Four Reasons Why New Salespeople Fail

Someone asked me an interesting question the other day, “Why do new salespeople fail?” It got me thinking. Here’s my response:

  1. Fear—Without question, this is the number one killer for new sales reps. Sales is a very intimidating career choice. Your job is to talk to strangers and ask them for things like appointments, orders, and money. Not only is there fear involved in achieving these tasks, there is also the fear of failure that can be just as paralyzing.
  2. Lack of Effort—Forget about what I said above. Without question, this is the number one killer for new sales reps. I mean it this time. In my 20+ years as a sales coach in this industry, I have never heard of or seen a diligent failure. I’ve spoken to some of the worst, most inept, and non-natural salespeople on the planet. They can be all those things but if they are diligent, they will succeed 100 percent of the time.
  3. Lack of Business Acumen—Ken Olson, founder of Digital Equipment Corp. (Under 30? Google it. Hold on. Sadly, make that 40) once said, “I used to believe that you had to work for a big company before you could go out on your own. Now I think you have to have owned your own business in order to work for a big company.” I think what what he means is that it helps to have some business smarts; the kind that comes from first-hand experience.
  4. Can’t Build a Relationship—Yeah, this one surprises me, too. In the long run, what it takes to hold onto an account is the same today as it was 30 years ago: Trust and loyalty. It’s amazing to me how foreign the concept of building a relationship is to the younger generations. So long as they rely on Facebook to keep in touch, they will continue to suffer in this area and it very well may be their downfall if they choose sales.

In almost any industry, the majority (and sometimes overwhelming majority) of salespeople fail in the first 12 months. Naturally, there are myriad reasons for that failure. Some are within the control of the sales rep and others aren’t. When I think about my first job in sales, the biggest reason for my failure was #1. No, wait. It was the first two. Actually, I didn’t understand business, either. So, let’s include #3. Um, come to think of it, it was all four. I was a complete and miserable failure.

As a 30 year sales veteran, Bill has the perspective of a been-there, done-that sales rep in the commercial print arena. Following sales fundamentals and giving unapologetically "old school" advice, he writes and speaks in an entertaining fashion to make his points to sales people and owners who sell. "Bill Farquharson will drive your sales momentum."
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  • Brian Rothschild

    Sounds so simple. Only four obstacles….anyone could do it.

  • Marshall Hogenson


    Agree with most of your observations except that bad sales persons succeed with enough effort. Mediocre reps, OK, but not sure the bad ones make it.

    I think the biggest reason sales persons fail is lack of support from the company and their sales managers. How often do we hire a guy, give him a laptop, a territory and some sell sheets and expect him to go out and conquer?

    I’ve seen experienced, successful sales persons change jobs within their industry and still flounder for this reason.

    Every company has it’s unique structure that needs to be understood and a new team of resources to help the rep. And each company has a unique culture and value proposition that must be learned to be articulated. These individual values are essential in today’s highly competitive world.

    And yes, certainly fear and lack of effort will lead to failure every time. Again it is the sales manager’s responsibility to encourage, mentor and monitor the new hire’s activities.

    Finding, failing and firing sales persons is far too expensive. Nurture the new ones until they are ready.

  • Marc Zazeela

    Great perspective Bill. I might add one more. Lack of patience. In my industry the sales cycle can be anywhere between 3 – 6 months. I have seen reps come in and expect to things to happen much more quickly. They begin pressing for the sale and end up failing because they were only thinking about themselves and not about their customer.


  • Hank Briody

    Dear Bill,

    I find it hard to believe that these 4 items you list are the cause of "failure" for the new sales professional. Failure is a term usually related to a lack of goal-setting. If you don’t set a goal, you can’t fail to achieve it. However, if you set that goal and then get side-tracked and leave it uncompleted, you then fail. I personally find that most persons in sales are interested in the bottom line – and you’re right when you mention the difficulty in building relationships. If money is the only thing on the sales-person’s mind, he can’t please the end-user and will only have short term results. In addition, many don’t do the basic ground work of asking questions about the client’s needs, or just asking too many questions which don’t get to the core of of the prospective client’s issues: bettering their bottom line, not the sales-persons. I’ve said this once before, one of the best books out there on successful selling, for the novice and the pro, is SPIN SELLING, by Neil Rackam. I read it over and over and over and over again. Thanks!