Greg had been in his new sales position for almost a year and was putting in long hours cold calling and networking to make the few sales he could find every month. Greg knew that his sales were low but he was working hard. He was surprised during his weekly one-on-one when his manager told him that his sales were not up to standards and that he would have to do more.
Cathy and her fellow sales team members were all industry veterans but their team was not performing well. To improve their results a new sales manager was called in and during their first team meeting they were told that their method of selling was all wrong and that they would need to change what they were doing and follow a new methodology.
Tyler’s record as a sales manager was up and down. His team was rebuilding and had a couple of solid performers along with some new people that were just ramping up. He knew that his forecast for the previous month was off and that his whole division was going to tank their numbers for the month. Tyler and the other sales managers were shocked when the group President got on the monthly call and ranted on and on about their lack of professionalism and not knowing their business.
In each case people were caught off guard and surprised.
Sales results improve when there is open communication concerning what is occurring in the field. Each of the examples above are misguided shouts for improvement without an examination of what is causing the problem. Imagine your doctor shouting at you for 30 minutes when you went to see him about not feeling well. No examination, no tests, just yelling at you for not feeling well.
Let’s review these 3 basic sales mistakes.
Mistake #1: Just go out and do more: this is one management drill that you hear a lot. The knee-jerk thought is that if someone is not making their numbers they just aren’t working hard enough, so go out do more.
- Assessment: Greg was not performing so his manager figured that he was not doing enough. Do more of what? Greg was already working 10 hour days and cold calling more than anyone. There is a big difference between being busy and being productive. Greg’s Sales Manager needs to compare benchmark success metrics with what Greg is doing so that proper coaching can redirect activities for greater success.
- Solutions: To produce revenue enhancing activity you first need to know what activities will produce the desired results. Create a sales culture that encourages participation and transparency so that everyone can discuss what needs to be done. Yes, there is the occasional sales person who flat out isn’t working, but often it’s more of a sales person working on the wrong activity. Verify what activity is being done. Set up success metrics. In most cases doing more of something that isn’t working will only force people to be busy but not be productive.
- What can Greg do? if what you are doing isn’t working then you have to change. Find out what the success metrics are. Ask your manager to do a deep dive in to your activity and ask for coaching. Talk to successful sales people and find out what they are doing. If you are not successful, analyze what you are doing and change up your routine. Just don’t do more of something that isn’t working.
- Greg’s Sales Manager: Find out what Greg and others on your team are doing. Ask leadership for success metrics or develop them yourself. Do a deep dive with the whole team. Compare top performers with non-performers and find out what the differences are in activity metrics, sales presentations, and attitude. Coach the low performers so that they understand which metrics to use and how to achieve the new goals.
Keep raising the success bar so that your whole team keeps growing.
- Leadership – Provide the right metrics for success. Assign your analytics or data science group the task of finding out what the success metrics are. How many cold calls equal an appointment, and how many appointments lead to presentations and contracts, and how many contract discussions lead to a signed order. Know what metrics and actions it takes to be successful. Once the metrics are known then establish a training methodology that the managers can use to coach their sales people. Performing the right activities will lead to increased revenue.
- Summary: The formula here is Awareness, Activity, and Accountability. See my previous article “Three Keys to Grinding out Goals”. Understand what it takes to be successful (awareness), then do the activity, and provide the structure so that the sales person can hold themselves accountable.
Mistake #2: Do it this way: this selling solution usually comes from leadership or managers. The premise is that everyone needs to follow the trendy sales method and sales will soar through the roof. This suggestion can also come from the sales manager who was a top performer and now thinks that everyone should sell the way that they did.
- Assessment: Sales training and new approaches are a valuable tool if a proper assessment of the sales team’s ability is performed. Cathy’s Sales Manager should do a deep dive of the team to verify everyone’s results and their consistency for maintaining quota objectives. Check for desire, skills, and structure. Take an inventory of what skills are missing from the team and each individual then coach to improve those areas.
- Solutions: If, after a proper assessment the issue is the team’s skill set then find a sales training methodology that can be adapted into each sales person’s tool box. Sales training is just one tool in their belt, but not the only one.
- Cathy and the sales team: Change isn’t easy. You are training new muscles and it will take time and will require practice. Sales is a profession but often the participants practice less than other professions. Would you go to a doctor who hasn’t done anything new since med school 20 years ago, or would you watch sports or theater if the participants never practiced or trained to get better. To become good at your profession you must accept training, coaching and new behaviors to be at the top of your game.
- Managers: Expect resistance from the low performers. The top performers are used to adapting and trying new approaches which is how they became top performers. Present the training as a group activity, but then coach each person individually so that they understand what needs to be changed in their daily activity. Just because you were a top-level sales person doesn’t mean that your team should copy your sales techniques. Coach your sales people to their abilities not your expectations.
- Leadership: Meet with a pool of your top managers and sales people. Find out what skills are lacking and look for training that enhances their abilities. Realize that results will depend on your sales cycles and ability to get buy in from all participants.
- Summary: When things go wrong (lack of sales) check for 3 things; desire, skill, and structure. Managers, you can tell if someone doesn’t want to be there, and sales people you know when you don’t want to come in for work each day. This lack of desire leads to lack of activity and low sales performance. If the contributing factor is skill, then sales training and individual coaching will help. The third factor is structure which is closely related to accountability. Managers you will need to set up structure so that your sales people can be accountable.
Mistake #3: You just had a lousy week, (month, quarter, year) you now have to make up for it now: Normally a cover up for management’s failure to forecast correctly. Now everyone needs to step it up after the bus has run over you.
- Assessment: Shouting from the roof top that sales needs to improve may seem like a nice idea but it rarely results in long term improvement. A sharp fall in sales in usually the result of not accepting forecasts and not planning on how to fill in the gap. Tyler and his peers tried to turn in accurate forecasts but leadership told them that below results were unacceptable and they needed to increase their forecasts. When leadership does not accept actual forecasts and forces everyone to over inflate what’s happening then there will be severe dips in sales.
- Solutions: Transparent sales culture and accurate forecasting. There will always be surprises and poor forecasting when leadership does not allow for actual results. Set up the framework for accurate forecasting
- Tyler and the other Sales Managers: If possible, filter the noise from leadership if the shouting occurs. If not possible then work to create a plan that will produce accurate forecasted results. Do funnel reviews and get an accurate forecast and present that to leadership. It might not be what leadership wants to see, but if it is accurate then you have something to build on. Continuously forecasting results that do not occur is a career limiting function. Know your sales cycle and work with your team to have a full, sellable funnel so that you don’t miss your target goals.
- Sales People: Do 3 things: Forecast accurately, forecast accurately, and forecast accurately. Your objective is to exceed your quota or budget number. If you are not doing this then you will need to let your manager know and ask for coaching so that you can improve. See Mistakes #1 and #2 and then read Three Keys to Grinding out Goals.
- Leadership: Poor results are rarely a surprise. This statement may be a surprise to some, but only if you are not willing to truly listen to the field. Look at your sales cycles, your success metrics, and listen to your managers and sales people. What is going on out there. Reread mistakes #1 and #2. There is not enough space here to cover this topic in detail but the basic idea is to have metrics, training, and open dialog in place so that surprises don’t occur. This does not mean that everyone should just accept poor sales. It does mean that if poor sales are a surprise then something is wrong. When individuals or teams are forecasting a low number find out why. Is this an anomaly or a trend? Work on a solution. It’s OK to accept a low forecast it’s not OK to demand a higher forecast and not have a gap plan.
- Summary: Contrary to what some people think sales do not occur in a neat straight line. Sales are cyclical and will have a wave pattern (the trend line should be going up and to the right). Panic occurs when there are large dips or when sales are way below forecast. The only way to prevent panic is open discussion and planning. When there is there is a dip in sales on the horizon everyone can strategize, and see what can be done to fill in the gap.
The basic theme here is that sales culture works best if there is open communication and everyone is working together. Do not accept surprises and do not accept poor performance. Openly work together so that with accurate forecasting the correct planning and prevention can be put in place for achievement.
Awareness, Action, and Accountability are the framework for Achievement. Have awareness of successful sales metrics throughout the business. Know what activities will bring in the desired results. Be accountable, ask yourself throughout the day if what you are doing impacts revenue. Start a multilevel discussion today on how your organization can be more open and avoid these paralyzing mistakes.