Thomas N. Ingram Charles H. Schwepker, Don Huts06
Factors considered to be most signtficant in contributing to salesperson failure were identtjied by examining the survey responses of 126 sales executives. The six most important factors were (1) poor listening skills; (2) failure to concentrate on top priorities; (3) a lack of sufticient effort; (4) inability to determine customer needs; (5) lack of planning for sales presentations; and (6) inadequate productlservice knowledge. The results suggest that those factors most significant in contributing to salesperson failure may be addressed through training and motivational techniques. Furthermore, deficiencies in these areas may negatively affect relationship selling efforts, thereby severely affecting overall salesforce performance in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
INTRODUCTION In today’s competitive marketplace, personal selling is the key to success for many industrial firms. As industrial customers become more demanding and attempt to streamline their own operations, it is not uncommon to observe sales organizations being put under intense pressure to meet elevated customer expectations. For example, Xerox recently cut its list of approved vendors from 5,000 to only 450 [I]. Undoubtedly, the sales orAddress correspondence to Thomas N. Ingram, Department of Marketing, Fogelman College of Business and Economics, Memphis State University, Memphis, TN 38152.
ganizations of the surviving vendors must be able to address Xerox’s expectations with highly competent salesforces. As personal selling becomes more crucial in determining overall success for many organizations, it is important to recognize some of the stark realities which challenge the sales executives charged with developing and sustaining competitive salesforces. First, the costs of recruiting, developing, and deploying a professional sales force are at an all-time high . Second, the chronic problem of salesforce turnover continues to plague many sales organizations. According to one major survey, the average turnover rate in U.S. and Canadian firms is 27% . Furthermore, 20% of the respondents in this survey feel the turnover situation is worsening, and few see any sign for short-term reduction of turnover rates. Finally, sales managers are expected to face a shortage of qualified applicants from which to draw tomorrow’s recruits. This is due in part to demographic changes and an identifiable lack of skilled workers who could be trained to succeed in complex sales jobs . As the realities of developing and sustaining a competent sales organization are fully realized, it is clear that the costs of salesforce failure are on the rise. The direct costs of recruiting, training, and, all too often, replacing salespeople provide incentives to gain a better understanding of factors related to salesforce failure. These costs, coupled with losses of revenue associated with sales territory vacancies, can lead sales managers to the
Industrial Marketing Management 21, 225-230 (1992) 0 Elsevier Science Publishing Co., Inc., 1992 655 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10010
logical conclusion that it is far better to improve salesperson performance than to dismiss poor performers . Purpose The purpose of this study is to examine sales executives’ perceptions of salesperson failure in an attempt to better understand why it occurs. Understanding gained in this area may help to prevent salesperson failure, and thus improve overall salesforce performance. First, the relevant literature will be reviewed. This will be followed by discussions of the research methods, results, and management implications. RELEVANT LITERATURE
A review of the literature uncovered only one empirical article on the topic of salesperson failure. Johnston, Hair, and Boles  examined the views of sales managers, salespeople, and students asked to identify factors...