Houston, We Have a [Sales] Problem

At one point or another, we have all heard those dreaded words: “We have a problem with our sales.”

Sales Problems are common. Get them back on track.

Unfortunately in sales, discovering a problem is more common than you might think. It seems that given today’s intense competition across industries and rapidly changing markets, sales teams are facing more challenges and spending less time selling, customers are harder to reach, and sales success is difficult to achieve. 

Despite these common obstacles, one thing remains the same: businesses that are thriving usually have a sales process and strategy in place. The company is able to easily pivot and adapt as market changes are thrown their way. They have solid sales leadership in place to oversee the team’s path to success. In short, they operate like a well-oiled machine.

While there are many things that can cause sales to start downward spiraling, here are three main things to take a critical look at when issues arise.

1. Strong Sales Leadership

Think of it this way: your sales leader is the control center guiding the sales team to close the sale. Just as astronauts might have an issue with their spacecraft and reach out to Houston for guidance, salespeople benefit from having a rock-solid sales leader as a resource to help them get back on course when things go astray. Sometimes an owner fills this role depending on company size, but this isn’t always the right person to fill that seat since they have many other things on their plate to ensure the general success of the business.

A competent leader will be dedicated to building, analyzing, inspecting, and advocating for the organization’s sales function so that informed decisions can be made to meet business objectives. These business-critical tasks, however, are time-consuming and require expertise to analyze the data, monitor the pipeline, and train and mentor the sales team so they are equipped to meet quotas. The sales leader needs to be able to objectively assess the team’s skills to be to make the right pivot for the company’s success since they are ultimately held accountable for the success of the company’s sales.

2. Sales Team

A key aspect for sales leaders to consider when evaluating success is the team members themselves. Assessing what a team member’s strongest skillset is, whether they are fitting in with the company’s goals and culture, or if there is a real need to hire new or additional sales team members are all important factors in evaluating the health of the team.

Below are a few areas of focus that a sales leader can ask when assessing their team:

Pitch & Technique

How is their sales pitch and technique? An effective salesperson will know the right questions to ask to get the information they need. They can use this to focus on the buyer’s problems and how your product or service can solve that issue rather than just getting to the sales pitch. It’s about connecting with the buyer and building rapport which in the end can help sway business decisions.

Sales Process

Are they following the sales process? Each sales team should have a sales playbook that outlines the process to follow that will help guide them to closing sales. There are many tasks to accomplish under the sales umbrella, and this playbook will help keep sales on pace. It should include a cadence for initial outreach, follow ups, and how to ease prospects to the next step in the sales process toward a close. It should also include post-sale follow up strategy to keep nurturing the relationship from a one-time sale to a repeat customer. No matter how experienced a salesperson may be, they must be able to adapt to—and follow—the company’s sales process.


How are they using their time? As previously mentioned, there are many tasks that a salesperson has to accomplish. Depending how the organization is set up, they might need to find a way to balance their time prospecting, selling, closing sales, nurturing existing relationships, and performing admin tasks. This should be outlined in the sales playbook to help define how time should be spent to keep sales rolling. Sales people also need to come in with a clear head and be focused on the task at hand and be able to pivot when necessary.

Some companies choose to outsource part of their sales function. Businesses with small sales teams, or a company wanting to explore a new vertical are usually best suited to outsource top of the funnel sales activities like prospecting, to help get some of the initial legwork out of the way so the in-house sales team can focus on closing sales without the expense of hiring a permanent full-time staff member.

3. Target Market

A key part of the sales process that should happen before the process even really begins is having a clearly defined target market. Marketing teams should be working hand-in-hand with the sales team to help identify, develop, and define what that target market is. By knowing who you’re going after, what makes them tick, how to talk to certain titles or business sizes, and how your product or service is a step above the competition are things that salespeople will use throughout the sales pitch.

With a clearly defined market, it will be easier to start prospecting. There are several ways to reach out to potential buyers to get a foot in the door and test market conditions from outreach on LinkedIn, to purchasing lists within your given parameters. The data and list should be monitored and evaluated for accuracy and efficiency. Having an order of importance for those prospects most likely to convert to a sale is a good way to get things rolling in the sales department.

The majority of businesses will experience sales problems at one time or another. Taking a critical look at a few key potential causes can help get to the root of the problem and get a corrective action plan in place the next time you hear, “Houston, we have a sales problem.” Strong leadership, sales team performance, and defined target market are just three areas to put under a microscope and evaluate. Outsourced help, whether in a sales leadership position, or to handle top-of-the-funnel lead generation, can be an option to help steer sales in the right direction.