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How to Diagnose a Sales Problem

businessman with a sales problem
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Is there a sales problem?

For many companies, the end of the financial year has arrived; the sales revenue results are final. Depending on the overall number delivered, some companies will be celebrating while others will be quietly frustrated (or loudly) that the planned number did not come in.

The one biggest mistake I see many companies make right now is allowing the justifications ‘near enough’ to become part of the sales and marketing culture. A culture accepting a myriad of reasons washs over the results and justifies the lack of sales revenue achieved. It is a toxic culture that sets the tone for continued underperformance in any business for the coming year and inflates your sales problem.

The hard facts…..

Sales and marketing are responsible for bringing in the sales revenue number. It is the number of the company that has made all decisions for the financial year, and any shortfall goes directly to the bottom line. It means less money available to invest in the growth of the business and can even mean fewer personnel in the business. Interestingly, no other part of the business would be given such leniency for underperformance as we see in sales and marketing.

Depending on your business, either marketing or sales may play a greater role than the other, but they are equally important when growth is on your agenda.

Changing the culture and thinking in the business often means making deep-rooted changes to how the company approaches marketing and sales. Changes that go to the core of the business processes, cultural conversation, and, importantly, where each person’s efforts are focused and applied.

More often than not, I find the company strategy to be sound but the execution to be lacking.

Finding the real cause of a sales problem

Delivering the number is complex and requires a carefully managed and balanced business for reliable performance. Many elements need to be aligned and weighted correctly to create a revenue-making enterprise. In broader terms, these are just a few of the common types of contributors that could be holding your company back from delivering the number. Some hide behind each other, giving signals of the wrong symptoms. An excellent example of this is often the pipeline is the symptom of poor planning or performance effectiveness. Let’s look at just a few more closely.

  • Poor Planning – Your sales strategy fails in one or some areas, such as new products to market, competitive positioning, lack of new business components, or maybe customer targeting.
  • Unreliable Pipeline Management – the accuracy of the pipeline is unreliable, and complacency has set in where it is just considered ‘how pipelines ‘ There is a higher rate of opportunities falling over, deals being pushed back month after month, and for some, the pipeline becomes a pipe dream as the bubble of numbers continually bursts, and you are left with little.
  • Performance Effectiveness – the team’s sales revenue numbers fluctuate with an ever-increasing reliance on larger deals to pull them over the line. There are only a few team members delivering, and it becomes more and more prevalent that they carry the shortfalls of others.
  • Wrong People – the team is long-standing and closed-minded to the market and what can be achieved based on their prior experience in the industry. This can be both team members and leaders. The team is being focused on the wrong tasks that block them from delivering the numbers each month. They lack the skills to access new markets and are reliant on existing relationships that just aren’t opening new doors anymore.
  • Laissez-faire Management – the manager is reluctant to make changes due to the relationship he/she has with the existing team and attempts to ‘coach’ them through suggestive commentary. There is a lack of management and diagnostic tools to identify what specifically is going wrong.
  • Misaligned Marketing – the Marketing activities are out of alignment with the sales requirements causing confusion to the customers and the wrong products to be sold. Marketing and sales lack confidence in each other creating disharmony across the business units.
  • Performance Culture – there is a lack of belief that the sales revenue number can be delivered based on past experience. There is no methodology being applied that empowers individuals in how to deliver the results. The culture of the business units is one of complacency.

If you focus on the wrong element or prioritise the wrong order of remedy, the business may well trade into an even worse scenario. Often CEOs and managing directors contact me after they have tried a few times to make the changes and find that business is slipping further and the teams are getting less responsive. The problem is escalating instead of being remedied, you are a great sales problem.

Getting things in order

As a broad brush, one or more of these issues is a problem. The important step is to thoroughly investigate the problems and ensure you are treating the cause and not the effect. Establishing what the company needs and balancing it with what the company can cope with is critical to achieving sales revenue improvement.

In assignments over the last twelve months, I have worked with companies that identified the need for change. The question they needed answered was, ‘What change is required that will fundamentally become the catalyst to achieving the revenue improvement we have planned?’

Those getting it right

For a mature national Sydney-based medical company, there was ongoing frustration with the lack of implementation of business systems and culture that would drive sales results. Working with the state managers and making the necessary changes, the company has been rewarded with the highest sales on record and over their forecasted number. They are set for record growth in the company year and beyond. By embracing the planning tools, they can establish realistic goals and deliver them. The culture of the business is now one that wins.

For a mature national Brisbane-based IT company, there was an ingrained culture of underperformance and a lack of clarity of what is required to deliver sales goals. With a change to the culture, the existing executive team and state managers engaged in the process of establishing the right tools and levers. The management team now understands how to deliver sales revenue consistently and over quota. The language of the business has changed, like the business processes. The results; they are delivering the highest sales on record ever for equivalent prior quarters. Marketing has fundamentally changed how it operates to become a stronger contributor and partner to sales providing the momentum needed for extraordinary performance by the company in the future.

The new financial year is the optimal time to gain an independent view of the business and how to increase revenue performance. Whether to recover from previous underperformance or to hit new stretch goals.

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If you would like to discuss how to resolve a sales problem and increase your sales revenue, please reach out to the office and organise an initial 30-minute conversation with Adele. Read more about Adele Crane’s experience.

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About the Author: Adele Crane

A leader in Implementation Consulting.
CEOs and Managing Directors have relied on Adele Crane to solve challenges with the performance of their sales and marketing since 1990. Her consulting experience in delivering results in 90-120 days is unprecedented by any other known sales and marketing consulting professional in the world. As an author of 3 acclaimed books, appearances on major media, and publications in USA, NZ and Australia, Adele’s experience brings fresh thinking and contemporary practices to business.