cases, the field experience, to provide sales coaching, then the rep is left on his or her own to figure it out.

To this point, often sales managers spend most of their time managing numbers, territories, reports, meetings and hopefully making high-level closing sales calls. Little time remains for sales coaching.

If you have a dedicated, hard-working sales rep who possesses good people skills, intelligence and common sense, but lacks some fundamental sales skills, what should you do?

Understanding that it is both time-consuming and costly to hire and on-board new sales reps, I would argue that it makes good business sense to work with the current reps, as opposed to throwing them under the bus. And if the sales manager is not available to work with them, then find them a qualified sales coach — one that will provide one-on-one mentoring.

The payoff might surprise you!


Proverbs 28:26

If you think you know it all, you’re a fool for sure;
real survivors learn wisdom from others.