Sandbagging in Sales
At some point in their careers, every salesperson is going to be tempted to sandbag a deal. And there are a lot of reasons why you might consider it. But it’s generally better for the health of the sales org — and more importantly, your career — if you don’t.
Here we’ll cover some reasons why you might sandbag a deal, and how the need to sandbag deals says more about a sales organization’s poorly structured compensation plan.
What is sandbagging in sales?
First of all, it’s important to define what sandbagging in sales means. Depending on where you look, there are a couple different definitions.
Hiding Deal Information
One version of sandbagging in sales is when reps withhold information about potential sales. This form of sandbagging can involve downplaying how much money can be made or the likelihood of a deal closing — even hiding opportunities altogether.
The goal of sandbagging here is to make it look like the rep did better than expected by setting low expectations. For instance, if a deal is predicted to bring in $50,000 per quarter, a salesperson might say it will only bring in $25,000 per quarter to make it easier to meet their future sales goals. Or in some orgs where there’s a history of raising quotas, reps may fear that if they show a strong pipeline of future business, that their quota will simply be raised to avoid a bigger payout.
Delaying Deal Closures
Another form of sandbagging is sales is when reps push deals that would close in one month or quarter into the next. This kind of sandbagging doesn’t involve hiding any of the details of a potential deal except the expected close date.
The purpose is to manipulate quota attainment numbers. As an example, consider a rep who has already reached their monthly quota. If another deal could close during the last week of the month, they could sandbag it and purposefully let it slip into the next month. That way, it will count towards the next month’s target instead of the one they already met.
Why some sellers sandbag — and how great sales orgs avoid it
Sandbagging in sales is a symptom of a bad sales culture with poorly structured comp plans. In some comp structures, it may seem like sandbagging will help a seller maximize their commission payouts. But any benefits of the practice are short-term, at best.
Consequences of Sandbagging to Lower Expectations
Some sellers try to use sandbagging to try to keep their attainment goals artificially low. If they can keep numbers in their pipeline low, the thinking goes, then meeting or exceeding quota or revenue targets will be easier.
In the short-term, that may work. From one month to the next, it may result in the seller hitting or exceeding quota. But over the long-term, it creates a number of issues that can’t be overcome.
What do you think happens if the numbers are suppressed and you still miss quota? You likely won’t be a seller in that org for much longer.
And when sandbagging is used to exceed quotas, it’ll really only work once. The numbers will go up once you exceed the targets — especially if your sales manager thinks it doesn’t take much effort. So, anything you might have gained in one month you stand to lose the next.
Plus, over an extended period of time, artificially low numbers in your pipeline will start to affect projections. Executives and sales managers may think they need to reduce headcount, and the sellers with the lowest numbers will be the first to go. Sales managers will also adjust their own forecasts based on their experience with their reps. If you’re a rep that is known for sandbagging, your manager will soon start to expect you to bring in more than you may have committed to close.
Consequences of Sandbagging to Delay Deals
Some reps who have hit their sales goals might delay finishing a deal in the current month or quarter if they’ve already hit 100% of their target. If they close the deal, they would exceed their goal. But if there’s no accelerator applied to the value of deals closed after a quota is hit, then they may decide to let that deal slip into the next quota period so that it will be easier to hit quota then.
Most likely, this is a direct result of a poorly structured commission or variable pay structure. In any case, the long-term consequences are rarely worth the short-term benefits for this approach.
For one, pushing a deal into the next month or quarter is no guarantee of hitting the target. Sellers would be better off putting the energy into prospecting or nurturing additional opportunities than slow-walking a deal that’s ready to close.
Then there’s the risk of making a prospect wait when they’re ready and willing to make a deal. Speed of delivery is incredibly important to B2B customers. More than 40% said that delays and issues with speed of delivery stopped them from completing a purchase. Trying to get a deal to count against future quotas has a pretty good chance of falling through — and not counting at all.
Other Reasons Not to Sandbag Sales
There are other reasons to avoid sandbagging in sales that add up over time.
If you keep using the sandbagging strategy regularly, it could affect your entire sales team. While it can be helpful for the salesperson using it, it might weaken the overall progress and goals of the team. Perhaps delaying a deal will help an individual seller meet their next quota, but at the same time, it might result in the whole team missing their current target.
There’s also the consequences of getting caught. If you’re thinking about sandbagging a deal, ask if you’d tell your sales manager, VP, or CEO. If you wouldn’t, what happens if they find out? Today, there are many different software options that keep an eye out for sandbagging. Some apps offer automated sales predictions and a better view of what the sales team is doing, while other platforms provide tools like scorecards for salespeople.
How Do Good Comp Plans Prevent Sandbagging?
In a well-run sales org, the compensation plan should align incentives between the seller and the company. At many companies, an accelerator is applied to all bookings closed over and above the quota. This means that a deal closed this quarter will almost always be worth as much or more to a sales rep than that same deal closed in the next quarter.
Rather than hoping that sales reps don’t sandbag out of company loyalty or personal ethics, the best approach for the organization is to remove any decision setting up an environment in which the sales rep can always act in their own financial best interest – and that’s aligned with the company’s interest as well.
If you find yourself tempted to sandbag because you think it will benefit you financially, use that as the basis for talking to your manager to demonstrate how incentives might be misaligned. You could even suggest that using accelerators (if the org isn’t currently using them) might help to solve this problem.
And if you find that your sales leadership isn’t receptive to this sort of change, it might be time to start looking for a new org where you won’t need to sandbag.