I read an article the other day, well it wasn’t an article, it was a bit of banter on LinkedIn, and a question was posed as to why only 20% of salespeople make quota. And seriously, the answers that came back and who they came back from, caused me some concern.

And for a couple of reasons:

1.    Because they were from sales leaders and

2.    Because they were from salespeople.

There is a saying many of us have heard, that a ‘bad workman blames his tools’ and that was what I was seeing in reading some of the answers so I split the answers out into two lists – A and the A+.

Answers as to why only 20% met budget included (word for word):

  • Bad quotas
  • Lack of training and no company investment in people
  • Bad coaching
  • Not enough resources
  • More than 80% of customers don’t need the product
  • Bad hiring
  • Targets are set quarterly
  • Shitty product
  • Bad/lack of marketing and negative brand sentiment
  • Too much admin, installation type work
  • No follow up
  • Not knowing customer’s environment
  • Through no fault of their own
  • Economic downturn
  • No strategy
  • No goals
  • They underestimate the amount of daily activity

And then some more….

  • Don’t believe in self
  • Don’t feel engaged
  • Complacency
  • Lack of execution
  • Minimal effort
  • Don’t believe in product
  • Don’t prospect enough
  • Don’t invest in development
  • Don’t ask the hard questions
  • Don’t push-back to those who waste time
  • Don’t follow a proven sales process
  • Wing their calls
  • They can’t accept success

As someone who works with business owners, sales leaders and salespeople alike, I have heard all of these and even a few more, and herein lies the problem.

There is a difference between reasons why quota is not being met and excuses as to why it is not being met.

It’s a fine line, so I went to Quora for some help in defining what I know is a key missing component to success – knowing the difference between an excuse and a reason, and I found this explanation, with which I agree:

An explanation typically explains the facts of a situation, what caused it, all the factors that lead to it, even if some of these factors are self-deprecating.

An excuse, however, tends to run along the lines of an explanation except that the language is usually defensive and tends to try to protect the speaker from involvement in the incident in question.

If you notice, I segmented the answers to why only 20% of salespeople are achieving quota, into two lists above.

Can you pick the difference between the lists?

Let me help you…

List A are Excuses Yes, most sales leaders and salespeople who answered the question posed, with these answers, and there were nearly 100, all made excuses either as salespeople or for salespeople. In other words, they blamed someone or something. And these are the people who are responsible for generating our revenue and leading our businesses.

So what separates an excuse from a reason?

Pure and simply, accountability.

You see most people say they want to be successful. How many, though, will do what it takes to be successful in their given role? That is, how many people will do what it takes to be successful in selling? The question is a powerful one.

Another powerful question to ask is, ‘if you didn’t have the excuses from the top list, then how would you make sure you reached quota?’ Think on that a minute or two.

You see, each one of the items from the excuses list can be whittled down to being a valid reason, that can then be worked on.

Let’s take a couple and I’ll share with you what I mean, and you might also see if anything resonates with you personally, or with someone you know:

Lack of Training– In an era of unprecedented content with people giving away their once coveted golden IP for free, what are you doing to invest in yourself? When was the last time you read a book about prospecting in today’s sales environment, or are you waiting for the company to do it for you?

Not Enough Resources – Have you got clear on what resources you actually need and the difference they would specifically make for you meeting quota? Sometimes we forget that the thing we need is not more money, more tools, more shortcuts – that it could be a matter of tapping into our resourcefulness and finding a bit more energy and effort in doing something new and perhaps putting a business case together instead of whinging.

Bad Coaching – Do you know what good coaching looks like, sounds like and feels like? If so, are you also clear on the specific outcomes you would want and need from a coach? Great! Now start coaching yourself or set out those expectations with your manager. Step up.

More Than 80% of Customers Don’t Need the Product – My first thought was why are you in business then? Who, if not you, is responsible for qualifying a buyer and what is the depth of question you are asking or not asking, and the real reason you are asking those questions, or not asking? Who is creating the value proposition?

Bad Hiring – So let’s say it’s valid and your hiring person made a mistake – what conversations aren’t you having with that person to remove the pain for them and yourself? Who is responsible for hiring processes and what might THEY need to do differently?

Targets Are Set Quarterly – OK, so break them down to monthly, weekly, daily or hourly if that turns you on. You are the captain of your own ship, the CEO of your own mini organization so think like one and break the odd process rule if it is to serve you and the business.

Shitty Product – The first sale is always to yourself (I think I wrote a book on that), so leave the company or go and find a product you believe in where you can stop wallowing in this story. Chances are the story will follow you!

Bad Marketing – Then Marketing need your input. You (Sales) can provide Marketing with so much in the way of stories, case studies and feedback and if everyone is clear on what the ultimate outcome is (to serve the customer), then these are conversations worth having – how are you initiating them? What channels of communication are you opening to make change happen?

Too Much Admin – What responsibility is being taken to delegate, say ‘no’ or ask for help? When command and control doesn’t work, what does? Personal leadership?

No Follow Up – What processes are in place, what is the company ethos on caring for the customer and what can you do yourself to set an example? Stand for something!

Economic Downturn – With this being a fact, is the same being said by your competitor who is still selling and one of those 20% making budget?

They Underestimate the Amount of Daily Activity Needed – We have 8 hours in a work day. By getting up 2 hours earlier what have you increased your productivity by? What will that do to your revenue opportunities and stress levels? Think about it and then act.

Usually for each excuse anyone gives, there is a valid reason sitting in the wings and that reason comes back to the person’s level of responsibility, commitment and personal leadership.

List A+ Are Reasons – the real reasons, and only by owning that fact, in all aspects, will you really smash it out of the park and become the 20%er that you know you have the potential to be.

Systems and processes, analytics, technology and automation are all key components of sales success, but behind all of those tools someone needs to drive them. If your levels of discipline are not enough, and you are big enough to admit it, get someone else to help you, because until you do, you will continue to make excuses for your lack of success. You will stay on the A List and you know you are better than that.

B an A+er and also …

Be Bold, Brave and Brilliant

Meet The 'A Listers'​ Who Are Ruining Their Selling Careers

Bernadette McClelland is CEO of 3 Red Folders – a modern day saleswoman and keynote speaker on business growth, personal leadership and sales performance.

BIO: Business environments wanting to increase their revenue and profits, and differentiate themselves in a competitive market, ask for Bernadette McClelland because of her thought leadership on sales performance, her ideas on thinking beyond resilience and her fresh perspectives surrounding personal leadership skills — all designed to master the outcomes that matter.

Bernadette has proudly coached Harvard MBA students on their sales enablement curriculum, been the Master Asia Pacific coach for Anthony Robbins across twelve countries, authored five books on leadership and sales transformation, won a coveted Telstra award for Business Excellence, and continually shares her ideas around behaviour, the brain and business growth on stages in the UK, Europe, Thailand, India, NZ, Australia and North America.

Believing that sales performance is a leadership issue, you will also find her heading Melbourne’s human potential based sales performance consultancy, 3 Red Folders, as she navigates lead generation, message to market and digs deep into sales process activities with her clients in the mid-tier sector as well as founding ‘Women Who Sell’, an initiative designed to bring more women up to speed in their sales success.

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