The Biggest Mistakes Sales Leaders Make and How to Avoid Them

In 30 years of helping sales leaders improve their team’s performance, the most common mistake I see is that sales leaders don’t look both ways.They concentrate on what’s immediately in front of them, and seemingly most manageable i.e. their sales team’s performance, via targets and quotas, rather than looking ahead and sideways.

Looking ahead means considering, the wider market trends impacting your industry and your team’s ability to do their job. Its thinking about what’s coming down the road that you need to prepare your team for.

Looking sideways means looking around your organization and beyond to find the optimal way to address those issues.

Don’t believe me? Consider this recent research from global communications firm Edelman:

– 42% of B2B purchasers say good thought leadership can be effective in generating an RFP invitation. 50%+ say that it has led to cross-sell or upsell


Just 21% of thought leadership producers thoroughly train leadership and business development teams to understand and communicate big ideas presented in their thought leadership

Missed Opportunity

Tell me, hand-on-heart, how many of your sales reps know what thought leadership your company has in the market? How many of them are tapping into the communication teams’ resources to build more relevant sales conversations off the back of it? Now tell me how often you hear ‘marketing isn’t giving us good enough leads’? In this example, the fault may not be with the quality of the leads, but rather in the way they are being handled when passed to sales. In this example, looking both ways enables you to look ahead and recognize the shift in the way customers engage with your company as they shun traditional marketing resources and to look sideways and identify that your communications team can equip sales to have a more relevant conversation with prospects.

The value of the average customer account increased by 20%…. The moral of the example: efficient teams are good for business.

Actionable Insight

Of course, this is just one example, and every sales organization has its own performance challenges specific to its industry and set-up. But, if you recognize the wisdom of looking beyond the symptoms of your sales challenges to address the source them, here are three critical steps to help you build a winning sales approach:


Reviewing your processes means verifying if your engine is fit to power the business you’re running and the strategy you’re trying to achieve, in the market in which you’re operating.

When people could still remember Netflix as a DVD postal service, we worked with a smart client who, by looking ahead, anticipated the need to move to a subscription model. Despite sales ably signing up new customers, there was a problem. By looking sideways and around the business we identified that 75% of new customers were either held-up activating their accounts or paying for their service. As a result, sales people’s time was spent negotiating bottlenecks rather than winning more business. In improving account activation and billing processes, neither of which was technically part of the sales process, the company was able to improve the sales performance. The business became more efficient because its processes supported its strategy.


Look at your people through the same lens. Look ahead, consider industry trends and movements, how are they impacting things like customer behavior, staff churn or market demand? Once you’ve identified the wider market challenges (the source), then consider how to tackle the symptoms i.e., your sales team’s performance. Work out the key sales competencies required to operate effectively in this environment. Then work out if your team has them. Help them identify where they have weaknesses and then help them plug the gaps.

Next, look sideways. Who is best placed within your organization to help you? If help isn’t available, consider outside support. When one sales leader recognized that his team was relying on upsell rather than new business to hit targets, he approached us for help with sales coaching. Instead, we provided training and coaching to the customer success team. Then we changed the metrics and language used to compensate the customer success team to focus less on selling and more on customer value. The result: the value of the average customer account increased by 20% and over 80% of sales people reported they had more time selling. The moral of the example: efficient teams are good for business, but understanding the cause not just the symptoms of your sales performance challenge is key.


When your processes are efficient and your teams are effective, you’re in a stronger position than most businesses. Capitalize on it. Now is the time to consider using tools to further augment sales performance. We’ve helped customers implement tools as diverse as:

– Access to thought leadership content and training on how to use it in sales discussions

– A content management platform to give sales teams more time selling and less time searching for relevant sales materials

– A CRM admin automation tool that enables greater forecasting accuracy through clearer data insight on deals in your pipeline

The tools you need will be specific to your situation. The point to remember is that in each instance, these tools build on the improved efficiency and effectiveness gains you’ve already made. They’re rarely the solution itself.

The Roaring Twenties

As we start a new decade of sales performance improvements, your decision as a sales leader is whether you look ahead and anticipate change, or stay focused on the what’s right in front of you. My 30 years’ experience says that sales leaders that out perform their peers take the time to look up and look around. Head into the next decade with a commitment to look beyond the quarterly pipeline, to help your sales team improve by tackling the cause of their challenges, not just the symptoms, and your sales team and your results will thank you.

Mark Savinson is the CEO of Strategy to Revenue, the award-winning Sales Enablement consultancy.

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