October 2014

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Diagnose Your Sales Dilemma

Diagnosing the root cause of slow sales is always the right prescription

Manny MandrusiakManny Mandrusiak
Managing Creative Consultant,
4 Bravo Marketing

Contributing Editor

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Every business has peaks and valleys in its sales cycle, but there are times where sales take a continued decline and provide a huge impact on the bottom line.  If you are in sales then you have to admit the awful truth that some months' sales are just going to flag. Not everyone can be “up” all the time. These natural peaks and valleys can be the result of a number of factors ranging from the economy, to the environment, to even a prolonged teacher’s strike.  Anything that impacts your customer base’s budget will have a natural impact on sales numbers.  That is what we are taught in sales 101, but what happens when these factors are not cause of decreased sales?  What if the problem is internal? How does a CEO or Manager determine which internal factors are impacting the sales of a company?

The natural thing for a CEO or manager to do would be to pull staff together and ask the simple question ”Why are the sales numbers so poor this month”?  Ask that question and wait for excuses to start flying across the table.  “My pipeline dried up”, “I simply can’t sell in this town”, “There is no money in my territory”, “Marketing is horrible and is not producing enough leads”, or “Operations shut down my sale”.  There will be as many excuses as there are people sitting at the table, and taking this approach to curing a sick sales pipeline is totally the wrong approach because no one at the table will step back and look at the bigger picture.  Everyone at that table is way too close to the problem to see the larger process is broken and needs to be fixed. What needs to happen next is actually an extremely simple step, but it is often the hardest to do and that is to admit that there is a problem.

When I teach people how to improve their sales pipeline I like to tell them to think of their company as a living thing, which is essentially what any company is. It is a collection of systems and moving parts that make up a larger organism.  For this purpose we will imagine that the company is an athlete who has sustained an injury.  Let’s make this person a body builder for all intents and purposes. 

Like a business, bodybuilders are unique athletes who utilize a variety of exercises to build their muscles and hone them to perfection.  Much like a business will utilize a variety of techniques and strategies to build an effective sales pipeline.

When a bodybuilder sustains a back injury that body builder can’t effectively focus on winning a competition because they are too focused on the pain that they are experiencing.  A business with poor monthly sales can’t possibly focus on effectively closing sales because there is too much pain from not having enough sales in the pipeline, and just like an athlete that sustains an injury, the first thing is to stop everything and do a primary assessment.

A first responder does a primary assessment of an injured person to determine where the pain is, and that is exactly what a CEO, or manager, needs to do when sales are down- find out where the pain is.

This is often a lengthy process that is sometimes best completed by an outside consultant, because just like a bodybuilder, CEOs and managers often think that they can continue to compete.  That is completely not the truth.  Once a sales pipeline is hurting, finding out what the source of the pain is, and then taking steps to treat the pain is the only workable solution.  The bodybuilder might be able to bench 300 pounds and “fight through the pain”, but they know that they will be in twice as much pain later. Any business that is in twice as much pain from a poor sales pipeline will be closing its doors soon enough.

Let’s look at some steps for stopping the pain, and getting back into competition.

  1. Put Ice on it- The first thing that any CEO or manager should do is freeze everything.  If sales have been in the tank for a long time, and they continue to trend in a negative way, then stop what you are doing before throwing good money after bad by employing ineffective sales people, or deploying ineffective marketing campaigns.  Whatever is currently in place is not working, and needs to be fixed quickly.
  1. Ask questions to determine the extent of the problem- The attitude that a CEO or manager needs to take is exactly the same as that of a first aider- no matter how much it hurts, find out the extent of the problem.  If a company has aging sales people who have been skating on poor sales numbers because of being geographically separated from management, then that is half the problem.  Being in sales is one of the most exciting careers on the planet if you are doing it right.  A salesperson and customer are on a journey through the sales cycle and it is extremely exciting to know that as a sales person you are helping someone with a major purchase to increase the quality of their life or project.  It is addictive if it is being done right.  If sales people are lazy because of large base salaries, or lax targets then as a manager you reap what you sow.  Sales people are like race horses, they need to be put on the track and run hard for best results.  Asking the right questions will determine if a companies’ sales people have run their course, or if they need to have a better support team to make them successful.
  1. Treatment- Involve qualified experts to help with the rehabilitation of your company’s sales process.  Just as that bodybuilder will involve trainers, massage therapists, and physiotherapists to provide the proper exercises, diet and therapies required to get back into competition, a company with poor sales should engage business development experts, consultants, coaches, and project managers to provide the proper training and rehabilitation to improve a sales pipeline.  I have worked with two companies over the past two years where I was brought in for the express purpose of increasing a weak sales pipeline and in both cases the cause of the weak pipeline was the same three things:
  1. Set realistic targets to achieve and grow- As with any rehabilitation program it always involves cumulative goals.  An example would be a company whose sales target is $100,000.00 for the month but only achieves $33,000.00. They might put changes in place to consistently hit a target of $55,000.00 for the next three months to establish a good customer base, and then push properly motivated sales people to do $100,000.00 per month.  Too often companies will look at Account Managers and not want to push them because they feel bad that they work so hard.  If your sales people are not maxing out every day and not shooting to exceed target then you need new people plain and simple.
  1. Compete!- Double biceps front, and welcome to the gun show! As a company you either came to sell, or you didn’t.  When it comes to winning market share you put the right people in place with the right message, and provide them the tools to do their job.  When I was on the tradeshow circuit I would look for the biggest booth and make myself a fixture.  I would watch how things were done, and listen to the way the reps talked.  It is competitive analysis on a tactical level.  I would learn their pitch and then change it to make it mine.  As a CEO or manager, you need to ensure that your reps are ready to give the” double bicep front”.  That they can compete because they know their product, and know their customer so well that there is never a question about who gets called for the sale.  Your company does because you earned the spot as top dog. 

In closing fixing a poor sales funnel is easy if you know what to look for; the biggest step is admitting that there is an internal problem.  As a CEO/manager it is never a person, it is all about the business, and that needs to be communicated to sales people.  Sales people have egos and get defensive, so always bring the facts.  If salespeople are performing poorly it is because that is what management is allowing, and sometimes empowering them to do. There is not a sales person in the world that will not work with management to improve the bottom line. Business is business, and sales people want to make money.  The trick for a manager is to provide them the proper inspiration, motivation, and incentive to do so.  Sometimes sale people just need to get reminded where it is, and what we are shooting for.

Control Solutions, Inc Pushing harder and increasing sales is the end goal of this article, but the main goal is to get managers to think about the reasons that their account managers give for not achieving quota.  I cut my teeth under some true professionals, and they never once put the blame for not making quota on anyone but themselves.  They very calmly said that they failed to achieve quota and here was the plan for next month.  Their confidence inspired respect, and I gladly gave it because they understood that while you may treat the bottom line, ultimately improving sales is a cure for the long run and that takes work, determination and the will to win. 

No injury is overcome without hard work and the will to improve.  The challenge that we face is managers' not understanding the big picture.  Once a company defines where it needs to go, then sales people know what their targets are and can provide true customer satisfaction. That in itself is what every company is trying to achieve -customer satisfaction.

I hope that the tips and tricks that are displayed above are helpful, and that everyone in the BAS space takes a moment to evaluate their sales force’s needs. Sometimes a minor tweak can nurture maximum benefits.


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