Sales organizations are always searching for new ways to improve sales productivity. There is a multibillion-dollar industry of strategy books, sales methodologies, motivational speakers, sales support tools, analysts, and conferences. Product after product promises to shorten sales cycles, improve close rates, increase sales efficiency and, of course, increase bookings by some meaningful percentage. It looks a lot like the weight loss business, with all itsbooks, plans, products and "weird tricks that will help you lose 30 pounds."

With all these great products, you'd think that sales cycles would be shrinking to nothing, everyone would be above quota, and no deal would ever be lost. Then again, with all the weight loss products out there, you'd think that we'd be the skinniest nation on earth. What's going on?

New sales programs, like new diet programs, fail far more often than they succeed. In both cases, the idea might look great on paper, and the first few weeks show signs of promise. But after a month, or a couple of months, things are back to where they were. Salespeople are doing the same things as they were before. And you're still fat.

Here are the four reasons why sales programs, like diets, too often fail.

I like the goal, but I won't do the work. There isn't a salesperson alive who doesn't want to sell more. But oftentimes when they see what it takes, they balk. How many calls a day? How many touches on the account? It's like those recommendations that people get anhour of cardio every day. Who's going to sign up for that? A big reason people hire personal trainers is just to make sure they getthe amount of exercise they'vecommitted to. The good news is that most salespeople already have a full-time personal trainer: their boss. The bad news is that sales managers don't really know how to be a personal trainer.

That won't work. That new diet supplement that will make you lose 10 pounds with no exercise and the new sales trick that will make your cold calls twice as effective have one big thing in common: Most people dismiss the idea without even trying it. When the boss comes in with the great new idea, people may give it lip service in the meeting, but they're just as likely to laugh about it in the hall. Enkata research shows a real gap in how salespeople adopt new sales methodologies. The bottom line is that some people just don't buy it.

I know what I'm doing. Salespeople with more than a couple of years of experience are going to think they know what they're doing, just like most people think they know how to eat healthy. Even when the past hasn't produced the results people want, they often stick to what they've been doing. When someone comes in and tells them there's a better way, they might just dismiss it without trying. Of course, people are frequentlywrong. The Pumpkin Bread at Starbucks looks and sounds healthy, but it is the calorie equivalent of a McDonald's Quarter Pounder. For people to even try a new diet or a new sales methodology, the first step must be to acknowledge that things could be better.

This time, it's different. People are always carving exceptions out for themselves. "It's OK to eat dessert if it's a party," or "I don't need to get deeper in the account because I have a great relationship with the decision maker." The problem comes when the exceptions outnumber the normal cases. There's always a party. There's always a reason not to follow the new sales game plan. Allowing exceptions is the exact opposite of discipline, and it's discipline that makes diets and sales programs effective.

All this may sound grim, but it's not. To solve problems, you need to understand them. If you're planning on launching a new sales initiative, or a new diet, you'll be more likely to succeed if you prepare for the pitfalls in your way. If you believe in the program, you commit to doing it, and you have the discipline to stick with it, then you're far more likely to get the outcome you're working for.

Published on: Jul 29, 2014