Missed Sales Targets? Sales May Not be to Blame

When a business fails to meet its sales target, blame usually gets pointed squarely at members of the sales team for not doing their jobs properly. Bad salespeople! Sound familiar?

Don’t be so quick to jump to conclusions.

To be clear: there’s no question that sellers not hitting their targets is a real problem today. One recent study found that 45.4 percent of salespeople miss their quota and only 54 percent of those same professionals achieve enough revenue to even meet quota. 

We’re united in wanting to fix this problem. Salespeople must hit their targets consistently. Period. It’s a mistake, however, to assume that the reason this isn’t happening rests automatically with the sales team.

What you need to do is think less like a judge and more like a diagnostician. See failing sales as a symptom of a problem. Spend more time asking why it happened rather than on deciding who is to blame.

I do this my own work with clients. I’m brought in to fix what’s frequently described to me as a broken sales team. And more often than not, what I end up fixing—and getting the results to prove it—are operational and process-driven problems within a company.

Let’s look as a few examples where the reasons run deep why sales targets keep getting missed.

You can’t sell what you can’t ship—With one parts manufacturer client, sales were closing at a rate that was consistent with revenue, but production scheduling of their product was a mess. As a result, they were manufacturing parts that were to be shipped the next month, not the current month. That meant a whopping $1 million in orders didn’t go out the door when it needed to and there was nothing the company could do to make up for that loss.

Beware technology snafus—A high-tech client was so eager to ship a product such that it didn’t test their current software against an upcoming version of the platform’s operating system. Everything crashed. As it took months to fix this mistake, customers defected.

You can’t sell what you can’t produce—Are you producing your product in consistently reliable quantities? If not, you might be making the same mistake that one mining company made. They previously had chosen to shrink production yields on one product. As it reduced its availability in the marketplace, they regularly sold out but well short of the numbers needed to hit their revenue goals.

Deadlines and following-up both matter— How quickly does your organization follow-up with customers when pricing new projects? One engineering consulting firm discovered that sales were suffering simply because their teams were taking more than two weeks to issue quotes on projects. By the time they did send their quotes, many customers had already moved on. Similarly, a hardware company fell behind on its production schedule and began missing important deadlines for shipping. Again, customers moved on.

Factor-in all holidays—One shipping department wanted to get to the bottom of their sales target woes. It was discovered that when the company’s expediter went on holidays, no one took over. So shipments would just sit of the shop floor past the end of the month. You can’t bill for you cannot ship.

Beware toxic internal politics—This last one is a doozy. With one client, I found myself in the middle of a pitched battle between two divisions of a company. The GM of the first division asked for pricing from the second division. This was part of a very large order. The GM of the second division refused, because he insisted on owning the customer involved in that sale. The bid went in without the participation of the holdout division: resulting in a potential loss of 2.8 million units sold.

Take time to do your investigative work as a sales diagnostician. Don’t be so quick to accept the simplest answer when trying to get to the bottom of a downward trend in hitting sales targets. Sure it might be that sales is simply not closing enough deals. But, sales might not be the one, or the only issue A little bit of digging can go a long way to solving the problem much more thoroughly: that can be to the advantage of an entire business, let alone just the sales team.