Four Ways to Recover From Missed Sales Goals

Things were humming along. Coming into the quarter you had momentum from solid closings and high potential to build new business.  Then everything went into slo-mo like a B grade action film with you in the leading role.  Optimism turned to concern turned to panic.  You woke up screaming in the middle of the night realizing there was no way to avoid posting the loss.  Now what?  Which of the following actions should you take?

a. Give up and put your resume everywhere online.

b. Get a note from a client promising a big contract next quarter.

c. Buy new golf clubs for your boss.

d. Call in sick and enter any available rehab program.

Clearly, the best answer is none of the above.  There’s a better choice.  You can reset.  It’s business.  It happens.

Business pros should mimic sports pros when they lose a game.  Go back and retune the fundamentals.  Here are four ways to recover your business plan:

1. Refocus on Lead Generation

It’s always best to have more leads than you can handle.  If your pipeline is slowing down you shouldn’t assume it’s just the business cycle.  Autopsy your leads.  Are you getting enough of them?  Are they the right kind?  How are you getting them?  Is it through just one or two streams?  How are your competitors getting their leads?  Who could you partner with to get more volume?  What about referrals?  Great business developers tap all potential revenue sources.  Broaden your aperture outside of the usual suspects. 

2. Revamp the Sales Process

What’s happening between lead generation and contract closings?  Is there a clog in the pipeline?  Did those cost-cutting initiatives canceling equipment upgrades and delaying sales training have adverse effects?  Sometimes bottom line improvers kill the topline.  Great companies don’t go short on morale-boosters, skills training, quality customer contacts, and delighting customers at every opportunity.  It’s easier and less expensive than grinding out new prospects.

3. Rediscover Core Opportunities

It’s typical sales behavior to settle back and take orders when business is good, even though you might be settling for average returns over great returns.  Take a look at your core business.  Are there clients you haven’t reached out to in a while?  At your customer satisfaction interviews with key accounts (you do this, right?) do you ask what new opportunities you could help them with?  Are your separate business sectors actively cross-selling or are they staying inside their “silos of excellence?”  

4. Redefine the Goals

It’s possible your goals need tweaking.  Are they based on measurable data or optimistic feelings?  Are they achievable or stretch goals?  You don’t want to set the bar too low, but overly ambitious goals can wreak havoc throughout your sales ecosystem.  One way to achieve challenging financial goals is to drill down deeper into each goal and define actions necessary for success.  What can be done at any given point to move the chains toward that touchdown?  Who’s going to do them?  And when?

Get back in the game.  Make a recovery plan.  You’ll crush those numbers the next time around.

Five Ancient Ways to Improve Today’s Sales Conversations

In business, we always hear about how important it is to listen to the customer.  That point is made over and over again by sales book authors, sales bloggers, and sales trainers.  It’s a hard lesson to learn, but we get it.  From what I hear, the real problem comes when it’s our turn to talk.  Salespeople tend to come to business encounters armed with elevator pitches, value propositions, key points, objection scripts, and closing approaches.  Few come prepared to converse.

I’m pretty sure that conversation was invented before selling: “Geez this cave is cold!  Show me how you did that fire thing with the sticks.”  Great civilizations have honored those who could conduct great conversations, such as Plato, Denis Diderot, Samuel Johnson, and Jon Stewart.  In demonstrating that there truly is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes), let’s take a look at five principles of great conversations in Cicero’s 44 B.C. essay “On Duties” and apply them to today’s sales conversations:

1. Speak clearly and easily

Even though there’s a lot you want to say, don’t rush things.  Slow it down and let your thoughts flow naturally.  Let the other person have a chance to speak.  They might tell you something you want to know.

2. Be civil and courteous

Civility in conversation is in short supply these days.  Differentiate yourself by being pleasant.  You’ll be like an oasis to a thirsty traveler.  Customers will enjoy being with you and talking with you.

3. Match the tone of the subject

If you’ve come to help a customer remove the pain of a problem, be sure to smoothly shift from the pleasant tone for opening small talk to a concerned tone for an important conversation exploring details and potential solutions.

4. Spend less time talking about yourself

Many salespeople talk a lot about their own experiences.  Great salespeople talk a lot about the customer’s experiences.

5. Don’t lose your temper

There’s a lot of pressure on salespeople.  You have to hit your numbers.  And here you are at the end of the month talking with a difficult customer who’s reluctant to say yes.  Do your best and if it doesn’t close, don’t burn that bridge.  You may need to cross that river again.

The next time you’re in a sales conversation, put on a virtual toga and channel Cicero.  It’ll be classic.

Four Buyer Styles in the Buying Cycle

A big problem facing salespeople is knowing where the buyers are in the buying cycle.  It’s not just how much information buyers already have gleaned from the Internet and social media – their feelings of how ready and eager they are to make changes in their situations still matter.  I believe that when salespeople look at both of these variables – knowledge and eagerness – buyers will reveal more precisely where they are in progressing toward a buy decision.  This enables salespeople to better respond and act accordingly.  And get that sale.

1. The Inert Buyer

Neither Knowledgeable nor Eager

The Inert Buyer is likely unaware they are entering a buying cycle.  Many buying cycles have schedules of their own and appear to some people as bolts out of the blue, even though evidence has been building (and likely ignored) for some time.  If there’s a genuine problem that needs facing, it’s best for salespeople to first help guide these buyers to understand and face their situation.  Their ordinary world is about to change.  If a salesperson tries to start too soon with options and solutions, the Inert Buyer may put their fingers in their ears and start humming until the salesperson goes away.

2. The Skeptical Buyer

Knowledgeable, but not Eager

On the surface, the Skeptical Buyer may seem easier to sell to than the Inert Buyer.  At least they know more.  The problem is, Skeptical Buyers may be armed with bias-inducing facts.  No matter what anyone says, they don’t want to change.  Know anybody like that?  For the Skeptical Buyer, you first have to deploy targeted facts and patiently wait for them to shift to a new position.  You never want them to think they were wrong.  When they come around a little, then you help them see how urgent their situation is.  Should a salesperson try to instill urgency too soon, however, the Skeptical Buyer will dig in deeper.

3. The Enthusiastic Buyer

Not knowledgeable, but Eager

Now we’re getting somewhere.  Enthusiasm!  Great.  But there’s danger lurking with buyers who are all velocity and no vector.  They may think they’re so far through the buying cycle that when you show up it’s of little consequence.  Good salespeople help pull Enthusiastic Buyers back from the ledge so they can think a little more before they leap.  Here’s where a patient and skilled discussion with the buyer can help them see all the options available.  You can save them time and money and make them grateful customers for life.

4. The Ready Buyer

Knowledgeable and Eager

Where have these buyers been?  Why don’t they show up more often?  The problem is that Ready Buyers are always out there, but sometimes that other salesperson gets to them first.  Ready Buyers aren’t unicorns, yet they can disappear on you in a nanosecond.  Perhaps when you encountered one you spent too much time on your pitch, didn’t let them talk, missed their shift tells, or even forgot to close.  Ready Buyers have a short shelf life.  Get in there and get a YES.

Three Pillars Supporting Long-Term Customer Relationships

All companies want customers who stay, buy more, and tell others how great it is to do business with them.  But great companies create great customers.  How do they do that?  It takes a thoughtful approach and a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.  I believe three pillars support a loyal customer base: innovation, performance, and service.

1. Innovation

One sure way to erode your customer base is to take them for granted and stop innovating for them.  Great companies use innovation not only to attract new customers, but also to keep current customers dazzled.  When was the last time you offered a new way of doing things that made life easier for your customers?  How about a new process that saves them time and money?  There’s a growing tendency for companies to try and upsell us at every turn.  It’s irritating unless it seems more advantageous for us than them.  Great companies roll out offerings that help customers, not slightly fixed versions with more promotion than substance.  

2. Performance

You have to keep performing to keep your customers.  So you got a big contract and life is good, right?  Then inevitable issues occur with production quality and delivery issues.  If you want to stay in the game you quickly have to find the problems, resolve them, and make sure you’re back on track.  Great companies obsess over performance metrics.  A former boss often observed that when you continually measure something, the trend improves.  Your customer base will reward you for great performance.  It’s tied to the Basking in Reflected Glory effect, where we identify with the success of others we associate with.  Everyone loves a winner.

3. Service

Customer service is essential to supporting long-term customer relationships.  But great customer service won’t help unless you also innovate and perform.  It’s like working with a disgruntled customer.  You can’t begin to fix them until you understand them and know the details of their issue.  Another way to look at this is that your customer service staff shouldn’t be the only people on your team helping customers.  That’s like no one but the goalie in a hockey game playing defense.  You’ll get crushed.  And you’ll go through a lot of customer service reps.  Just as everybody on your team should be in sales, so should everybody on your team be in customer service. 

With innovation, performance, and service you can keep customers for life and turn them into sales associates. 

Two Essential Elements Needed to Expand Your Business

Unless you’re a business leader who’s satisfied with the size of your business, you want it to grow.  That means increasing your current offerings to existing and new customers or developing new offerings.  The most challenging of these scenarios, of course, is pursuing new customers with new offerings.  No matter which direction you wish to go as a business leader in adding to your top line, you’re going to need two essential elements to get the job done: people and processes.

1. People 

Get the Right People

Good business leaders realize that as their companies grow, they become more removed from things like hiring talent.  You have to delegate that authority.  Yet talent is so fundamental to business success that each new hire has a direct impact and you need to have a system in place to insure you get the right people.  There are many great aptitude assessments out there that can help.  A banking industry friend confided that he once made a hire on gut feeling alone and it was such a costly disappointment that he never made that same mistake again.  Also, in addition to other questions in your job interviews, assess candidates for how they would fit into your business culture.  Great talent that can’t integrate into the team is probably worse than if the rest of your team continues to work short-handed.

Get The Right Training

Talent without training is like an unguided missile.  It’s exciting to watch, but you don’t know where it’s going.  Many companies have programs for leadership development, compliance training, and technical training.  What continually surprises me is that many companies don’t have sales training for their business development groups.  Maybe they recommend sales books (there are thousands available), but selling involves skills and skills get better with instruction.  It’s been said many times that no one learned to play golf by reading a book.  I love golf even though I don’t have a natural talent for it.  I’ve never been so average at doing something and yet enjoying every moment of it.  But I’m getting better every game because I take lessons now and then and practice, practice, practice.  Business leaders who invest in good training programs for their salespeople get better results.

2. Processes

Get the Right Solutions

Okay, you want to grow your business and you get inspiration for a new solution.  You and your engineering staff come up with a great product design, name, and even a logo.  All that’s needed are customers.  So you tell your sales staff to go out and sell.  And not much happens.  So you fire the sales staff and send out new salespeople.  And not much happens.  Your instinct is to blame customers who don’t appreciate your brilliant product.  You’d be half right in that they don’t appreciate it.  The reality is that value is in the eyes of the customers, not in the eyes of your designers.  Next time, try starting with customer needs and desires when designing new offerings.  Give your salespeople something great to sell.

Get the Right Messages Out

You can have a talented and trained workforce and great solutions, but if you can’t get the right messages out to your customers it’s all for naught.  It’s amazing how a few, well-constructed phrases can make all the difference.  Are your salespeople giving your customers the right amount of information in a way that’s easy for them to understand?  Are the claims in your messages of value to your customers?  Are your key messages unique to you so your customers can see how much better your offerings are compared to your competitors?  If you can’t answer ‘yes’ to all three questions, challenge your sales and marketing people to work together until you can.  Then watch the orders tick up.