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Recently, Andy Paul shared with me that the average win rate in sales is 17 percent. That means it must be nearly impossible for most salespeople to reach their sales targets and goals. Losing 83 percent of opportunities, whether they are real or pretend, isn’t an effective strategy. Creating good opportunities takes time and energy, losing them is tragic.

This obsession over the number of deals in the pipeline is a major contributor to poor win rates. It is also why salespeople believe that sales is a numbers game, where every opportunity is a lottery ticket and 83 percent are losers.

Leaders who want to succeed at growing revenue must be obsessed with high win rates, not a pipeline worth six times the salesperson’s sales quota. More opportunities don’t help you with net new revenue. Only winning new opportunities generates revenue.

What Leaders Do to Cause Low Win Rates

Sales leaders do several things that result in low win rates. The most common way leaders cause low win rates is rooted in the belief that each rep on their team needs many times their target in their pipeline if they are to succeed. The reason they command their team to build a gargantuan pipeline is because they believe they will lose a great percentage of those potential deals.

During a recent conversation with a sales leader, I questioned the size of their pipeline, suggesting that a quick glance made it clear that many opportunities were not real. This is what happens when sales managers require their sales reps to log every first meeting as an opportunity. Often, sales leaders require this charade, and everyone else goes along. Some managers and reps find comfort in the false sense of security of seeing a pipeline that’s full, even if many of the records are not realistic opportunities.

Another thing sales leaders and their sales managers do to create low win rates, treating the pipeline like a war of attrition. They give their sales reps marching orders to have a first meeting, log the call, and move on. In many cases, reps never see the prospective clients a second time, so they never develop the relationships required to close deals.

Finally, many leaders set guidelines based on their belief that efficiency is more important than effectiveness. They fail to recognize that when actions don’t produce the desired outcome, they are inefficient.

Increasing Sales Effectiveness Is Hard

Perhaps, the most significant reason that sales leaders cause low win rates is because they don’t do anything that increases their sales force’s effectiveness. One company I know does a single sales training once every year at their sales kickoff meeting. Every salesperson gets the same training, last year’s topic was negotiation. Why negotiation? It had been a long time since they covered the topic.

There is nothing wrong with sales training on negotiation, but every session and topic should develop a clear strategic outcome. For example, effective training in negotiation should improve profit margins or reduce the size of concessions the team gives their clients to win. A sales organization that uses this check-box training will train the 12 major sales skills over 12 years, the same time it takes a child to get through grade school, middle school, and high school.

It isn’t easy to increase a sales force’s sales effectiveness, which you measure using win rate. It is easy to ask for more opportunities. It’s even easier to log every first meeting as an opportunity and pretend the pipeline contains enough substance to hit your targets.

This attitude allows sales leaders to avoid providing sales training based on a significant development plan built on a modern sales competency model. It also means skimping on the sales coaching salespeople say they want from their sales managers, when they could be out increasing the pipeline of the deals they will lose.

The Lasting Implications of Low Win Rates

When a salesperson has a first meeting without a second meeting, it means they failed their audition. If the salesperson didn’t prove that they have the right stuff, the sales champion will bring a sales rep back to meet their manager or their task force. They don’t want to be embarrassed by a salesperson who lacks business acumen or cannot offer a sales conversation that creates an exceptional buying experience.

Worse is losing a sales opportunity to a competitor that may keep that client for a decade or more. You and your sales force can be ousted because your contacts like a salesperson from a different sales organization better. When sending a salesperson to your strategic targets, the salesperson must be able to win enterprise-level clients' business. Anything else is poor strategy.

In competitive sales for large companies that spend a great deal of money on what you sell, you can expect that your competitor will send in their best salespeople to secure the client and prevent you from winning the deal they know they will win.

Low Win Rates Harms Every Stakeholder

When sales leaders allow their teams to have low win rates, every stakeholder suffers. First, the salesperson with a low win rate will not have the confidence to win large, competitive deals. What’s worse is that the salesperson’s family will not have the income they need, creating greater stress and anxiety on a personal level.

Many prospective clients would benefit from what your sales organization has to offer. But they need an effective salesperson to help them. Your company would have benefitted from winning these clients your company needed to reach their sales targets and sales objectives.

What to Do About Your Low Win Rates

First measure each salesperson’s sales effectiveness by using their win rate. Average the win rate to measure the sales effectiveness of the entire sales force. Use a competency model and have each salesperson assess their strengths and weaknesses. While they are completing the survey, have sales managers assess their teams and compare the areas where there are conflicts.

Look for patterns across the sales force, including looking at the opportunity stages where the sales force can’t progress to the next sales conversation. Use sales training for the entire sales force and coaching for the individual challenges salespeople have. If you would like some help building sales effectiveness, schedule a meeting here.


Post by Anthony Iannarino on June 2, 2023

Written and edited by human brains and human hands.

Anthony Iannarino

Anthony Iannarino is an American writer. He has published daily at thesalesblog.com for more than 14 years, amassing over 5,300 articles and making this platform a destination for salespeople and sales leaders. Anthony is also the author of four best-selling books documenting modern sales methodologies and a fifth book for sales leaders seeking revenue growth. His latest book for an even wider audience is titled, The Negativity Fast: Proven Techniques to Increase Positivity, Reduce Fear, and Boost Success.

Anthony speaks to sales organizations worldwide, delivering cutting-edge sales strategies and tactics that work in this ever-evolving B2B landscape. He also provides workshops and seminars. You can reach Anthony at thesalesblog.com or email Beth@b2bsalescoach.com.

Connect with Anthony on LinkedIn, X or Youtube. You can email Anthony at iannarino@gmail.com

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