The 7 Bad Actors on Every Sales Team & How to Manage Them

Pete Caputa
Pete Caputa




Our friends at recently published an infographic titled “The World’s Most Dysfunctional Sales Team." (To see it, click the link or scroll to the bottom of this post.)

In it, they describe seven bad actors that often exist in many mid-market or enterprise-level sales teams. But no matter how big your sales team, you'll probably recognize many of these bad actors, and especially their bad behavior.

Use the tips below to avoid or manage these behaviors off your sales floor.

1) Sales Managers Who Hire Based on Gut Instinct Alone

The problem: Too many sales managers hire people who look and sound exactly like them. Most managers learn the hard way that this approach is a recipe for disaster (not to mention illegal if taken too far). Ever run into a team full of jocks or valley girls? I have. It's not pretty. Hiring the wrong team can have a devastating effect on a small or mid-sized business, not just in missed sales targets, but in significant dollar loss from the cost of hiring, training, and managing poor fits. It can also spell the end of a sales manager's management career.

Avoid it: Don't use your gut to predict a candidate’s likelihood of success. Instead, use a candidate pre-screen to assess skills, strengths, and weaknesses before you interview. In addition, build a structured and consistent interview process and ensure multiple managers are involved in saying "yes" or "no" to every candidate.

The evaluation process should allow you to customize the requirements and thresholds based on the role’s unique demands. But, most importantly, make sure you’re assessing sales skills, not personalities. Most sales experts I know have aligned themselves with Dave Kurlan's assessments as Objective Management Group (OMG) resellers. From what I understand, OMG has applied more science than any other group to the challenge of sorting sales winners from sales fakers.

Regardless of which assessment you use, don't just license an assessment and expect it to work. In our current market, where there are more sales manager jobs than qualified candidates, many managers are hiring for the first time in their careers. Teach them how to use the assessments for screening and interviewing as well as coaching after the hire. For interviews, create a list of criteria and have them evaluate each candidate against the same list. To ensure every manager knows how to evaluate a candidate using the defined criteria, build a scorecard they must complete after every interview, as well as a list of suggested questions and acceptable answers. Then, hold managers accountable to using it.

During your interview process, consider assigning an exercise to the candidate, too. That could be as simple as a reading and writing assignment, or as challenging as a live mock role play of a selling situation or a presentation on how they'd approach their first 90 days on the job.

Regardless of your evaluation process, make sure you can move a candidate through the process quickly. Hire a dedicated resource to manage interviews, scheduling, and the relationship with each candidate.

Finally, use a CRM-like system like Jobvite, Greenhouse, or HubSpot's free CRM to manage your interview process.

Suggested reading on this topic:

2) Salespeople Who Refuse to Prospect

The problem: We’ve all worked with a salesperson (or several) who doesn’t prioritize prospecting. Some will even complain about the quality of leads that Marketing delivers, instead of doing what's necessary to fill their own funnel. In my experience, salespeople get complacent when A) there are lots of leads to go around, B) they predominantly sell new things to existing customers, or, C) they come from a well-known company that has strong brand awareness. In these situations, salespeople don't have to prioritize prospecting, but their funnels stay full of opportunities nonetheless. Whereas most reps spend a good portion of their day attempting to connect with prospects, these sellers have customers coming to them -- in droves.

Once reps are "spoiled" with an abundance of inbound demand, they don't know what to do when leads dry up or get distributed amongst more people as the team grows. Some become indignant of repeated prospecting demands from their managers. I was talking with a sales manager the other day, and she told me that a sales rep asked her "Did you ever think that I'm offended by your prospecting requirement?" This was a rep that had literally not prospected for six months because they thrived on repeat business and business teed up from their sales development rep.

Some reps truly think prospecting is beneath them. Others fear the rejection that comes with it. But the majority of reps who don’t prospect simply forgot how to do it (or never really mastered it in the first place).

Avoid it: First, don't hire a salesperson who fears rejection or doesn't have recent prospecting experience. Once they join your team, train them how to identify, research, connect, and converse with your company's ideal buyer. From a scheduling perspective, ensure prospecting gets prioritized over all other activities -- even closing and customer calls. Then, arm salespeople with the tools necessary to do prospecting efficiently including a phone dialer, sales email templates, and auto-logging of emails and calls to your CRM. To consistently improve performance, use analytics to compare your salespeople's prospecting results to the team’s as a whole. Report the results to the whole team or the whole company so that everyone knows who is doing the job and who isn't. The public shame should be enough to inspire the ones who aren’t picking up the phone, and the public recognition will motivate the ones who are. Consider gamifying as the infographic recommends if you want to add an element of fun to it.

In addition, measure the volume and quality of activity. Use conversion funnel data to identify the reps that are doing the best and encourage these top performers to share their approaches with their peers. Provide coaching -- especially role-playing for that initial call. And finally, get rid of or reassign the salespeople who won't prospect consistently or can't prospect effectively.

Suggested reading on this topic:

3) Sales Development Reps Who Cherry Pick the Best Leads and Ignore the Rest

The problem: Similar to the rep who thinks they shouldn't have to prospect, there are SDRs who will do anything they can to find demand they can "satisfy" instead of doing the difficult work of "creating demand." Rather than identify good fit buyers, do research, craft personalized outreach, and perform the necessary number of attempts to connect, they spend an inordinate amount of time hunting for the hottest leads in the CRM. Instead of picking up the phone, they're refreshing the browser to see which lead was delivered to them from Marketing or which marketing qualified lead hasn't been rotated yet. Worst of all, they send hundreds or even thousands of uncustomized messages to prospects, waiting for one to raise their hand, instead of tailoring their approach based on the unique situation of each prospect. HubSpot's CEO calls this quantity over quality method of prospecting "bird-sh*tting" on the contact database.

Avoid it: In addition to taking all the steps I suggested above when dealing with salespeople who refuse to prospect, implement a Marketing and Sales service-level agreement (SLA) that obligates reps to contact leads within a specific timeframe and a defined number of times and sales territories. These guardrails make it impossible for salespeople to cherry pick the hottest leads through “birdsh*tting.”

If reps don’t meet the SLA, take them out of the lead rotators. Territories, whether they are geographic, named accounts, verticals, or some other structure will force reps to increase quality prospecting attempts. In a territory model, a rep is stuck with the prospects they're assigned. So, for fear of squandering a chance to connect with a prospect, salespeople will put thought into every attempt. Also, don't be afraid to outlaw the wrong prospecting behavior while rewarding desirable behavior.

A final warning: Be sure to implement lead scoring. It’s not always a bad thing for reps to be selective about who they call. Salespeople generally have a good nose for sniffing out which companies and contacts are worth the effort. Use lead scoring to help them prioritize and to keep them honest.

Suggested reading on this topic:

4) Sales Trainers Who Can't Get Sales Reps to Apply What They're Teaching

The problem: You hired a sales trainer. They spent months putting together a training program. You run your new hires through it … and a bunch fail to ramp, leave, or get let go. Wow! That was a big waste of time and money.

Avoid it: Stop prioritizing sales training over sales coaching. While some training is critical, true progress happens from coaching. Why? Salespeople -- like anyone -- learn best by doing. While you can and should make your sales training interactive, salespeople will learn at the precise moment they need to learn -- when they are on the phones doing the job. For instance, when you put a rep on the phone, they'll learn how to start a relevant conversation. When they screw up their first presentation, they'll prepare for the next one. Coaches are there when these “learning moments” happen, and can help a salesperson reflect, figure out next steps, and understand how to avoid the same mistakes in the future. And in addition to course correcting, they can also celebrate successes, which reinforces good habits.

At HubSpot, we got this right when we hired Andrew Quinn. Not only did he build a training program (and later a training team) that has trained hundreds of our salespeople globally, he helped implement a coaching culture at HubSpot. In the early days especially, he met with many managers and salespeople on a one-on-one basis to help them move deals along, troubleshoot mistakes, and role play sales scenarios to ensure reps were equipped to handle their next call.

Later as we scaled our team, Andrew leveraged his front-line exposure to build rock-solid interactive training programs. Via on-demand video training and testing powered by SmarterU as well as hands-on-the-product training and in-person graded presentations, our sales reps are well-equipped to be product experts and to empathize with and understand the challenges of our ideal buyers.

To really get this right, sales managers must prioritize coaching over everything. Keep this rule of thumb in mind, and the results will follow.

Suggested reading on this topic:

5) Sales Analysts Who Can't Accurately Forecast

The problem: Forecasts vary significantly from week to week. In the first week of the month, you're forecasting way under. By the second week, you're forecasting to exceed target handsomely. A bunch of big deals drop out of the pipeline in week three (or so you're told), which means you're forecasting a miss again. By the final week, you're pulling out all the last minute stops to try and meet expectations. Sound familiar?

Avoid it: In my experience, there's no silver bullet solution to forecast accuracy. Instead, try the following three-pronged approach: deal-level control through coaching, weekly bottom-up reporting roll-up of individual and team forecasts, and predictive analytics using historical and current CRM data.

The first question to ask is "Are my sales reps qualifying effectively?" A few years ago, we ran an experiment where we asked our salespeople to rate each deal's qualification level, instead of just whether it was going to close or not. Turns out, knowing things about budget, the challenges the prospect was having, the buyer’s goals, and other information typically collected during the qualification stage correlated with actual close rate. So, collect as much granular information about your prospect's likelihood to buy as you can. If your salespeople do this well, you should be able to simply set up deal stages in your CRM, assign a "percentage close" likelihood for each deal stage, and rely on your CRM dashboard's forecast.

The old-fashioned way of managing forecasting also works. This method is all about accountability and was created before technology made it easier to roll up a forecast instantly. In the old school way of forecasting, the leader holds their team accountable to forecasting accurately through an extra exercise. By pushing accountability down the chain, you're not relying on your sales team's CRM data-entry discipline (or lack thereof) to forecast accurately. It is the team's responsibility -- each and every rep and manager -- to provide three month-end (or quarter-end) predictions on a weekly basis: committed, most likely, and best case. At the end of your quota cycle, their weekly forecasts should match their actual results. Additionally, they should never come in lower than their committed forecast and should land within a few percentage points of their most likely forecast from each week. Ask them to report best case too, so that you have a range and know who you might be able to rely on for over-performance. Run a contest around forecast accuracy if you need to improve this drastically.

Keep in mind that some reps will be conservative, and others liberal. So, manager inspection and discretion is important. Sales managers must inspect deals in order to judge their rep's accuracy and submit their own forecast based on the information received. Directors and VPs should track each rep's and manager's historical accuracy and make adjustments as they pass their own forecast up to the C-level.

If you manage a large team, it might also make sense to employ a predictive analytics solution to triple check your forecast accuracy or just to streamline the manual process. Selecting software and managing this weekly process is usually assigned to a sales operations analyst. At HubSpot, we use Aviso to not only "roll up" individual rep forecasts, but to also use our historical and current CRM data to predict the outcome. Both "rolled up" forecasts and the model are analyzed before a forecast gets submitted to the CFO each week.

Suggested reading on this topic:

6) Sales VPs Who Don't Follow a Predictable Cadence

The problem: A wild west sales leader who does not follow a predictable cadence. While sales leaders at smaller companies can get away with this, larger organizations require lots of planning and consistent execution to stay on track. Activities like recruiting and interviewing, training and coaching, and of of course, prospecting and closing must be completed regularly. In order to ensure that a sales management team is executing across all necessary activities, it helps when the most senior leader follows a predictable cadence when reviewing progress on all initiatives. While CRM, recruiting, and forecasting systems can help things stay on track, regular meetings with set agendas force execution and continuous improvement.

Avoid it: In large and small organizations alike, the sales leader should consistently ask the same questions so both managers and reps know what is expected of them. Much of the repetition can be reduced with proper reporting. In larger sales teams, recurring meetings and reviews are necessary to ensure the ship runs smoothly, avoiding future turbulence. Reviewing monthly performance with the entire sales management team across all metrics helps ensure everyone is in line.

Smaller sales teams don't need to be as formal about this. Be careful not to distract your sales team with unnecessary reporting, and make sure that each interaction helps them more than it helps you.

Suggested reading on this topic:

7) The CEO Who is Never Happy with Results

The problem: The CEO is the problem. Hard-charging CEOs with a mission to change the world are never happy with results.

Avoid it: Good luck. Your best bet is to share the articles below with your CEO (when they're in a good mood).

Suggested reading on this topic:

And here's the infographic that inspired this post:


HubSpot CRM 

  Try HubSpot Sales
Topics: Sales Coaching

Related Articles

We're committed to your privacy. HubSpot uses the information you provide to us to contact you about our relevant content, products, and services. You may unsubscribe from these communications at any time. For more information, check out our Privacy Policy.

Outline your sales strategy in a simple, coherent plan.