The 10 Worst Nightmares for Salespeople

When I was a kid, I was petrified when I saw Cube—prime numbers still give me the shivers. My friend would hide behind the sofa during Doctor Who, peeking out then ducking back whenever the Daleks appeared.

But if you’re in sales, there are much scarier things than a cartoon villain or a robot with a plunger. Here’s our list of the worst nightmares that’ll keep you up all night. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but don’t worry. We’ll also talk you through surviving these disasters faster than you can say sonic screwdriver.

SDRs’ worst nightmares

The SDR is found on the front-row of sales, chasing down leads and serving them up for the company’s closers, usually with the steely-eyed determination The Doctor would be proud of. However, when things go wrong, you might find yourself in your very own horror story.

Impossible quotas from another dimension

Always be selling. Hustle hard. Eat, drink, sell repeat. Your managers have made it clear there’s going to be trouble if you don’t hit your quota (which, entirely coincidently, always seems to be going up).

Sure, everyone’s heard that sales is a numbers game, and having clear targets is handy. But if those targets are unreachable, you’re in for a world of pain. Even if you can keep up with the pace at first, sooner or later you are going to burn out faster than the Wicker Man. Even worse, your prospect will likely pick up on it and feel that you’re more interested in getting your quota in than helping them.

This may seem even scarier than burnout, but the best solution is to talk with your sales manager. Rather than yelling at them about their unrealistic expectations though, have a discussion about what metrics are truly important. Have realistic goals that require you to stretch, but make sure you have enough time in the day to make all your calls and have meaningful conversations with your prospects.

Unresponsive zombie customers

© Walt Disney Pictures

Picture the scene. You spend a week creating cool email templates and building a great campaign. You hit send and… nothing. Or even worse, you receive negative responses. Even the few that did seem positive and booked a meeting suddenly ghost you, skipping the call and disappearing into nothing.

The truth is, you never stood a chance. Like Bruce Willis, it turns out they were dead all along.

Why? There could be a number of reasons, each with their own solutions:

Your campaign never reached the customer. If you built a great campaign and uploaded quality leads, it’s possible spam filters are stopping your prospects from ever seeing the email.

Spam filters are getting more sophisticated, so rather than trying to trick the filters, focus on best practices for sending your emails. This includes using a reliable domain, using your real name, and making sure it’s easy for prospects to opt-out of future emails.

Your customer profiles are inaccurate. Every hero needs to know his enemy inside out. To kill a vampire, you have to put a stake right through their heart. Werewolves need silver bullets. Nothing else will do.

While I’m certainly not suggesting your prospects are monsters, you still need to know your customers better than Van Helsing knows Dracula. When we asked 16 experts for the biggest mistakes when creating buyer personas, a key tip was to research your personas, rather than creating ideas off the top of your head.

Unqualified Prospects. While inaccurate profiles lead to not knowing who you’re speaking to, if your prospects aren’t qualified you could end up talking to the wrong person entirely. Obviously, you wouldn’t want to be speaking to the head of marketing about your funky new accounting software, that’s just common sense.

However, you can make your life a lot easier if you go a little deeper. The main question you need to ask: is your product/service a solution to one of their problems? Anything else is pointless, and you shouldn’t be wasting your time trying to convince them otherwise.

From there, is their company a good fit in terms of size, market, and revenue? Do they have a budget set aside to meet this need? What’s their level of awareness? If they’re not a fit now, that’s fine, go ahead and nurture those leads. But if they are, you can sell with confidence.

The unexpected question

© Miramax Films

We’ve all been there. You’re enjoying a nice quiet walk around the lake when a homicidal psychopath in a hockey mask appears out of nowhere and attacks you.

Okay, maybe that’s just me.

Still, you’ve probably experienced the terror that comes when, midway through your presentation, the prospect asks the question. The one you never saw coming, that you have no idea how to answer, and is now threatening to destroy your chances of making the sale. Your voice goes up an octave, your heart starts beating a little faster, and you start to sweat.

You start stammering vague nonsense: “Well, you see, customer satisfaction is a priority, and we prioritize the satisfaction of customers,” all while you totally avoid answering their question. You may think you’ve successfully deflected the question, but trust me; the prospect has noticed, and they’re not impressed.

For starters, you should be preparing for your calls. Turning up at the last minute like some rockstar might seem cool, but not to your prospects. You should know them, the product, and all the potential questions they might ask.

Even with the most in-depth preparation though, there’s a good chance your prospect is reading from a different script. They may have questions you’ve never thought of, let alone prepared an answer to. If that happens, I want you to repeat the following magical, ancient incantation:


“Good question; no-one’s ever asked that before. I’m not sure of the answer, but I’ll find out for you.”

First of all, you’re complimenting your prospect, which always goes over well (as long as it’s sincere). I get it might be scary admitting you don’t know something, and there’s always the chance your prospect will call you an idiot, before angrily hanging up. But those kind of prospects were always going to be trouble anyway.

However, many more will respect your honesty. On the flip side, if you make up an answer or try and ignore the question, you may think you’ve got away with it but when the prospect finds out you’ll have lost their trust—and trust is invaluable.

Data quality from the black lagoon

A sales campaign’s success depends on the data behind it. It doesn’t matter how amazing your campaign is if the data is incorrect or incomplete.

A lot of this will depend on the source of the data. If you’ve bought the list from a shady fakir who also sells monkey paws, don’t be surprised if a lot (or most) of the data is inaccurate or completely out of date. Using a scraper usually works better, but could still have missing information or obviously fake details.

Building the list by yourself manually is the most time-consuming option, but also the best way of being sure the data you have is accurate. As you should be checking the information yourself anyway, this will likely still save time in the long run and save embarrassing mistakes or potentially wrecking your sender domain reputation.

You’re not out of the woods just yet. You still need to make sure the information is clean and ready for upload. If you’re importing your leads as a CSV, you should check there are no issues with columns matching (with First Name saved as Last Name, Website as Company Name etc.). Usually, SDRs should spend most of their time on list cleaning, normalizing and standardizing all fields.

Sales managers’ worst nightmares

Stationed out of the trenches, the sales manager has the job of coordinating a team effort. To the outside, it may seem easy, but keeping the sales team running smoothly is no easy task, and comes with its own selection of nightmares.

Hiring a dud

You’re looking to assemble a crack ‘Avengers’ team of super salespeople, but instead of Iron Man and Captain America, you’re stuck with Arm-Fall-Off Boy.

They look the part, they answered all the questions correctly and even brought cookies along to the interview. But a few months in and their only success has been bringing more cookies. We all go through rough patches, but this isn’t so much a rough patch as a flat line. They’re killing your company from the inside out.

If you’ve suffered this nightmare, you’re not alone. Marketing research firm Aberdeen reported on data from sales recruitment firms that shows of all the sales professionals in North America, only the top 10% will actually provide a solid ROI, with twice as many turning out to be untrainable.

When your sales ‘superstar’ is consistently missing their targets, you need to take action and identify the cause.

Are they struggling to find leads, or struggling to close them? Sit in on one of their meetings and observe their pitch, and see if you can pinpoint any issues. Arrange for additional training where you identify a need.

Hiring a gremlin

© Warner Bros.

It’s not just sales quotas you need to worry about. If one of your salespeople is causing problems for the team, it doesn’t matter how good their numbers are; you have to take action.

Like not feeding a Mogwai after midnight, the best way to avoid trouble is to deal with issues like this before they come up.

Keep your eyes on your team, their productivity and their behavior. Personal problems can quickly become work problems that affect the entire team, so keep an eye out for bad attitudes and low morale. This doesn’t mean you fire anyone who’s having a bad day; offer support, but at the same time make it clear that certain behaviors won’t be tolerated.

If a salesperson refuses your support and continues acting like the colleague from hell, in the worst case that means they have to go.

In the same report from earlier, Aberdeen reported 60% of Best-in-Class firms have fired a top salesperson because of non-sales issues such as behavior, lack of teamwork, and poor customer service.
As a result, those firms are also more likely to have stronger levels of teamwork, while also enjoying a higher total team quota attainment.

Losing your focus

Why is it people in scary movies make such bad decisions? They split up at every opportunity, investigate every scary noise by themselves, and turn their backs on the monster when they think they’ve won.

Hopefully, your decisions aren’t that bad, but when your to-do list is overflowing and nothing is going to plan, it’s easy to lose focus.

Let’s start with that to-do list. Prioritize your urgent/important tasks, while delegating or deleting any unimportant tasks sucking up your mental energy. Remember, your job isn’t to sell, it’s to manage, so avoid jumping into the salesperson role in an attempt to solve your problems. Define the exact actions you need to take, then work through them methodically.

Sales Directors’ worst nightmares

Surely, once you’ve got the director’s fancy office then all the hard work’s behind you. No nightmares for you, right? Well with great power comes greater opportunities for things to go wrong.

Having a bad sales manager in charge

You thought having a rubbish salesperson on the team made things tricky? Try having a rubbish sales manager in charge of them. A poor salesperson can hurt your sales—a poor sales manager can destroy them.

How can you tell a bad sales manager? As we touched on earlier, one give away is when they consistently focus on the wrong things, prioritizing secondary tasks while ignoring work that’ll help your team sell more.

Look out for managers who spend their time selling. It may seem great when they’re making sales, but if that’s what you wanted you’d have hired another salesperson, right? No, you wanted a manager; someone who would oversee the team, who could get the most out of your salespeople while taking care of potential problems before they become serious ones. They can’t keep an eye on the team if they’re busy trying to close their own deals.

Let your salespeople sell and make sure your managers are managing.

The unexpected future

In Planet of the Apes, no-one saw the ape uprising coming, not until it was too late.

If you’ve landed the cushy C-level sales job, you’ll have to do better than that. Sales Directors have to look into the future and identify valuable emerging markets, while avoiding any stagnation in the marketplace.

To avoid any nasty surprises (ape related or otherwise), it’s important you’re making your decisions based on accurate, reliable intelligence. While you could spend all day searching through news articles and social media posts, there are sales tools that’ll do the hard work for you, looking through millions of sources to bring you the relevant information you need, whether for specific companies or general trends in the marketplace.

Software from the 90s

Like the Mummy rising from the crypt, some teams are relying on software that should have died a long time ago. Also, like the Mummy, ancient software carries its own curse. Aberdeen reported that early adopters of sales tech enjoyed significantly better lead acceptance than their non-early adopter counterparts.

You may have convinced yourself that saving money by using old software is a good thing, but the research shows those using the latest technology enjoy the advantage. To beat the Mummy’s curse, make sure your company is using the latest sales software, matched to your specific needs.

Reply is designed to automate your sales, and we’re constantly working on new features and improvements, making sure you have everything you need to keep the sales nightmares at bay. Try a 14-day free trial today.

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