I was recently the guest on a radio talk show entitled “Meet the Sales Experts” and the host asked me a great question: “What are the five biggest mistakes that, if you could, you would help companies avoid with regard to their sales force?” In my experience as a sales performance expert, I have learned that mistakes are better teachers than successes. With that in mind, it is my hope that there will be some valuable lessons for you as an executive with responsibility for sales performance, as we review some of the most common mistakes made in building a successful sales force.


Salespeople are different. In fact, you, as the manager, owner or president, want them to be different so they can effectively do their jobs. Therefore, you must hire them differently.

Have you ever hired a salesperson because you liked him or her as a person? Have you insisted they have experience in the security industry?

Here a few tips to make your hiring process deliver winners.

First, look for successful salespeople who have sold in a similar environment. It doesn’t have to be in the security industry, but they should have experience selling the way you want them to sell and selling to the type of people you need them to sell to. Find out, in detail, what successes they have had that would indicate that their experience meets the needs of your position.

Second, don’t rely on your like/dislike meter — test them. Use objective assessment tools to delve into whether they actually will sell for you before you invest any time meeting with them.

Third, don’t interview them — audition them. Put each candidate in the same situation they might find themselves facing with prospects.


Often the owner or president will act as sales manager along with wearing several other hats. It is a common myth that your sales force doesn’t need much management; that they will just go out and sell if you point them in the right direction. Wrong.

Another common mistake is promoting the best salesperson to the position of sales manager. This situation frequently ends in disaster; you have removed your best salesperson from the street and given them management responsibilities they cannot perform.

The skills that create a great sales manager are not the same skills necessary in a great salesperson. Excellent sales managers need to spend the vast majority of their time coaching, motivating, recruiting, helping their salespeople grow, and holding them accountable. Depending on the size of your sales force, these tasks are nearly a full-time job, without taking into account any other managerial duties within the company.

Salespeople are motivated differently, need to be coached differently, and have different growth paths. Effectively managing them is one of the most important endeavors a company faces if it wants to grow revenue.


Like most people, salespeople work best when they are given goals and they are expected to meet them. For some reason many companies are lax about holding their salespeople accountable. Maybe it is due to the first two mistakes discussed above — hiring the wrong people without support from strong management. Perhaps, as an executive, you’re afraid you’ll drive away the producers. Even the best salespeople want to be held accountable. Frankly, the best ones will respect you more if you do.

Answer these questions to see how well you are doing at accountability:

• Do your salespeople have a goal? Do they know what they need to produce this year, this quarter, this month?

• Is there a common understanding about what activity will produce the desired results? Do you jointly work through the math to determine how many calls, meetings and proposals it will take to generate the revenue needed?

• Are they required to accurately record the appropriate information in a system (CRM, Excel spreadsheet, etc.)?

• Now, here’s the most important test: How well do you stick to it? Do you accept excuses about the competition, the economy, capacity, staffing, or anything else? Expect them to achieve their goals, regardless.


I work with many companies in the security industry and frequently find that there is no established sales process being employed within the company. Very few have defined what differentiates a closable opportunity from a prospect or understand how to move the prospect along to becoming closable. They may not have defined whether or not to produce a proposal. Frequently there is confusion as to the likelihood of whether an opportunity will close or not, which may have resource management implications and ultimately profitability implications.

This is fixable. If you can define the different stages in the evolution of a prospect (prospect, qualified prospect, closable opportunity, closed) and what you must know about each opportunity in order to move it along, you have the beginnings of a good sales process. It helps give the salespeople a well-defined goal for every interaction with the prospect. Uncovering the different aspects of why the prospect would buy and how the prospect would buy will give the sales force a very clear focus for each interaction. Opportunities can be discussed with common language and un-derstanding. The pipeline can be precisely quantified, providing accurate projections and enabling accurate planning.


An extension of Mistake 4 is the fact that many companies don’t keep track of much of anything. They allow salespeople to hoard all of the information without sharing, or they allow salespeople to share information in a subjective rather than objective manner.

Here’s what I mean: Rather than letting salespeople be the keeper of the information, there must be a common database of suspects, prospects, etc. And, salespeople need to be held accountable for keeping the information updated and accurate. If they are working on a proposal for a prospect, it doesn’t exist unless the information is maintained in a common database. If the deal closes without being in the system, they don’t get paid. Systems and metrics go hand-in-hand with holding salespeople accountable.

Regardless of what CRM or database you use, it must help you produce an accurate pipeline, complete with a pro-jection of how much business will actually close. You should know how many prospects need to be in the pipeline at all times to meet your goals, and how many closings must occur every month to meet the annual goal for each salesperson. This information should be converted into how many calls a salesperson must make every day and how many meetings he or she must hold each week. Automate it, and it is much easier to hold all parties accountable, whether you have a sales force of 100 or one.