< Back to All Insights and Resources

7 Questions to Ask When Your Sales Are Falling Short

Your sales team drives your company. Without them, your business will virtually collapse. With that said, it’s essential your sales department shows up every day with their A-game. But what happens when your sales are falling short? At first, this can be alarming. Is your business at risk? Are your products no longer desirable? These are questions that might be running through your head when you’re not meeting your quota.

Rather than asking these questions that cause worry, it’s important to take charge and ask the right questions. Below, we’ve curated a list of questions to ask when sales are down so you can start working toward an answer.

Your numbers never lie.

If your sales are falling short of the targets you’ve set, it’s going to be right there in black and white … and maybe even some red. But the reasons for those shortfalls are often mired in gray areas between your people, your processes, and your vision. No wonder struggling CEOs have so much trouble seeing them.

Better questions lead to real answers. There are numerous high-value questions you can ask that can point to the answer so you can find a solution. These high-value questions should focus on data, so you can gather real results. These high-level questions to ask when sales are down are important for a variety of reasons, as they can determine weaknesses in your business, gaps in your product line, and even issues targeting your company’s culture.

As a leader, it’s also important to practice active listening when asking questions. When answers are provided, repeat them back so you can ensure you interpreted their answer correctly. Doing so will build a sense of trust and understanding, and will also ensure no miscommunication occurs.

Now that you know about the importance of asking high-level questions, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty. Take a look at these seven questions to ask when sales are down to snap your problems and potential solutions into focus.

1. Why do you think your sales are falling short of the plan?

The first sales question to ask is “Why?” this can be a very powerful question, as long as you don’t settle for the first answer.

Mark Moses: If you ignore the conclusions these seven questions lead you towards, you’re just headed for another round of sagging sales, more questions, and more trouble.

The 5 Whys technique pioneered by Toyota forces you to drill deeper into your issues until you’ve identified the root cause.

For example:
Why did our sales fall short this month? (We made fewer sales.)
Why did we make fewer sales calls? (We had fewer leads to work.)
Why did we have fewer leads? (We sent fewer email offers.)
Why did we send fewer email offers? (We were short staffed.)
Why were we short staffed? (We didn’t plan well for two people who were on vacation.)
Bingo. Turns out your sales problem isn’t a sales problem – it’s a staffing problem. Now fix it.

Aside from the Five Whys above, there are additional questions you can ask that can get you closer to the answer “Why do you think your sales are falling short of the plan?” Missing the mark and not hitting your goals can be frustrating and worrisome. To get closer to why your sales are falling short, ask these questions:

  • How far were we from meeting our goals?
  • Were these factors within our control?
  • What made us miss the mark?
  • If you had a magic wand and could fix one problem, what would it be?

Through these questions, you can pinpoint certain events or factors that may be taking away from your sales growth. Once they’re outlined, you can start implementing changes to get back on track.

2. What are the top 3 or 4 specific and measurable leading activities that you are measuring every day, week, and month that drive your top-line growth? Can you show me the report?

click to enlarge

It’s shocking how many blank stares I get from struggling CEOs when I ask these questions. That tells me the problem runs deeper than a lack of sales. The problem is a lack of vision. If you were clearer on where you wanted your company to go, you’d have the steps in place that will get you there.

So go back to your Crystal Ball. It’s three years in the future, you’re standing in the middle of the biggest party your company’s ever had, and you’re celebrating … What? What’s the BIG target you hit?

Once you have that BIG vision locked in, write down the measurable, actionable steps you took that led to that result. Bring that list of leadership challenges to the next meeting and get cracking.

To help you narrow down the steps you need to take to achieve your BIG vision, there are several guiding questions you can ask. These questions include:

  • What solutions are you implementing to your key and target accounts?
  • What ideas are you generating for your prospects and customers?
  • Are you dedicating time every day to connect with new prospects?
  • What can we do that will add to revenue?

With these questions to ask when sales are down, you can start brainstorming areas where things went wrong, such as ideas that never came to fruition and a possible lack of time spent building relationships with clients to increase revenue.

3. How are you holding yourself and the sales team accountable for hitting the numbers?

Accountability is key when it comes to reaching your goals. Every member on your team should be assigned tasks within their wheelhouse that they’re responsible for completing at the best of their ability. To ensure they’re giving it their all, they need to be held accountable. I like great big scoreboards posted up high in the office where everyone on your team can see the company’s progress. That kind of visible accountability keeps everyone on the ball.

But the CEO needs to be held accountable too. Check-in regularly with trusted members of your leadership team, mentors, and your coach to make sure you’re acing the key tasks only the CEO can manage.

To further assess accountability within your organization, ask these key questions:

  • How can we prevent this decrease in revenue from happening again?
  • Do you have a meaningful relationship at the customer level with your agency accounts?
  • Can you define the needs of all your key and target accounts?
  • What are your most (and least) significant opportunities?

These questions can bring you closer to ensuring every team member is fulfilling their duties and getting you to hit your sales goals.

4. Determine How Effective your Sales Leader is.

There are plenty of questions to ask a sales leader that can help you understand when your sales are down. However, before going to your sales leader with questions, rate their abilities first. Depending on how you rate them, ask these additional questions:

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how effective do you think your sales leader is?
  • Why do you rate them at that level?
  • What do you think it would take to make them a nine-plus?
  • Do you think this person is one of the best in the country in that role?
  • What would it take for them to be the best in the country in that role?
  • 7? 8? Can you coach this person up?
  • 6 or lower? Why is this person still working for you?

Top companies hire top talent. They don’t fret about paying for a top salary – they identify the best people in the business and make the proverbial “offer you can’t refuse.” Once you have a strong sales leader in charge, you can ensure that they’re not the root cause of down sales numbers.

5. Is your sales team properly trained and equipped, and have they bought in to your sales goals?

Forget all those emails and bulletin boards. There’s only one surefire way to make sure your staff is working towards achieving your goals for the company, and that’s with an annual planning session. And no, you can’t run this by yourself. Bringing in an outside facilitator like your CEO coach to run the session sends an important message: you, as CEO, are doing your part as well to right the ship and set sail for BIG. If you participate rather than facilitate, your staff will be much more open with their feedback, and much more receptive to the plans you put in place.

6. Is your sales compensation plan 100% aligned with the sales results you are trying to achieve?

To quote my good buddy and colleague Chris Larkins, “Your salespeople are going to do exactly what you compensate them to do.” A one-size-fits all sales comp system allows your sales people to follow the path of least resistance to their commissions.

Make sure your sales comp is focused on your goals for the company, not your sales team’s desire to get paid. Consider a 50/50 salary and commission structure. Incentivize new sales that boost your EBIT and broaden your customer pool over small repeat sales to existing customers.

Creating a compensation structure is a key tostrategic planning. To align your sales team, they need to be motivated to perform their best and push numbers. However, you can’t let this take away from how your company is run. A sales compensation plan that focuses on the results you want to achieve will inspire your sales department to hit the numbers you need to prevent sales from going down.

7. Who are your best customers and how are you taking care of them?

Five-star customer service, including speedy product delivery and billing, are the important day-to-day considerations. But the customers who can make or break your business aren’t just customers – they’re key relationships that the CEO has to own. When was the last time you took your big buyers out for dinner, or offered some marquee sports tickets? Strengthening those bonds strengthens your business, and can lead to new opportunities, new connections, new products, and new markets.

As for your smaller customers, what percentage of their business do they do with you? Can you bill in advance annually or create a loyalty program to get those sales up?

Additionally, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who is your toughest competitor–and what are they doing right?
  • What is the biggest obstacle to adding new customers?
  • What is the retention rate of your customers?

If you ask these tough questions, you’re going to arrive at solid answers. Some fixes might be as simple as streamlining your billing process. Others will be hard, like replacing popular but underperforming salespeople. But if you ignore the conclusions these seven questions lead you toward, you’re just headed for another round of sagging sales, more questions, and more trouble.

Wrapping up

When sales are down, panic can set in. The last thing you want is a decrease in revenue to sink your business into oblivion. Fortunately, there are plenty of questions to ask when sales are down that can steer you in the right direction and get your organization back on track. These questions can go a wide range of directions, from centering around the factors that led to a decrease in sales to focusing on your sales leader or your customers.

At CEO Coaching International, ourexecutive coaching programcan equip you with the tools, resources, and knowledge to help you and your company achieve its goals. As the CEO, your company’s performance falls in your hands.

If you’re experiencing a decrease in revenue, our CEO coaches with decades of experience can work with you to assess your business’s performance, culture, and more. They’ll also assess your abilities as a leader, and provide insight and guidance into how to grow both personally and professionally. We also offerfree eBook downloads and other coaching executive toolsthat you can add to your toolbox.

About CEO Coaching International

CEO Coaching International works with CEOs and their leadership teams to achieve extraordinary results quarter after quarter, year after year. Known globally for its success in coaching growth-focused entrepreneurs to meaningful exits, CEO Coaching International has coached more than 1,000 CEOs and entrepreneurs in more than 60 countries and 45 industries. The coaches at CEO Coaching International are former CEOs, presidents, or executives who have made BIG happen. The firm’s coaches have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging in size from startups to over $10 billion, and many are founders that have led their companies through successful eight, nine, and ten-figure exits. Companies working with CEO Coaching International for two years or more have experienced an average revenue CAGR of 31% (2.6X the U.S. average) and an average EBITDA CAGR of 52.3% (more than 5X the U.S. average).

Learn more about executive coaching | Meet our world-class coaches

Related Content


Greg Coticchia: Here's How to Master New Produc...

CEO Coaching Int'l Guest: Greg Coticchia, a coach at CEO Coaching International. Greg is a six-time CEO, a...

Read more
Three Keys to Scaling High-Growth Companies with Jonathan Seliger Three Keys to Scaling High-Growth Companies with Jonathan Seliger

Three Keys to Scaling High-Growth Companies wit...

CEO Coaching Int'l Guest: Jonathan Seliger, a coach at CEO Coaching International. Jonathan is an accompli...

Read more

Powerful Lessons for CEOs: The Unforgettable Mo...

Powerful Lessons for CEOs: The 10 Unforgettable Moments from Make BIG Happen Summit "There will be two kinds o...

Read more