Sandbagging may seem similar to under-promising and over-delivering, but it isn't the same

Sandbagging in sales is one of those things that everyone does. Well, probably not everyone, but it's very commonplace. But in the words of everyone's mama, “If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do it, too?” Sandbagging is a deceptive practice where someone tries to mislead someone else or intentionally doctors reports to look one way when something else is happening. 

Let's learn more about sandbagging in sales and why you shouldn't do it.

What does sandbagging mean?

First of all, what is sandbagging? Most, if not all, salespeople have daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual sales quotas. The bigger the deal, the better. Employers and bosses are impressed when their sales staff land what's referred to as “the whale” - that big client or deal that brings in a ton of revenue. Salespeople want to impress their bosses because of the possibility of raises and promotions. 

One of the dictionary definitions and examples provided for sandbagging is that it's a verb meaning to fall back a little in the first race to get a better starting spot in the second. If you apply that to a sales position, one of the components of sandbagging is to hold off on reporting a sale to make the next quarter look like it's off to a great start. 

There are two distinct ways to sandbag in sales:

Underestimating performance

When you intentionally underestimate your sales forecast or performance to manipulate expectations, downplay the likelihood of closing deals, or deliberately set low targets that are easy to exceed, you can enjoy less pressure from the boss.

For example, you could tell your boss that the $10,000 deal you're about to close is really only worth $7,000. The boss will expect $7,000 to be reported on your performance report. Then, you report a $10,000 contract! You've wowed the boss with something more than you promised, even though you knew the value from the beginning. 

Shifting sales

Shifting sales, also known as pushing sales, happens when you don't report sales in the reporting period that you obtain them. Most often, this is done when you have already fulfilled your quota for one period and you wait to close a new sale in the next quarter to boost those sales reports. Obviously, there are legitimate reasons to push a sale - for example waiting for a customer's approval - but if you and the customer are ready to sign the dotted line and you intentionally hold off, then you're sandbagging. 

This version of sandbagging can cost you, though. Sometimes pushing a sale off for even a few days can cause you to lose the sale. The customer may get frustrated by the delay and take their business somewhere else. 

Why do people sandbag?

Salespeople use sandbagging for several reasons:

  • Fear of failure: Sales is a highly competitive field and you may be afraid of setting ambitious targets and falling short. You can avoid disappointment and criticism from managers and colleagues by underestimating your performance.

  • Lack of confidence: Similarly, you may lack confidence in your abilities or the products that you sell. Underestimating your performance can help you to avoid taking risks and minimize the chance of failure.

  • Pressure from management: In some cases, you may feel pressure from your managers to set conservative targets in order to avoid disappointing stakeholders or missing quarterly goals.

  • Commission structure: Some commission structures will incentivize you to sandbag by offering higher commission rates for exceeding conservative targets. This can motivate you to under-promise and over-deliver, in order to maximize your earnings. It's important to remember that sandbagging isn't actually under-promising and over-delivering, though. In a world of transparency and accountability, sandbagging is deceptive and misleading.

  • Strategic advantage: Finally, you may deliberately sandbag in order to gain a strategic advantage. By setting low expectations, you can surprise competitors and impress your customers with better-than-expected results. 

Managers and stakeholders who oversee salespeople want results. They're really concerned with achievements that bring in revenue. 

Is sandbagging illegal?

Generally speaking, sandbagging is not illegal - meaning there isn't any law in any book that says, “don't sandbag.” However, there are anti-sandbagging clauses in contracts that prohibit buyers from suing sellers after the close of a contract based on any breach of seller representation and warranty that the buyer knew about prior to closing. This places a heavy burden of proof on the buyer to prove that they knew something before the close of a contract. 

On the other hand, if you work for a publicly traded company that is under the purview of the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), it could cause legal liability for your company. The SEC enforces federal securities laws, including the prohibition on fraud and deceit. They have brought enforcement actions against individuals and companies for engaging in sandbagging and other forms of deceptive behavior that violate securities laws.

You may also find some legality issues under state consumer protection laws or unfair competition laws, where the state prohibits deceptive or misleading advertising, marketing, or sales practices. So, while there isn't a pecific “don't use sandbagging as a practice in sales” law, meaning sandbagging isn't explicitly illegal, it can violate other laws. 

Accountability and transparency

The best course of action for any salesperson or sales manager is to put your best foot forward by complying with ethical standards and upholding the ideals of accountability and transparency. If you're a manager, you can incentivize ethical behavior by rewarding honesty. By promoting a culture of honesty and transparency, your company can build trust with stakeholders and create a more sustainable and successful business.

Implementing more rigorous reporting and forecasting procedures is a great way to discourage sandbagging. By requiring salespeople to provide detailed and accurate forecasts, organizations can better understand their sales potential and make informed decisions about resource allocation and growth strategies. Similarly, as the leader of a sales department, you can conduct regular audits and reviews of sales performance to identify and address any instances of sandbagging or other deceptive practices.

In conclusion 

Sandbagging is a misleading and deceptive practice that undermines the trust and transparency necessary for healthy business relationships. It can have severe consequences for individuals and organizations alike and can even be illegal in some cases. To prevent sandbagging, organizations must implement more rigorous reporting and forecasting procedures, promote transparency and accountability, and incentivize ethical behavior. By doing so, they can build a culture of honesty and integrity that will enable them to succeed in the long term.

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