I Can See Clearly Now

Everybody has blind spots. The great managers want help with them. 

As an outside observer, I have the best seat in the house to witness some breathtaking blind spots. Because I work both with senior management and the reps who sell, I see the gap between what the higher-ups think is going on vs. what is really happening on the front lines.

Truth number one is that most sales desks live blindly in a big, happy land of missed opportunity. They fail to address issues because senior managers don’t see the issues.

Truth number two is that small “mirror adjustment” changes, if executed well, can bring focus to those blind spots and deliver big returns. BTW: Typically, it’s not the sales desk manager who has blind spots, it's the folks a few levels up. 

Here is a pretty typical scenario:


  • Your sales desk team is young and hungry. They’ve adopted sales analytics and you are comfortable that, more often than not, they're targeting and calling the right prospects and clients.

  • Marketing and sales are finally talking more, and the desk is getting higher quality leads. You are hearing more conversations on the sales floor.

  • You’ve set up a pipeline management process and it looks fairly healthy.

  • You’ve reduced headcount because of margin pressures. So far that has not caused any big issue.

  • Your assessment is your sales force is firing on most cylinders, your sales desk manager(s) are doing a pretty good job. In short, everything you SEE looks to be on the right track.

The important question to ask is HOW DO YOU REALLY KNOW?  Do you have a way to check your quick observations? Are you missing a blind spot or two?

REALITY (how it looks to an outsider):

What you are seeing is the work of your sales desk manager -- highly motivated to manage up with anecdotal good news, keeping problems under the radar (as all good employees do). What you don’t see objectively is that he:

  • Is very talented at holding things together with duct tape; he is a pro at strategizing, planning, onboarding, training, motivating and coaching, all while attending more meetings than he can count. Something’s gotta give?

  • Devotes lots of time and energy in resolving conflicts that internal, external and hybrids have when working together. This is a result of big personalities and lack of formal process.

More blind spots you don’t notice?

  • Coaching is mostly an evaluation (vs. learning) process often designed to hit quality control standards, with boxes to be checked.

  • Sales desk meetings are information dumps and most training is around product (but don’t pitch it).

  • The desk is given a host of competing priorities (mostly campaigns) designed to get some quick wins or validate marketing strategy. They suffer from mixed allegiances.

  • Team leaders have grown up on the desk, been given little management training, and are teaching their reps to do what they did. This perpetuates habits that don’t work well in today’s more challenging selling climate.

  • Top reps are left alone, poor performers get the attention. So much for the 80/20 rule.

Meanwhile, here’s what you might not be seeing regarding the performance of many (not all, but certainly some) individual sales reps:

  • They input advisor info in the CRM using wildly disparate criteria, creating chaos in the most coveted data the organization can gather.

  • Despite sales analytics, they are still calling people who will take their call simply to (artificially) meet their metrics.

  • They have no meaningful metrics around length of sales cycle (and lousy definitions of pipeline stages – is a prospect anyone who lets you send them some info?).

  • They use a (kindly put) “loose call” planning process. Their most frequent answer to the question ‘what’s your call objective’ tends to be “close the sale”.

  • They are asking questions that cause the advisor to feel sold to (the number 1 turn off). Here’s a favorite: “What gaps do you have in your fixed-income lineup?”.

  • They're not trained to really understand how to use benefits (vs features): “We are the largest in business a LONG time, we have lots of tools and better performing products;”.

  • If asked how they help advisors recognize a problem they don’t know they have, the inquiry results in a blank stare.

  • They define a good sales call, as: “I got through to the advisor, I talked about a product and I have a follow-up call next week.”

None of this in plain sight because of the inevitable blind spots that come with your position.

Have I oversold my point?

The good news is that using the 1% rule, even if you tackle one or two of these things, you will get enormous lift. The primary driver of scale is consistency in process. And for world-class sales desks, process is documented, clear and measured.

As a small example, recent data shows that the fastest closing deals have a focus on one skill, specifically on the first call; Do your reps know what that is? 

Here’s a simple way to see how big some of your blinders are. This works best if you set up a simple anonymous, written survey of your sales force and ask any or all of these questions:

  • What is the definition of a good conversation?

  • What is the most important part of a sales conversation (hint it’s NOT closing)?

  • Are metrics helping you have quality conversations (you will most likely get a resounding no on this one!).

Don’t be surprised if you see a gaping lack of consistency in the responses. And that’s a scale killer.

It’s important in this exercise not to look for blame, but rather look for an opportunity to help. This is not easy stuff. 

Blind spots are bigger in organizations that are happy with the status quo, especially if your current metrics are going in the right direction. 

Is that you? 

Want help? Check out our advanced sales clinics.

Mary Anne Doggett