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New Research: Do These Excuses Drive Down Sales?

“I could sell more if we lowered our prices!”
“I’d sell more if you trained me better!”


Dallas, Texas— Some salespeople blame their performance shortcomings on company products and practices. Such complaints are commonplace. But, are they harmless?


Not according to a new study presented April 10, 2010 at the annual convention of the Southwestern Psychological Association in Dallas. Researchers George W. Dudley and Trelitha R. Bryant at Behavioral Sciences Research Press in Dallas found that blaming has a cost.  Salespeople who blame more, produce less.


Dudley and Bryant used a diagnostic psychological test to examine 41,787 U.S. salespeople (27,230 salesmen and 13,557 saleswomen) scattered across diverse business settings. The researchers used SPQ*GOLD, a well-established test used worldwide to measure clientele-building activity in practice-building consultants, salespeople and other professionals. Information obtained from the test includes the tendency to attribute poor sales results to “outside influences”. Causes influencing performance include:

· Undersized “natural market”

· Not enough advertising

· Pricing policy

· Product knowledge

The study found that salespeople most inclined to blame underperformance on outside influences also scored significantly poorer on the sales test and engaged in significantly less client-building activity. “Blaming is how some salespeople cope with the underlying discomfort they experience when prospecting for new business,” Dudley said. “First, see if a drop in client-seeking activity accompanies the complaints. If it does, it’s a sign the issue is not prices, advertising or training. If it was, every salesperson should be influenced equally. But, that’s rarely the case. Eventually, the real issue surfaces, sales call reluctance. That’s insufficient sales growth caused by inadequate prospecting.”


Senior research associate Trelitha Bryant added, “Psychologically, few people are naturally equipped to sell. When imprecise procedures are used to select people for sales positions, costs escalate. Yet, an enormous number of people pass through sales selection screening every year only to discover they are not emotionally prepared to apply the sales training they receive. Companies try to fix the problem with more sales training. It doesn’t work.”  


Rob Collins, former chief executive of a large Australian company, agrees. “This problem is not limited to the U.S. and it’s usually not about corporate practices— though sometimes it is. Too much time gets spent attending to complaints from underperforming salespeople when the real problem is sub-standard prospecting, not sub-standard sales training. Better care selecting salespeople is essential.”



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