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The Number Two Reason Salespeople Fail

Anthony Iannarino
Post by Anthony Iannarino
April 13, 2010

People get into sales for different reasons. Some people love selling. Some of us end up forced into the role by someone who recognizes something in us that indicates we can and will succeed in sales. Lots of people get into sales because of the potential to earn money.

Regardless of the reasons that bring someone to sales, many fail because they can’t effectively deal with two things that come with sales: Independence and Personal Responsibility. This is true even when they possess many of the other attributes necessary to succeed in sales.

The first reason salespeople fail is that aren’t really salespeople, they are salespeople in name only (SINO).

The second reason that salespeople fail is that they can’t temper their independence with personal responsibility.

Heads I Win: Independence

In most sales roles, the sales person is given enormous freedom to produce results. They have the ability to determine on their own what tasks need to be completed and when. They have the autonomy to determine how best to achieve the outcomes they need in order to win clients. Their activity goals are usually reasonable and flexible enough to accommodate various approaches and still lead to success.

In business-to-business sales, most salespeople come and go as they please. They enjoy a unique independence.

Tails You Lose: Personal Responsibility

The other side of the coin is personal responsibility. Salespeople are given the freedom to produce results with the expectation that they will actually produce results. Many salespeople will not exercise their personal responsibility.

If you have been in sales for any amount of time, you recognize this group of people. Much of the time they are excellent on the telephone and can easily schedule appointments with dream clients that were thought to be impenetrable. They have an amazing and awe-inspiring ability to develop rapport, easily creating a connection and trust with contacts throughout the organizations they pursue. They easily and naturally ask for and obtain commitments that advance a deal.

All of these attributes would allow these salespeople to succeed if they could only overcome the one obstacle standing in their way: themselves.

Because they lack self-discipline, they lack the master key to sales effectiveness. Although they could easily pick up the phone and schedule more appointments with better prospects than their peer group, they leave the phone on the hook, unable to release themselves from the overwhelming gravitational pull of the weapons of mass distraction: the Internet, email, and the water cooler.

Their rapport-building skills are wasted on their sales manager and others in their own company, who recognize the salesperson’s ability and hope that it translates to sales—even when their rapport is used only to sell excuses as to why they consistently miss their activity quota.

Their ability to ask for and to obtain commitments looks like primary attribute for which you would hire a salesperson. These salespeople use this ability to ask for and to obtain jobs in sales, knowing that they will never again work as hard to sell anything as they do to sell themselves when getting hired. Once hired, they work only hard enough to stir up a couple reasonable looking deals to give cover to their lack of discipline and personal responsibility.

Ultimately, their lack of discipline and personal responsibility results in their failure–despite their great sales abilities and attributes.

How To Deal With Peter Pan

A lot of sales managers and sales executives read this blog.

I’d love to provide some words of wisdom as to how to help Peter Pan grow up and face their responsibility. But it is my experience that you can’t want something for someone more than they want it for themselves; if they don’t want to change, they won’t change. Self-discipline and personal responsibility are impossible attributes to impose on others.

Taking away the freedom and independence seems only to cause this group of people to make greater excuses and to perform poorer still. And it’s hard to take away and harder to enforce.

My recommendation is to recognize these salespeople early, and to replace them with people who possess a greater self-discipline. I have seen too many disciplined people with poor selling skills succeed,  outselling those with extraordinary skills and lack of discipline. They simply outworked them.

If You Are Peter Pan

All of us recognize our own lack of discipline. The most disciplined people are the people who most complain and work on their own self-discipline. But if you identify this as the primary obstacle to your own success, start by reading this and this.

Know that self-discipline requires that you temper your own independence and that you exercise control over your own choices of what to do with your most valuable possessions, your focus and your attention.

Success follows your taking disciplined and focused action every day, and there is simply no way to cram for success.


The number one reason salespeople fail is that they aren’t really salespeople in the first place. The second reason salespeople fail is that, although they possess most of the attributes necessary to succeed in sales, they cannot temper the independence that comes with sales with the personal responsibility and self-discipline required to succeed.


1. What are your biggest distractions? How do you eliminate those distractions to stay focused on the outcomes you need to succeed?

2. How much of the obstacles to your success in sales would be removed by greater self-discipline and increased personal responsibility?

3. Do you consistently beat your activity goals only to find you miss quota? Or do you consistently miss your activity goals and squeak out something just short of quota?

4. Do you recognize that, more often than not, the greatest obstacle to your success you? That it is your inability to get yourself to take action?

Read my interview with Tom Peters (Part One and Part Two).

Read my Blogs.com featured guest post on the Top Ten Sales blogs.

Read my monthly post on Sales Bloggers Union.

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Sales 2010
Post by Anthony Iannarino on April 13, 2010

Written and edited by human brains and human hands.

Anthony Iannarino
Anthony Iannarino is a writer, an international speaker, and an entrepreneur. He is the author of four books on the modern sales approach, one book on sales leadership, and his latest book called The Negativity Fast releases on 10.31.23. Anthony posts daily content here at TheSalesBlog.com.
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