The Five Barriers To Success

One day I was working on interviews. I was trying to find several great candidates for my sales development team. People were just blowing the interview left and right. It was very frustrating to me. At the time, I wasn’t sure if it was me, or if it was the company, or the job. Whatever it was, it seemed that every candidate that came in just had no clue. None whatsoever. It was more like “Yeah, can I have a job? Can I work here?” They didn’t do any of the work involved in earning the right to get the gig.

I started to think about my experience as a contributor — I’ve been selling enterprise software to people for years. I thought about the patterns that I’ve seen over my 23 years in sales. I’ve noticed five barriers to success that continue to resurface to this day. Once I realized this, I just decided to call them out and write about them.  


Obscurity is a big barrier. A lot of people who are trying to sell something — whether it’s a product, or a relationship to another person — they’re not self-aware.

What they don’t realize is that no one knows who they are.

You can’t blast somebody with 20 emails and voicemails and hit them up on social media just for the sake of doing it. You have to do your due diligence to build your brand in the marketplace first. If they don’t know you, you’re adding zero value to their lives. But you want to get their attention and their time — you want to  talk to them?

If you want something from someone, you have to break through your own obscurity first.

What do you have to offer them? Why should they be interested in talking to you? You need to figure that out first.

Lack of focus

Sales people today have a tremendous lack of focus. Everybody’s on their freaking phone. In San Francisco, everybody’s walking down the street on their phone. They’re crossing Market Street on their phone, they’re on BART on their phone. The lack of focus drives me bananas.

It carries into the workplace, and people get distracted very quickly. I’ve walked by so many teams of my own of sales people and they’re on Facebook and on Twitter — and not looking up industry people. They’re just messing around. They’re just not working.

In our team meeting earlier that morning, they’d said, “We’re getting after it this morning. We’re going to hammer the phones! We’re doing 60 calls today! We’re going to get so many meetings your head’s going to spin!” I’ll be having lunch and browsing Facebook, and there’s one of my reps commenting on posts two hours ago. They’re not hammering anything. They haven’t done shit all day long.

There’s no focus. There’s no “This has been swirling in my head. This is what I’m trying to accomplish, and on Friday you’re going to hear from me again, and we’re just going to recap how well I did, and what I really need to work on, and what dials I need to turn to improve.” Everyone is too easily distracted, and the end result is that the work just isn’t getting done.

Lack of activity

It’s great to want to do well this week, but then guess what?

You have to actually do it. Too many people tell you what they’re going to do, but then they end up doing  something completely different.

You have to be able to take massive action. You have to do it.

You have to find the result you’re after, you have to know why you’re doing it in the first place. What’s really getting you out of bed in the morning to hit your target? In order to succeed, you have to have blinders on. You see zero obstacles. All you see is the target and you get after it.

Lack of conversation flow

Sales development is a tough job, I don’t care what anybody says. It’s hard. I pray for everybody who has to pick up a phone and call somebody. Sales development reps hear “no” all day long, all week long, all month long. Nobody calls them back, because nobody picks up their phone. I don’t even pick up my phone. They send emails all day long and all week long, nobody responds to the emails. I’m one of them. I’m sorry, but no one’s brought me value. So you don’t pick up the phone, you don’t answer that email.

Sales people will send 10, 20, 30 emails to one key contact. They just keep trying, and they don’t care how long it takes. I actually like that, but there’s still no value in a lot of those emails.

That’s why people go silent; that’s the lesson.

The reason they’re not calling you back is because you suck. It’s because you don’t know how to craft a message that is valuable to them. You’ve brought them no answers. Maybe you have a hard time writing because you’ve spent so much time on your phone that you’ve completely dismissed grammatical rules: a period, a comma, capital letters at beginning of sentences — don’t do that.

Put your best foot forward. Build credibility for yourself.

If you need to improve your writing, there are two  books that I would recommend.  First, The Borzoi Handbook for Writers. It’s a bit old-school, so you might need to hunt for it a bit, but there are used copies floating around. The second book is called Writing That Works: How to Communicate Effectively In Business. Both are excellent resources, and I recommend picking them up.

Failure to continue improving

As I mentioned, I’ve been in sales for 23 years and I have a beginner’s mind. I am a total student. I am constantly learning from everyone around me. There’s so much to learn, and so many areas to improve in. In order to do that, you need to be a student. You need to study.

It is imperative that you bring the best version of yourself to your workplace.

If you don’t, you’re sacrificing the gift that’s been given to you. You’ve got to bring the best version of yourself every single day, in every single detail.

Every email you write, every text you write, it’s got to be coming from a place of service and humility and of being the best possible version of yourself.

So often I see that people just aren’t giving me their best. It breaks my heart, because that’s always what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to do it right now in fact.

If you want to be an A player, pay attention. Pay attention to yourself, and pay attention to the people around you. These are the five barriers to success. In my 23 years in the business, I have learned that breaking through these five barriers directly correlate to the amount of success you’ll be able to achieve.

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