As CEO, you have just received your third negative quarterly report and the numbers are coming in all red. The sales team performance is in question as they are not hitting their numbers again, and the actions outlined by the sales manager have not delivered. Do you have a developing sales problem? You start talking to various people around the company trying to get a better understanding of what is going wrong.
The challenge for many CEOs is ‘where do you start’ to find out how big the problem is. There are always many opinions on where to start and even more excuses for why it is not happening. If you buy-in to those opinions and excuses, you will be taken on a journey that will burn valuable time, preventing you from taking corrective action. I have seen companies waste years, listening to the wrong opinions and excuses that were fostered internally, whilst the company was slowly stalling and the problems festering.
Before you ask where to start, you need to address the question of when to start?
Imperative action becomes necessary when you receive reports that illustrate three-quarters of negative sales. Any delay from this point may be attributed to procrastination and buy-in to non-productive opinions and excuses. This may sound harsh, although often people who provide hearsay commentary do not provide meaningful and actionable solutions that will provide the sales turnaround that you seek. Their opinions are skewed as they tend to focus on aspects of the problem that they are passionate about, whereas a global perspective is required. To gain this perspective you need fresh eyes so that the issues can be rectified quickly.
Once a business shifts past the three consecutive quarters of negative sales, the problems are mounting, and the core causes start to become lost in the shadows of the new problems looming. A company with a culture of not delivering on sales expectations can manifest quickly. Staff direction and behaviour are working in conflict with what you planned to achieve via your strategic vision.
The next question then becomes ‘where do you start to fix your sales problem?’
To correct sales problems is not just about providing some sales training. Sales training will remedy a small glitch in your sales results by approximately 5% of below sales goals. It does not address issues where you are 10-15-20% plus below sales goals. These problems are systemic and go much deeper than the conversation your team members are having with customers.
There are many factors that may be contributing to the issue of poor sales team performance with multiple indicators presenting themselves including but not limited to:
- Lack of new business being signed in some or all quarters
- Closing ratios are down
- Majority of sales coming from the minority of team members
- Management is selling more than the majority of team members
- Sales teams are not following directives and continue old behaviours
- Discounting behaviour is prevalent and margins are collapsing
And there can be many more.
These indicators are all symptoms albeit not the actual problem. The core issues go much deeper and the only way to identify what is wrong is do dig deeper and find the root causes.
In simple terms, what is occurring is the misalignment of how you do business and potentially customer expectations and requirements directly impacting sales team performance. This may not be because customers are changing behaviour, as it may be a combination of salespeople, structures, management style, processes, customers, and culture to name just a few. The further the gaps in how you operate, the greater the problems you will experience.
The best approach to rectify this misalignment is to complete a sales improvement review and define exactly what is required to turnaround the company’s fortunes. The review is objective and does not rely only on an internal perspective. It considers the business requirements, salesforce demands, and contributing factors of sales force management.
Sales improvement reviews provide full transparency by addressing and delivering on:
- Causation: It is important to ascertain what all the issues are, not just focusing on the easy to identify, easy to treat causes. Companies that address symptoms or incorrect indicators, ultimately widen the existing gap.
- Mapping the solution: Through the review, you will have a complete understanding of what is to be improved, halted, or initiated to deliver growth.
- Prioritisation: A set of priorities can then be outlined to determine which elements can commence immediately to produce a positive effect, and which issues require action to ensure positive results remain sustainable.
- Implementation and recommendations: Any recommendations need to be actioned in totality and not as a smorgasbord approach where you pick and choose. The holistic implementation of the recommendations is critical.
You have a road map of actions to take and priorities to guide your company back to growth
Fixing sales problems can be a daunting task, particularly when you are working in the business, and potentially the sales management is disruptive toward change. Working in the business brings a lack of objectivity which can stall the outcomes. Typically the best implementation is completed with a short-term focused external resource, like an interim manager or consultancy. A transformation and improvement leader who takes operational responsibility for the project and brings personal experience of dealing with the particular issues in sales and marketing. They have the sensitivity to your company’s ethos but not constrained by its politics, personalities, or protocols.
In this case study, we provide insight into the inner workings of a manufacturing and distribution company’s struggle with their sales team performance. The company under consideration was similar to many others by their placing traditional thinking at the forefront of their selling strategy. After completion of a review to identify specific improvements required, a successful 120-day sales transformation through interim management, growth was restored, and it returned to being a viable organisation.
Adele Crane has extensive experience across many industries delivering Sales Improvement Reviews and providing solutions to sales problems. Solutions that deliver results in shorter time frames.
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© 2014 – Adele Crane. All Rights Reserved.