Sandbagging: Is it a good idea for salespeople?

Safety nets are tempting, but they may prevent teams from reaching their full potential.

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As a kid did you ever pretend with your sibling or close friend that you were bad at a game only to laughingly crush them at it five minutes later? That’s kind of the concept of sandbagging in sales, only the game and stakes at play are different.

What does sandbagging mean?

Sandbagging is hiding your strength, skill, or action only to overperform later.

The term dates back to the late 1880s and refers to a bag filled with sand that would be swung as a weapon towards some unsuspecting receiver, likely knocking them unconscious. In the 1940s the verb evolved to be used in poker to describe a deceptive play where someone bets weakly or passively while holding strong cards.

Nowadays “sandbag” has branched out to describe similar tricks in other sports such as golf, wrestling, racing—and we can’t forget business, of course.

What does sandbagging mean in sales?

Much like being “sandbagged” would have come out of nowhere to the 19th century victim, the idea behind sandbagging in sales lies in the unexpected.

That’s sort of all sandbagging someone has in common between these scenarios; sales reps are certainly not out there bushwhacking their managers. Yet some sales reps are hiding deals or their closure status, or low-balling them, in order to limit sales forecast expectations for that month.

Why salespeople sandbag

This may sound counterintuitive for the rep, after all, wouldn’t you want to appear to be performing the best that you can? Yes and no.

Someone may sandbag for a few reasons, including:

  • If they’re reaching barely 100% of their quota this month, the salesperson might want to save the deal for when they’re closer to, say, 110% and get higher commission according to their compensation plan.
  • The salesperson wants some padding for the next quarter in case some other deals aren’t progressing as surely.
  • The salesperson performed great last quarter but isn’t confident they can repeat that success so they underestimate their deals.

Is sandbagging cheating?

Well, in its myriad of uses the word does insinuate some lack of honesty. So, yes, some might define sandbagging as cheating. It’s ultimately up to sales leaders to determine if you want to allow sandbagging on your team or not.

Benefits of sandbagging in sales:

  • It buffers salespeoples’ deals to protect them from performing too low next quarter if other deals stagnate.
  • If a sales rep doesn’t perform well under pressure it may help them out in high stakes deals by reducing attention from upper management.
  • In the case of new reps, they haven’t necessarily grasped signals that mean a deal is about to close; sandbagging helps keep them from overpromising before they’ve learned to accurately predict results.
  • Sales management can keep results from looking erratic from quarter to quarter.

While it may be tempting to leverage this gambit, there are also notable cons involved:

  • Sandbagging creates lag if month after month sales reps are holding off wins until later. Just like you wouldn’t want your TV lagging during a golf match, you probably don’t want your team’s revenue to tune in late, either.
  • With inaccurate information, sales forecasting becomes extremely difficult. This consequently disrupts planning, budgeting, and risk management.
  • Lowballing can reflect poorly on both the rep and the team lead if upper management is disturbed by the low numbers — and if the deal is actually a decent one, this means getting bad attention for no real reason.
  • Let’s be frank: the goal of a sales team is to create revenue. If a sales team is not constantly doing what it can to push deals through the pipeline, it’s throttling company revenue.

As you may notice, sandbagging may be an applicable tactic in some limited scenarios, yet the seriousness of the problems it brings perhaps outweigh its benefits.

How to determine if team members are sandbagging

Whether or not you deem sandbagging an acceptable sales practice in your office, a good place to start is merely identifying where it’s occurring in the first place.

As it goes with sussing out any questionable activity, finding out if reps are sandbagging starts with observation. If someone wanted to find out which of their family members kept sneaking the ice cream from the freezer, they’d simply take note of who’s in the kitchen at odd times.

Observing sales behavior is sort of similar. When sandbagging sales reps will likely have these signs in their activities:

  • There are a few days in the quarter where opportunities appear to spike.
  • There are opportunities that are quickly created and won in a concise period.
  • There’s a number of close dates modified from far off.
  • The rep has choppy sales activity.

How to prevent sandbagging

Of course, it doesn’t just come down to monitoring: sales reps need to be coached to gain the confidence to sell their best every month. Once they have the tools needed to succeed, looking at the sales data is the easy part!

Discerning data from only sales reports can be tricky, and that’s why productive sales teams incorporate a CRM program and integrated software to improve data visibility. Revenue Grid is a tool that offers easy pipeline visibility, allowing sales managers quick insight into what’s going on with the rest of their team.

Because you’ll be able to see a timeline of each deal, any red flags pointing to sandbagging will be noticeable in a matter of seconds. It also lets you inspect committed deals and understand what’s over-or under-promised in order to prevent sales sandbagging.

Bring visibility to your pipeline

In addition to this advantage, Revenue Grid helps each and every user understand their sales pipeline better. It scores each deal to show how close it is to closing — and the specific reasons for why it’s there. What’s even better is that Revenue Grid then offers the next best steps to move the opportunity further along and even warns sales reps if a deal is going south.

As mentioned earlier one of the important reasons for removing sandbagging from sales practices is for accurate forecasting. In an economic climate that’s already difficult to predict, take advantage of software that foresees outcomes and assesses risk so you can feel more confident in your sales operations.

Take advantage of Revenue Grid’s sales
forecasting features today.

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