Failure and success are two sides of the same coin. Although success is obviously the preferable side of said coin, you can’t have one without the other.

As a salesperson, you’ve probably experienced your fair share of failures–the loss of a customer, an inability to gain a new retail relationship, or a constant stream of “no’s” when pitching a new product to buyers. Thankfully, figuring out the reasons for each of these failures can help you succeed. Here are some of the most common reasons why salespeople fail:

Why Salespeople Fail

1. The conversation was about the product, not the customer.

It’s common knowledge at this point that sales is all about relationships and the conversations that nurture them. Those conversations, however, must be characterized by a customer-focused dialogue.

If you catch yourself rattling off product features and brand virtues (i.e. talking way more than the customer is talking), you’re not taking the time to understand the customer’s needs. A sales conversation is about more than just breaking the ice or building that initial rapport. Sales reps have to do more than sell something. In order to succeed, ask questions and help retailers meet their goals. No one wants to be manipulated; they want to be supported.

2. The sales rep didn’t believe in the product and/or brand.

If you’re not a believer in what you’re selling, how are you going to make the buyer a believer? This issue often has to do with a lack of product knowledge–some sales reps just don’t have enough product training to really understand the value of what they’re selling.

It can also have to do with your own personality and interests. Many salespeople in the outdoor industry, for instance, are outdoor enthusiasts themselves. They can relate to the products and brands in their catalog, and will therefore have much more compelling narratives when meeting with retailers. Imagine a city-dwelling homebody trying to sell camping equipment. Not good.

Sales is difficult, and you need confidence and conviction to be successful. Increasing your product knowledge andgetting to know the product first-hand is so important. If you can’t champion what you’re selling, you may need to think about whether it’s time for a change of pace.

3. There was a lack of training and support.

Many sales reps lead very independent lifestyles. They’re on the road meeting retailers and managing their own schedules. Due to the independent nature of this job, training is often not a huge concern for many sales managers. Likewise, many reps have been on the road for years and don’t feel that they need any additional training. However, training is necessary to sales success, and remains an ongoing practice in many sales organizations.

This is about more than product trainings, the importance of which has already been stated. Sales reps should also understand changes in the market into which they’re selling. You should be able to understand the challenges facing retailers and how your wholesale brand is helping them meet those challenges. You should learn to use new technologies and tools that will help you work smarter and faster. Sales teams also need proactive managers who will help solve problems and guide the overall team’s strategy.

4. The motivation wasn’t there.

Without the right incentives, it’s difficult to get anything accomplished. Sales reps who aren’t actively incentivized to succeed often fail for lack of motivation, drive, and urgency. This is especially true in the case of wholesale field sales, when reps are largely independent, and the job requires a lot of self-discipline and proactive work.

In these scenarios, proper motivation is key to maintaining not just success, but consistency in that success. Check out our series on motivating your sales teams. Find Part 1 here, and Part 2 here. For more information on what motivates independent sales reps, click here.

5. There was a lack of honesty.

It can take many years to build a strong relationship with a retailer. It only takes one moment of dishonesty, however, to destroy that relationship. Whatever a sales rep may be able to gain from manipulating or deceiving a customer, they will lose tenfold. Buyers want to work with people they trust and respect. Honesty is always the best policy.

6. The sales rep couldn’t adapt to change.

Many sales reps have been doing much the same job for years, if not decades. As such, they often have preconceived notions about the sales process and how things get done. Any improvements, therefore, are often incremental at best.

As the market changes, and other sales organizations begin to drastically improve their productivity, speed, market knowledge, etc. (whether it’s with technology, streamlined processes, or other tools), the salespeople who are unable to adapt to that shift will be left behind, as customers come to expect a new level of efficiency. To be successful, you must constantly adapt your strategy to the changes around you.


With these common reasons for sales failures, you’ll be armed to achieve sales success. Do you have other ideas for reasons why salespeople fail, and how they can improve? Let us know in the comments.