According to the Oxford English Dictionary, fragility is: the quality of being fragile or easily broken; hence, liability to be damaged or destroyed, weakness, delicacy.
You don't want to be fragile. Being robust and resilient is great, but even better is being antifragile, which means you gain from negative events that would hurt your competitors. See Antifragile: Things That Benefit from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
We live in an environment that is defined by accelerating, constant, disruptive change, the ACDC environment. This means we routinely experience volatility, uncertainty, stressors, and randomness.
Sources of Fragility
There are many sources of fragility that plague sales organizations that have failed to adapt to today’s evolving business landscape. The most important reasons that sales organizations are fragile include the following:
- Lack of sales effectiveness: Increasingly poor win rate averages present all sorts of problems for salespeople, from not being able to book a first meeting to not being able to command a second meeting, to an inability to win deals. There is nothing that will protect you from being fragile when you lack sales effectiveness.
- Too-high pipeline quotas: The only reason a sales force might need four times their quota in the pipeline is that their manager believes they will lose so many deals that they will fail to reach their sales goals and objectives. If your plan is to lose 75 percent of the deals your team creates, it’s a sign that they lack sales effectiveness.
- False deals in your pipeline: By allowing a salesperson to add a new deal to your pipeline after their first meeting, you increase fragility. The prospect isn't likely to be an opportunity until a second meeting occurs. These false deals have no momentum, so allowing them to appear in your CRM as opportunities sets you up for failure. Remove bad pipelines to become less fragile.
- Outdated sales approaches: This is one of the major sources of fragility in sales. The reason sales reps have trouble getting a second meeting is because their approach delivers a poor sales experience for the buyers and decision-makers. Effective salespeople use a modern approach that puts them more in the role of a business advisor than an old-fashioned salesperson.
- Inability to create value: The largest variable for success in sales is the salesperson's performance in the sales conversation. When a salesperson fails to share anything the client finds valuable, they are likely to lose to a competitor who performs better.
- Poor sales culture: A poor sales culture is fragile, and things go from bad to worse when salespeople leave in search of a positive sales culture. Once the negative culture metastasizes, people get desperate, and performance rapidly deteriorates.
- Lack of accountability: You have been told that people do better when they are given autonomy. This is generally true, but when it comes to B2B sales, autonomy requires accountability. When sales reps don’t do the right work, in the right way, at the right time, it exposes you and your team to volatility.
- Poor Prioritization: There has never been a time in our history with more distractions, from email to text messages to Slack, chat, communications from other departments and unnecessary meetings. When the sales force has too much coming in, it steals their focus and their ability to be robust or antifragile. Unless you explain to your team that they need to spend their time with clients, they will believe keeping up with trivial busywork is a big part of their job.
- The false promise of technology and efficiency: Make a list of all the clients that bought from your sales force because of your efficient sales stack. The right answer is zero. You need a CRM and the data to populate it. Don’t let technology own you.
- Lack of training and development: While this is a major source of fragility, I left it for last so I wouldn’t seem self-serving. Let me test you here: You can be the coach of the Kansas City Chiefs (14 wins) or the Chicago Bears (lost 14 games). Your team is going to be what you make them.
- Unable to lead the client: A sales force that doesn’t lead their clients is susceptible to all kinds of problems, especially when it comes to building consensus and gaining access to the decision maker who will sign your contract and a check.
Fragile sales forces expose themselves to negative outcomes in a variety of ways. Let's start with losing deals because of poor sales effectiveness and an inability to beat competitors. Buyers are unforgiving when it comes to the legacy approach and poor sales experience. Making key changes soon is important because time marches forward without stopping, making sales a race against the clock.
It is rare that we look at our sales forces through the lens of fragility and exposure to negative events. You will have recessions, client churn, the loss of your best sales rep, killed initiatives, and deals lost to the competition.
As a sales leader or sales manager, you should assess your fragility, noting what might prevent you from being able to hit your targets and generate net new revenue. Perhaps the easiest way to do this is to reverse the 11 forces here and any other obstacles you face.