Liars figure, and figures lie.”
- Old axiom
This old adage speaks to the power of manipulation, specifically in the treatment of data and statistics. It suggests that numbers can be easily manipulated to tell any story, and that liars with an agenda of their own will figure out how to present data and information that best suits their agenda.
Unfortunately, this is a common axiom among sales reps. The affliction known as ‘sandbagging’ – the act of hiding or holding back something or someone, in this case sales results, only to reveal it later when it is most beneficial – is inherent among sales reps. Reps will manipulate their own data to make them look good today, make themselves look better in the future or make others look worse by comparison. In other words, they engage in dishonest and disingenuous behavior that makes sales management that much more difficult.
Here are the 3 biggest reasons why dishonest sales reps are a major problem for your sales organization.
1) Accurate sales forecasting becomes practically impossible
The first area that is affected when sales reps lie is in one of your most important sales management responsibilities; forecasting sales accurately. Accurate sales forecasting relies on reconciling your historical win rates at various funnel stages with your current opportunity pipeline, with a dash of your reps’ intuition. This provides two chances for your reps to lie:
Historically not pushing opportunities through to later stages of the funnel unless they are absolutely certain that those opps are going to closed-won. Reps are loathe to lose late-stage opportunities, so they might hold some back – sandbagging, if you will – until they are 100% convinced that victory is nigh.
Putting on their ‘happy ears’ when their manager asks about late-stage opportunities. Even though some opps might display all the trademark warning signs of forecast killers, reps will sometimes blindly ignore these red-flags and say, “Oh yeah, that opportunity is definitely going to close.” The manager then includes that prediction in their forecast, only to be made to look like a fool when those forecast killers do in fact kill that opportunity.
2) Incorrectly spotlights “weaknesses” in your sales process
Let’s say outbound prospecting is one of your three primary pillars of lead generation. Suppose each of your outbound prospecting reps are tasked with making 100 prospecting calls a day. What if your reps are lollygagging throughout the day’s first 60 calls, only to realize that it’s 4:00 pm and they have 40 calls to make? What do you suppose they’ll do then?
Well, most reps in that position start calling what we’ll politely refer to as ‘bullshit’ numbers, or contacts that have no chance of ever buying your product or service. They might dial up their grandmother, their former college roommate or their dog-walker in a bid to drum up their activity numbers for the day.
Where this becomes a major problem is when the sales manager, evaluating the efforts of his outbound prospecting initiative, looks at the meetings generated per 100 calls and sees a figure that is horribly skewed by the aforementioned reasons. He might then think that his reps need to raise their daily call quota to account for the poor conversion rate, or might scrap outbound prospecting as a lead generation tool altogether. Both would be severe mistakes, borne about by the long-gestating habits of dishonest sales reps.
3) Creates a bad culture and a toxic sales environment
Two of the principles we emphasize most strongly here at InsightSquared are the concepts of company-wide transparency and “one team” unified toward a common goal. Nothing can sabotage both of those principles quicker than a dishonest rep who either sandbags or just blatantly lies about his or her performances.
A big part of what our software does is increase transparency and eliminate situations where reps can lie or manipulate the data to their benefit. Of course, any software is only as good as the data going in, so this still requires sales managers to ensure their reps are entering quality data. Once the data has been cleaned up, however, our product shines a light on the performances of all reps – from outbound prospecting to closing – giving them no rocks to hide under. The most successful reps will appreciate the bright spotlight of a sales leaderboard. Additionally, sales managers can drill down into the data of a suspicious rep, giving them the ammo they need to dismiss the dishonest rep, if need be.
Finally, a rep who lies is more concerned with making himself look good than the success of his sales manager, his sales team and the company. These are bad apples that you don’t want poisoning the rest of the barrel.
If you find that sales reps are manipulating data and sales figures – either intentionally or inadvertently – you have to act quickly. If the mistake is inadvertent, coach them on the proper methods of data entry. However, if the manipulation appears intentional, that rep must be given a very short leash. Liars who figure out how to make the figures lie are a sure-fire way to ruin your business.