Sandbagging in Sales: Working Hard or Hardly Working?

Recently, I had a very puzzling conversation. I was speaking with a C-level executive for a $100M company. He was days away from an important board meeting, a meeting that would determine the organization’s strategic direction for the next 12-18 months. This person has P&L responsibility, management responsibilities and a small army of subordinates.

Here are the troubling facts of our conversation:

  • This person decided it would be a good idea to artificially reduce the pipeline of his group from $25M to $10M to ensure his number would be hit over the next year.
  • A board member (who he knows nothing about) is working directly with him. This person is convinced they are well intentioned and there to help grow the business.
  • A lack of self confidence and confidence in the team.
  • No understanding of a pipeline.

Let’s take a step back before this example. Sandbagging, by definition, is the downplaying of one’s ability in order to deceive. There are hundreds of different illustrations of the term, whether it is in golf, internet chess, law, or in this case, business. We are all subject to sandbagging, whether we noticed it or not. How many times at work did you complete 80% of tasks in the first half of the day, and then cruise through the rest of the day instead of seeing how much more you could accomplish? Have you ever played poker with a strong hand and bet a small amount to keep others in the game?

We are all human with the core priority of reducing costs and increasing benefits. Therefore, sandbagging will happen to each of us in some way. What would happen if sandbagging in life, and more specifically business, was reduced by 50%? What would the potential gain in productivity, benefits, and results be? Let’s explore the underlying reasons why this C-level executive did what he did.

Why do People Sandbag?

  • Fear of being held to a higher standard
  • Fear of failure or success
  • Fear of not being able to duplicate results
  • Unawareness of full potential

Most likely, the executive clearly was providing incomplete information in order to gain an advantage based on one of the above reasons. But, was this right? Do you know your employees? Are they sandbagging to preserve their jobs? Are they willing to take risks and take accountability for their team’s success? There could be more than meets the eye. In a time where companies are reducing headcount and overhead, has this person been doing the right thing? Maybe in the short term, this person will see benefits, but these benefits will dissolve in the long run. It’s important to be mindful of this concept in business and examine the motives behind your employee’s actions for the sake of the company as a whole.

Mark Twain once said, “There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damn lies and statistics.”

If we can reduce sandbagging in business, we can increase the use of potential levels that were once deemed unattainable. Which of your employees are sandbagging and are you doing anything about it?

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