Cause or Effect: Assessing Poor Sales Performance

Your close rate has dropped. The sales cycle is taking too long. The number of opportunities in your pipeline is shrinking. You are losing more opportunities to the competition. Turnover is increasing, and your new hires aren’t succeeding.

You’re missing your numbers and there’s almost no hope you’ll catch up.

If you’ve ever experienced a sales performance problem like this, you probably know the most common approach. All hands on deck! Identify the problem as quickly as possible and throw all available resources at it.

Close rate is dropping? Have managers ride along on sales calls. The pipeline is shrinking? Hire a lead service and get more meetings on the calendar. New hires aren’t succeeding? Change your hiring profile and hire more people to better your odds. Missing targets? Add new incentives for the sales team and offers for prospects.

None of these approaches are necessarily bad ideas, and sometimes they are the best solution. But in our haste to fix things, it’s easy to mistake symptoms for the real problem.

Maybe your close rate is dropping because you’re tracking less qualified opportunities. It could be that your salespeople aren’t capable of closing – because they’re not a good fit for your market, they don’t know how to handle prospects’ objections, or they need sales training. Your offering could be stale or poorly positioned for current market conditions. A strong competitor may have moved into the space.

Are you looking at the cause or the effect?

We’re not recommending that you lose your sense of urgency. If you’re falling short of your goals, response time is critical.

The wrong response, though, is worse than a delayed response. You don’t want to invest time and money tackling one area when the real issue is elsewhere.

Use this simple 6-step process for assessing your sales problem.

1. Dive deep.

Pull together all the information you have about the problem. Go as deep as possible with your internal information – look at people, products, process, and culture.

2. Go wide.

Look outside your immediate area. What can you learn from other departments? What’s going on in the industry and with your competitors? What is happening outside your control?

3. Look back.

Take the time to analyze when and why the problem started appearing. Look at your financial reports, but also look at your leading indicators – what changed? Each time you think you’ve found the problem, ask yourself why it happened. Aim to get 5 “whys” back. Channel your inner 4-year-old.

4. Go outside.

It can often be useful to get a fresh perspective. Seek outside counsel as you begin to narrow down your problem. Get validation that they see the problem too. You’ll also want to check back with these same people as you begin to develop your solution – they might see weaknesses or roadblocks you’d miss!

5. Start simple.

Once you’ve honed in on a problem, brainstorm potential solutions. Whenever possible, implement the simplest solutions first before moving on to the more complex ones.

6. Check back.

As you get to work on implementing your solution, check in often to make sure you’re seeing results. You should see pretty quick results in your earliest leading indicators. If results are too slow or insufficient, consider implementing another solution.

There you have it – a simple 6-step process for assessing the cause of your sales problems and implementing solutions. Remember, taking a little extra time to make sure you find the root cause will pay dividends as you move forward with your solution.

We’ve developed a resource to help you troubleshoot your sales problems and find solutions. Download it for free today and let us know what you think in the comments!


By | 2016-10-17T16:33:54+00:00 November 4th, 2014|Sales Leaders|2 Comments

About the Author:

Elizabeth is CFS’s Operations Officer and Senior Advisor and is the Product Manager for the Criteria for Success Sales PlayBook. She writes about sales leadership, management, teamwork, motivation, and process based on her work with CFS’s clients. Elizabeth also hosts the CFS roundtable discussion episodes of the Let’s Talk Sales podcast.


  1. Delphia July 23, 2015 at 9:06 pm - Reply

    I like what you guys tend to be up too. Such clever work
    and coverage! Keep up the awesome works guys.

    • Rebecca Smith July 24, 2015 at 10:31 am - Reply

      Thanks so much, Delphia! Have a great day!

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