Escape Room

Escape Poor Sales Execution…Find Market Clues



Why is sales execution such a big problem for most sales teams? In this post I will share a technique to find why teams have a sales execution issues and how to fix those sales problems.


Recently I took a team to an off-site team-building event at an escape room. If you have not heard of escape rooms it is something my daughter introduced me to. Escape room venues are opening in a number of cities. They are rooms you enter as a team, look for clues, solve puzzles and hopefully escape in time.


For those of you feeling anxious relax, you can physically leave the room at anytime if you need to. The challenge is to work as a team, find the clues to solve specific puzzle challenges in the allotted time and escape.


Our room challenge had an old time gangster theme. Our room was pitch black and we were given 4 flashlights for 8 people, our mission and a clue to get started. Our mission was to find four hidden jewels in 45 minutes.


We received instructions from the staff, entered the room and read more instructions quickly and distributed flashlights.


(41 minutes remaining)


It was interesting to watch the team’s behavior once we entered the room. The team quickly broke out into groups of two with one flashlight and started looking for clues. We quickly found one clue that helped us open a locked box that produced a jewel. Then we found another box to be opened but this one was a series of color-coated buttons that needed to be pushed in just the right sequence to open the device. The clues to the right sequence were around the room in paintings. We struggled with this for some time all the while the timer was clicking in the background.


(30 minutes remaining)


We made a mistake; we all split up and did not work on each clue as a team. We tried to find all four jewels at once. We wasted about ½ our time in this mode. Once we started working each clue sequentially as a team (did I mention it was a team of engineers?) we started having much more success.


(18minutes to go)


As I watched and participated this reminded me of what it feels like when I have helped teams struggling with sales execution problems.


When I speak with senior leaders of organizations sales execution usually comes up as a problem in the first 15-20 minutes. As I shared in a short video back in 2010 nothing frustrates CEO’s more than spending time developing a strategic plan and they find out six-eight months into the year sales is not executing the plan..I call this the Great Disconnect. Why is sales execution such a problem for most teams? In this same article I shared …


Market leaders create tactical sales play books by territory.


Market losers tell salespeople to “just make it happen”.


What I have found over the past 33 years of helping teams fix sales execution issues is it is rare to find a sales team not trying. They are working very hard, but often not smart. Salespeople in general are very competitive. We love to compete and more importantly win. If your compensation program was strategically designed to drive the behaviors your senior leaders have deemed critical, we also have skin in the game. We must hit our sales objectives to achieve our targeted compensation.


I bring this up because I often hear senior leaders say things to me like….


Our sales team has become complacent they just need a kick in the… rear (edited)


“We have clearly mapped out what we need sales to do and they are simply not executing the plan”


“ The sales team seems very busy…but we are not seeing the results we need.”


“Our team is not executing our plan , they have gone back to how we have always sold and we are missing our sales goals”


“The sales team needs to understand what we expect and do it …or else we will find people who can.”


The problem with the above statements and the many others I have heard over the years is they are built on a few core assumptions:


  • Sales knows the plan
  • Marketing provided a value proposition to execute the plan that resonates with your customers and solves issues today
  • Sales has been trained to execute the plan
  • Sales has the tools and knows were to find them
  • Sales compensation rewards the behaviors you want them to strategically execute
  • Your team clearly understands your markets, customers, buyers and the journey they take to purchase and the criteria they use to make buying decisions
  • Your sales managers are coaching your team to overcome obstacles


What I have experienced is sales teams who are failing to execute sales plans lack one if not all of the above.


Lets get back to my team in the escape room…time is ticking away and will soon run out. (like you only having 4 months left in the year to hit sales plan)


We found a few of the easy clues early and solved the challenges and won our jewels. (this is like how your sales team will have some quick early wins in a new sales year with a new plan. ) However now we were stuck, in this pitch-dark room, flashlights desperately searching everywhere trying to find a solution to escape this room. We needed to solve two more challenges.


(15 minutes left on the timer)


Our team members grow frustrated and as if saying we just need to try harder…(sound familiar?) Some grew noticeably agitated. Then one of our team who was paying attention when we were trained by the staff said: “ you know they said if we get stuck we can ask for clues” YES! This is what I was looking for. Did they listen and hear all the instructions and training before we entered this game or were they so focused on playing they missed the instructions?


(13 more minutes and we could hear our other half of our team successfully escaped their room and are waiting outside our door)


What happened next was also interesting. Half of our group said : sure let’s ask for clue, we want to win this challenge... Two of our team had basically given up and were no longer engaged and wanted to just give up and exit so we could go to dinner at the local brewpub. One of our team members was adamant we should not ask for a clue..we are engineers we can figure this out, we don’t need help!


(8 more minutes to find the clues and exit)


We tried hard to solve the puzzle but no luck. We asked for another clue, worked as a team and quickly solved another puzzle and won another jewel.


(5 more minutes one puzzle left)


We identified the location of the last jewel and the team frantically worked to solve the puzzle. Some team members could see what previous participants tired based on markings on the wall so they tried luck. What did we do next? Try it again, harder…faster!


(3 minutes to solve the last clue or loose the challenge)


One very competitive engineer suggested …look we know its in there, I can bust it open..” NO! (that’s all I need to have to explain on my expense report!)


We worked hard and tried to use the clues we had to solve our last puzzle challenge to successfully escape.


The timer went off and the lights came on. We failed.


One of the staff came in, read the clue again, and solved the last puzzle in 30 seconds. Ouch!


What we missed was the last clue told us exactly what to do if we would have taken the time to slow down and understand each word in the clue. However we were so focused, so busy, and under so much pressure as the clock was ticking we missed a clue.


So why share this story of a recent team building event at an escape room?


I share this story because if your sales team is not executing on their sales goals they too are in an escape room and this is what they are feeling.


  • some of your team are frustrated, its not about money its about winning, pride even
  • some of your team are no longer engaged, just going through the motions waiting for this years’ challenge to end
  • some need training, they are motivated but need to revisit past training because they probably missed something very important
  • some want to break the game, cheat basically to win at all cost ( that gets really expensive fast… trust me)


What are your sales teams doing?


The good news is the answers; the clues are out there, in your market, with your buyers if you know where to look and how to ask.


Instead of trying to work more hours, harder, why not work smarter?


If your sales team is not executing on your sales plan stop and spend 2 weeks and capture the voice of your market today. (Find current relevant market clues)


Use this current market data to identify the journey your buyers take when making a purchase and mirror your sales process to match how your buyers want to buy.


Write your plan based on current market information.


Focus on sales enablement.


Identify the process your buyers are using today and create your sales process to mirror the buying process.


Give your sales people the perfect sales tools to help buyers at each step of the buyers’ journey.


Keep listening and looking for market clues, apply, pivot and adjust.


Understand the criteria your buyers must have, and when and provide it.


Focus on serving your buyers and not selling them.


Implement the above and your team will be on the path to executing their sales plans and solving their sales problems.


Is your sales team achieving their sales goals this year?


As the clock is ticking on achieving your sales goals…are you telling them to just make it happen or are helping them find current market clues to help them win?


Does your current sales process mirror how your buyers are buying today?


Does your sales team have the right sales tools and do they know where to find them? (or are they cheating and making their own)?


If your team is struggling with sales execution, I highly recommend you find a local escape room and help them understand the importance of looking for market clues and solving them as a team. ( perhaps your senior leaders would enjoy this experience too?)


If you would like to learn more about this topic of Sales Execution I recommend you check out the following links:


9 ways you can start improving sales through sales enablement

Why do 78% of sales strategies fail? 

A guide to sales resource optimization 

New rules of sales execution 

Here’s what you can do to improve sales execution

 9 steps for sales enablement

 How do I quickly improve sales ( short video) 

 Fix sales problems, create a sales  a sales GPS for your team  

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