Question: My salespeople acknowledge it’s a good idea to spend more time with their high-potential sales accounts, but they don’t do it. How can I get them to actually follow through with what they know is the right strategy?

Answer: You are up against a problem that goes back to the beginning of history, and continues to plague us today. How do we get someone else to tap into the high- potential sales accounts we know are best?

The Apostle Paul, writing in the New Testament book of Romans said this: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate, I do.”

He could be one of your salespeople! So, welcome to a problem that generations of people, in all sorts of situations, have recognized and confronted. However, just because the problem is age-old doesn’t mean we have to woefully accept it as unavoidable or unsolvable. There are some things you can do.

First, let’s try to understand what you are up against. Why is it so difficult for us to do what we want to do? I believe there are two primary forces holding us back: habit and self-image.

Habit is a powerful force in the life of a salesperson. A field salesperson has the responsibility of making decisions continually in the course of the day, including where to go and what to do. This is a constant pressure that often wears on everyone, even those with the best of intentions. No matter how hard people try, they just can’t be productive every minute of every day. They will habitually default to what has kept them moderately occupied and feeling productive in the past.

In the case of your salespeople, that is the behavior and routine they use to fill their days before they identify their high-potential sales customers.

Here’s an example. If your salesperson is used to spending every Monday morning in the office, it is incredibly difficult for him to overcome that routine and use the time for sales calls instead.

When faced with the prospect of calling on high-potential sales accounts — which is a new behavior fraught with the potential for failure — he’ll often default to what made him feel productive and useful before, e.g., go into the office and get busy with clerical work.

I’m not sure that these decisions are rational or conscious. It’s just force of habit directing us to fill our days with what is comfortable as opposed to what is risky.

Closely associated with this is the salesperson’s self-image. This can be a huge barrier to his performance. Some salespeople, for example, just don’t view themselves as substantial enough to interact with a CEO, CFO or other C-level executive. They see themselves as much more comfortable with the operators and purchasing people. It is a matter of their self-image.

Specifically, to your issue, typical high-potential sales accounts are larger accounts where there are a variety of different types of people and job descriptions with whom the salesperson must interact. If your salesperson is only comfortable talking to middle-management positions, that image of himself is going to prevent him from calling on accounts where he has to work directly with C-level executives.

So, we have two specific causes of the problem: habit and self-image.

Your first step is to decide which of these is predominant in each individual salesperson.

You can help someone change their habits, if they are willing to work at it. First, create specific expectations. Next, put some incentive behind achieving what you want them to do (and create some consequences for failure). Also, manage them closely, measure them accurately, and praise and encourage them publicly for success.

Self-image is a far more powerful force. Outside of a brainwashing experience, or a transformational event, I don’t think adults change their image of themselves easily.

If you believe self-image is the problem, you can work intensely with the salesperson — taking him with you on calls to C-level executives, coaching him, modeling behavior, training him, etc. But, from my experience, that is a long and tough journey with the likelihood of only limited and sporadic success.

My suggestion? Focus him on those accounts he is comfortable with and find someone else to call on the high-potential sales accounts.


Dave Kahle is a leading authority on distributor sales. He’s authored nine books, presented in 47 states and seven countries, and has trained thousands of salespeople and sales leaders. He can be reached at, or 800-331-1287. Visit for more information.