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There are two sets of problems that salespeople face in producing results. Salespeople get the two sets of problems confused, and so do their sales managers.

In one set of problems, both the salesperson and their sales manager can work to make improvements. In the second set of problems, only the salesperson has the power to make an improvement.

I am unable.

Sometimes the salesperson is unable to do what they need to do to succeed.

They may struggle scheduling the appointments that they need to succeed. They may be unable to have the business conversation that builds their client’s trust and confidence. Some salespeople are unable to gain the commitments that they need that open or advance opportunities. The common factor in all of these is that they are essentially skills-based problems.

Salespeople can gain new skills. They can be taught, trained, developed, and coached. They can learn to schedule appointments effectively. If the salesperson and their sales manager both work hard the salesperson can develop the business acumen that builds confidence and trust in their dream clients. And they can surely be taught to do what they need to do to deserve a future commitment.

How you know you have a skills-based problem is in your effort. If you are relentlessly trying and failing, you need to learn more and change what you are doing.

Your effort is what determines that you have a skills-based problem that can be overcome.

I am unwilling.

If effort defines a skills-based problem, lack of effort defines an unwillingness problem.

If you have to have one set of problems, you are far better off having a skills-based problem. It is incredibly difficult to help people that have an unwillingness problem.

If you are unwilling to make your calls and schedule your appointments, there is no amount of training, teaching, development, or coaching that offers a single ounce of improvement. Here, improvement means being willing to do what must be done to get the result you need.

Gaining business acumen means being willing to read, to study, and to eventually gain an understanding of the business principles that allow you to understand. If you are unwilling to shift your time away from YouTube and Facebook for an hour a day, you will be capable of gaining the business acumen you need, but your unwillingness will prevent you from getting any better.

People who are unwilling often say that they need someone to motivate them. But there is only voice that can motivate them, and until they awaken that inner voice, there is no other voice that can motivate them to take action.

The sales manager’s confusion

Sales managers are sometimes confused by these two problems. They have a perceptual lens that distorts their view.

When sales managers have a salesperson that doesn’t put up the numbers despite having incredible talents and abilities, they wrongly believe that they can help that salesperson to succeed. They can’t.

You cannot teach, train, develop, or coach willingness. And giving these salespeople activity quotas doesn’t work either. They simply aren’t willing to do what they need to do, and you can’t make them.

Conversely, when sales managers come across a salesperson that isn’t putting up the numbers but lacks the natural abilities and talents that they recognize in other salespeople, they mistakenly believe that these salespeople cannot be helped (and that they aren’t capable of helping them).

You can teach, train, develop, and coach salespeople that are underperforming—provided both of you are willing. If the salesperson is willing to do the work and to take actions that are uncomfortable to them, they can learn to sell and succeed. As a sales manager, it’s likely that you are able to train, teach, develop, and coach them—but you also have to be willing.


When you struggle to produce results, is it because you are unable or unwilling?

How do you know that your problem is one of inability?

How do you improve your results when inability is your problem?

How do you know that your problem is one of unwillingness?

What has to change for you to finally be willing?

Sales 2011
Post by Anthony Iannarino on December 21, 2011

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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