Sandbagging in Sales – is it a Relationship Problem? 

5 minute read

Having trouble setting accurate sales forecasts or seeing close dates consistently sandbagged to next quarter? You might have a relationship problem.  

Forecast calls around the world follow a familiar structure. Regardless of the size of your company, the sales leader gathers sellers and runs them through the standard set of questions. These usually include: 

  • What’s the latest update? 
  • Who are we talking to? 
  • Who else do we need to talk to? 
  • What do we know about their selection process? 
  • Who makes the final decision?
  • Are we the preferred vendor? 
  • What’s the next step? 

While at first, these questions might appear distinct, at heart they are all asking the same thing – how effectively has the team been able to build relationships in the account? Failure to build those relationships is often what causes things like sandbagging to occur.   

What is sandbagging in sales?

Sandbagging in sales happens when salespeople underestimate or downplay their sales forecast or pipeline due to a lack of confidence or uncertainty regarding their potential deals. When this happens, you can bet it’s because those all-important relationships haven’t been built securely enough.  

What happens when sandbagging prevents deals from closing on time? 

Ultimately, the challenge of sandbagging is that of unreliable sales forecasts. This can result in problems like not knowing where to invest in inventory, human capital, and derail crucial decision-making. Furthermore, inaccurate sales forecasts can lead to over or under-staffing, resulting in either excess labor costs or inadequate customer service. This issue is of particular concern now, with the labor market setting records for its tightness. 

What causes sandbagging in sales? 

Although often unintentional, sandbagging does sometimes occur during the sales forecasting process. Usually, it is due to one of the following factors: 

  • The deal was not properly understood to begin with. It’s hard to give accurate details about a deal when the full picture isn’t understood. 
  • Sellers feel unconfident, especially if the teamwork aspect isn’t strong enough. It can occur that a seller doesn’t have the full resources they need to tackle a particularly complex deal. 
  • Relationships aren’t strong enough, causing things to go other than anticipated. 

Sandbagging in sales is a relationship problem

Despite the considerable focus placed on deal probabilities, analytics, and forecast accuracy, building a holistic understanding of the relationships and influence within accounts remains a blind spot for many organizations. 

The reality of today’s highly competitive sales environment, however, means that our relationships and connections are our most critical success factors. Sellers must connect with the right people, navigate internal politics and pitfalls, and understand who has influence beyond—or sometimes regardless of—the literal facts presented on the org chart. 

Whatever the reason for sandbagging, it can hurt sales velocity, or the speed at which deals move through the pipeline, when it is not properly addressed. Many times, doubling down on relationships is enough to solve the sandbagging problem. This can happen in one of a few ways: 

Account planning to counter sandbagging 

A strong account planning practice starts with consistency. By building a culture of account planning in your organization, sellers, managers, and executives can build a more comprehensive understanding of the deal, ensuring all the proper information is at hand. This makes more accurate sales forecasts a possibility while cutting back on sandbagging. 

In addition to helping teams gain a holistic view of their accounts, the right account planning software can help teams see sandbagging warning signs early on. Things like lagging warnings, when regularly reviewed, show potential problem areas before they arise. 

Set a regular cadence for deal and account reviews 

Another way to reduce sandbagging is to create a standard cadence for deal and account reviews. Done collaboratively between stakeholders across the revenue team, this process allows everyone to ask questions, dig into strategy, determine next steps, and helps sellers keep deals moving forward.  

Create a culture of mentorship and coaching to avoid sandbagging in sales

Enabling sellers to build relationships and meet their targets starts with coaching and mentorship. Success, failures, joys and sorrows must be celebrated or grieved together to ensure your team optimizes their potential. Turning those stories of deals reps thought they couldn’t close into actual revenue will be as crucial for the team dynamic as they are for the bottom line. 

Selling as a team reduces sales sandbagging 

It takes an entire revenue team to ensure sellers feel confident in their relationships within prospective and existing accounts. After all, sales are rarely made one-on-one anymore. For this reason, it’s important that a seller has an entire revenue team behind them when they approach the deals that matter.  

Aligning the revenue team to their peers in their accounts is a crucial step to success. With a team behind them, plenty of resources, and many opportunities to collaborate, sellers will have the tools they need to close deals on time.  

Good deals are built on strong relationships

Lastly, sellers can take advantage of relationship and insight mapping to better understand their accounts and build better relationships. By understanding the people, problems, and relationships within their accounts, sellers can solve the relationship challenge at the heart of sandbagging and deliver more accurate forecasts. 

At the end of the day, a deal was never lost or late because of strong relationships. By putting relationships at the center of everything your revenue team does, you can overcome sandbagging, boost sales velocity, and be one of the few to deliver accurate forecasts as a natural side effect of the best-in-class, daily account planning practice your team has fostered together. 

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