new sales rep failure

Top 5 Reasons for New Sales Rep Failure

In last week’s post, I wrote about the expected failure rate of new sales reps at the expansion stage: 25%. This week, my focus is on WHY


Based on my observations, here are the top 5 most common reasons why 1 out of 4 reps are getting a big “F”:

Inadequate training and on-boarding program

This one is pretty obvious. If your new reps starts and your training program is the “baptism by fire” approach, the likelihood of failure OF COURSE will be greater. Obviously you hired the new rep for a reason — he or she impressed you during the interview process, and clearly articulated the successes that he or she has had in previous sales roles. I’ve written about this before, but DON’T assume that YOUR designed sales process, and YOUR organization’s methodology will come naturally to the rep. Your training needs to cover these details — thoroughly. Here are items that should be documented in a sales playbook and covered in your on-boarding program.

Pursuing Unqualified Prospects (and Segments)

Reps who focus their energies on accounts that have an incredibly low likelihood of closing are wasting their time — and your money. First thing’s first, to avoid this, your target market and buyer personas within that space should be thoroughly researched/validated and clearly defined (and, yes, and covered in training). There should be no question as to whether a particular company and particular profile are the best targets for the new sales rep to be engaging with. Secondly, your qualifying criteria needs to be crystal clear. Now, just because a prospect doesn’t meet ALL of the qualifying criteria doesn’t mean the opportunity is rubbish. Let marketing or the lead qualification team do the majority of the nurturing against those accounts. That way the rep can focus his/her attention on closable deals, or at least hunting for the next best deal. Once the prospect becomes more qualified then of course the rep should focus his/her energies on that account.

ONLY going after the big “elephant” accounts

There is nothing wrong with setting your eyes on the prize and wanting to win the big accounts and make the big money. However, there needs to be a balance. After all, big deals don’t come easy (or quickly). In a recent Forbes article titled, “The Danger of Elephant Hunts: Managing Expectations in Startup Sales,” VC Brad Svrluga writes “Let a big deal become your whole world as a startup and you put your whole company at risk. If you don’t understand timelines and expectations appropriately, you will stay over-resourced in pursuit of the “company-making” deal that just isn’t going to move any faster. Yes, you should listen closely and work to find the places you can influence their timing, but usually things just take time to percolate through those organizations. If you’re smart about this, you’ll separate the things you can influence from those you can’t and redeploy your resources to a collection of other, smaller opportunities where you can actually move the ball forward.” 

Lack of Time Management

Don’t just assume that because someone has 5, 10, 15 years of experience in enterprise sales that they REALLY know how to manage their time, especially as a new rep who is ramping up. Time management and clear, set expectations coming from management is an essential component of on-boarding, but unfortunately it often goes overlooked. What does a typical (model) day or week look like for a successful sales rep? What types of activities should be the focus as a sales rep is building his/her pipeline? What are some metrics that a sales rep should be held accountable to outside of a quota? If you let the sales rep run his/her own show, again, chances of failure skyrocket.

Poor Attitude

Reps who come into a role thinking they know best, and who aren’t open to learning/adapting to new processes will likely struggle in your environment. Poor attitude can mean a lot of different things: lack of enthusiasm, lack of adaptability, lack of optimism, not a team player, etc. Make sure that you are really digging in deep during your interview process and reference checks to assess your candidate’s attitude in his/her last role. Bad attitudes can really become a cancer within your sales organization — a cancer that spreads quickly and contaminates others. If you’ve got a bad egg on your hands address the issue, and if no changes occur within the agreed upon time frame –it’s time to part ways.


Devon McDonald is a Partner at OpenView, where she sits on the firm’s investment committee and oversees OpenView’s Growth team, a group of Research, Sales and Marketing Strategists responsible for helping its portfolio companies acquire more customers and scale at an accelerated rate.
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