Dead Horse Sales Management

If you’ve been around for any length of time you’ve undoubtedly heard the term, “flogging a dead horse.” The concept, of course, is that flogging a dead horse won’t get it to run any faster (or run at all for that matter). And while the term is generally applied to discussing a topic to excess and to no avail, it can also apply to sales management.

As sales managers, part of our job is to get the best out of our people. Now, while I’m not a big fan of flogging my people, either physically or verbally, to get them to run faster, sometimes the technique has some merit. Before we look at flogging as a motivational technique though, let’s take a brief look at the various types of horses that are out there.


Really good salespeople can be compared to thoroughbred racehorses in that they are, or can be, competitive, eager to perform, highly strung, temperamental, good at what they are trained to do, etc.

It’s interesting to note that the horses don’t just get put on the racetrack and let loose. They still must be ridden to achieve the goal of winning the race.

Guess who the jockey is when it comes to salespeople? You got it!


It’s only the top three horses in any race that get any publicity and who pay off in the end.

In the sales race, it’s usually only the first past the post who gets the sale and is declared the winner. All the rest are also-rans. As long as the also-rans win the occasional race, they’re spared the trip to the glue factory.

As a sales manager, your job is to make sure that your also-rans win enough races to pay their way, and then some, or it’s off to the glue factory, figuratively speaking.


Every now and then a horse finds its way onto the racetrack that simply never should have been there in the first place. This is an extremely rare occurrence in horse racing but an all-too-common occurrence in the sales race.

If you can’t revive them, give them a decent burial, and replace them with some racehorses.

Training for Performance

Racehorses constantly train in order to stay in top form. Too bad more salespeople didn’t do the same!

I was in the sales training business for over 40 years and the usual scenario that led to my doing sales training for a company was that sales weren’t what they should be so the company would engage my services to give sales a boost. This rarely happened for two reasons. And when sales didn’t immediately happen I, as the trainer, usually got blamed.

The first reason why sales didn’t immediately take off as the client hoped was that any sale is usually the result of something the salesperson has been working on for some period of time, often several months. So, the drop in sales that a company is experiencing today is the result of something that happened, or more likely didn’t happen, several months before.

Similarly, any boost in sales that is a result of the sales training is unlikely to be experienced for several months.

You may think that several months is excessive. Not necessarily so. When I analyzed the sales cycle at my sales training company, it ran anywhere from 60 days to over two years. But the average length of time from, “Hello” to “Thanks for the order” was seven to nine months.

Do you know what your average sales cycle is? It might be interesting to find out.

The second reason why sales didn’t always take off was because I was basically brought in to train pigs to fly. I was being asked to train people to sell who should have never been in sales in the first place. By the way, trying to train pigs to fly usually annoys the pigs and frustrates the trainer.

How About You?

Don’t be too smug. How sure are you that you have a bunch of winners?

One of my previous clients with over 50 salespeople wanted to engage my sales training services. Before I accepted the project, I asked to have an opportunity to assess their team, using our sales assessment, to get a better idea of just who (or what) I was going to train.

You’re probably familiar with what a statistical bell curve looks like. It’s a distribution curve of results that looks a lot like a bell with a bunch of results in the center and tapering off as you get to both the high and low ends of the curve.

Well, the results from the assessments showed a small peak at the high end (top performers the racehorses), a dip in the center (good performers – the also-rans), with the bulk of the people clustered around the low end (poor performers, the nags and dead horses).

The company had been trying to get results from a lot of people who probably should have been doing something else for a living. Basically, they were exercising dead horse sales management techniques, trying to flog a dead horse, or a bunch of dead horses in this case, to get sales results.

As a sales trainer, I knew that the best I would be able to do is move some of the nags up into the also-ran category and perhaps breathe some life into a few of the dead horses. But there would still be some dead bodies left behind when I was done.

I briefed the company’s management on my findings. Their decision and the results are best left for another article.

Bottom Line

The point is: Do you have the right people on your team to get your sales to where they ought to be or are you flogging a bunch of dead horses? It’s a frightening thought, but it might be better to find out now rather than later.

If you do have a bunch of potential winners but the sales still aren’t where they should be, then maybe you have a sales management challenge and you should be flogging yourself.

Either way, happy flogging!