Lifting Sales Performance

For many businesses, the period of strong growth that has preceded the downturn, meant that sales skills and management did not get the attention that they deserved. As the economy slows, competition for scarce resources increases and sales are no back on the agenda – the shoe is now firmly on the other foot!

Selling in difficult times It is worth noting some key points raised by Neil Rackham (of SPIN Selling fame) in his article: “Selling tactics for difficult times”

There are several other reasons why business managers don’t plan:

  • Only 50% of sales people have sold in difficult times – if you have a young sales force then this proportion will be much higher;
  • In an economic downturn, sales cycles (from start to close) are typically 40% longer;
  • Many people believe that in tough times, customers buy on price – this is a fallacy as most customers will buy on value, not price;
  • Research has shown that during difficult times, customers will buy safety i.e.. the offering with the lowest risk. Often the perception is that the lowest risk option is to stay with the “status quo” i.e.. the current product, service and/or provider;
  • Committees are often involved in making economic decisions in difficult times and group decision making usually favours lower risk;
  • Buyers also realise that their decisions will come under more scrutiny in tougher economic times.
  • This means that businesses and sales people will need to adjust their strategies in order to compete effectively and to survive in a depressed economy.

Sales Survivors

Rackham’s research indicated that many sales people struggle to adjust to the “new rules” of the downturn (just as many business owners and managers struggle). There is also a group that will adapt and survive (even thrive) in an economic downturn.

In his article, Rackham outlined the key characteristics of “the Strugglers” and “the Survivors” based on research undertaken in previous downturns. This is summarised in the table below.

Strugglers Survivors
More calls, more demos Focused on best opportunities
Poor planning Good preparation and planning
Just a “talking brochure” Asks good questions
Shorter calls Longer/deeper calls
Nervous/ rushed Confident / In control
Low sales conversions High sales conversions

Interestingly, research has shown that a key factor in the buying decision for customers was the “confidence” of the sales person.

Mike Boyle (sales guru from calls this “Sales Swagger” and it is an essential ingredient for good sales performance. Are your sales people confident when they sell? How can you help them to build confidence in themselves, your pricing and your products and services?

Improving your Sales Force

In a second article, Rackham expouses 5 top tips for building a world class sales force:

There are several other reasons why business managers don’t plan:

  • Sales Supervisors are the key to success – lift the level of supervision not the level of sales person. You don’t need better sales people -you need better sales supervision;
  • Fewer accounts = more sales – Research has shown that dramatic improvements in sales can come from reducing the number of opportunities that a salesperson will focus on by up to 30%. It’s the quality not quantity approach!
  • Create Value – Your sales people must become “value creators” or “problem solvers” rather than “talking brochures”.
  • Coaching brings results – ensure that your team has support at all levels from manager to supervisor to sales person. Effective coaching can often provide that external sounding board and third party accountability that can help to improve results.
  • Integrate marketing and sales – There are usually 2 camps in most businesses: Marketing and Sales – and they are often at war! As they are both involved in revenue generation (at least that’s the plan!) to have them working independently is a great loss. Spend the time to set common targets, integrate teams and improve communication.
  • However, in my experience, in many businesses there is only one camp because “marketing” is usually missing – not because they are integrated. Often businesses have a “marketing department” but it doesn’t do any marketing (apart from a Yellow Pages ad and new business cards) because their primary role is sales, not marketing. By not calling “a spade, a spade”, there is no focus on sales and performance usually suffers.

In conclusion, now is the time to look hard at your Sales Team. Are they “Sales People” or “Order Takers” ?

Make the changes necessary in sales management and systems and especially make sure that you and your team become “Problem Solvers” and sell the value behind what you do.

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