Typical Sales Fixes Don’t Work

CEOs and Owners are rarely happy with their sales.  They always believe that the company should be selling more or growing faster than they actually are.  So, many of them go to the old standbys when it comes to “fixing sales.”   See if you’ve ever tried any of these:

  • Fire/hire – this applies to both sales leaders as well as sales people.  CEOs and Owners are sometimes quick to believe that they just need better people to fix the problem and take action.
  • Sales Training – some believe that training will fix their problem.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a CEO ask “Do you know any good sales training programs?”
  • Compensation – many CEOs try to “motivate” their sales people by messing with the comp plan.  The thought is that if we make more of their compensation commission-based, then the sales people will work harder and produce more.
  • Technology – many a company have implemented the CRM or marketing machine thinking that the automation will generate more leads.
  • Get involved – the owner or CEO dives into the management of the team themselves and inspects everything in an effort to “help” the sales team be more effective

There may be others, but these are the most common go-to strategies employed.  My next question is “How well have these strategies worked?”  In some cases there are successes, but in most cases there is little positive impact or short-lived gains.

So what is the secret to “fixing” sales?   I’m sorry to break the bad news, but there is no silver bullet.  Sales is a complex thing.  There could be many reasons why sales are not growing.  We like to take a more holistic look at sales to diagnose where the issues might be:

Growth Strategy – Is it defined and do the sales people understand it?   We’ve talked to hundreds of sales people across hundreds of companies and I can tell you that this is a big area of weakness across many of them.  Many times the sales people are not clear on who to call on that gives them the best chance to win.  Instead, they chase anybody that will talk to them.  Additionally, when they do get in front of prospects, they are poor at differentiating their product or service from the competition.  Is that because they are bad sales people?  Maybe.  But it also may be that the company has done a bad job defining this for them.

People – Yes, it’s true that companies make bad hires.  That may be because we hire based on industry knowledge or a book of business we believe they can bring rather than hiring for specific skills.   The best companies define what skill sets they need and interview to those skill sets.   Do we want hunters or farmers?  Should they be good at following up on leads or generating their own?  Do they know how to sell the premium products that cost more or are they good at selling the low cost product?   It is important to define that we are hiring the right people.  Then, when we do hire them, do we have a good system for getting them up to speed and productive?

Sales Process – Is there a repeatable consistent process that all sales people can execute or are there just a few good performers that have all the best practices in their head?  We find this happens a lot with smaller companies who eventually get stuck because nobody besides the owners and a few reps can actually sell.

Measurement – Are there goals around the things that lead to sales as opposed to just measuring sales alone?  Using data and measurement to diagnose performance and coaching opportunities is critical to both accountability and performance management.   Without it, a sales leader will struggle to determine why a rep is underperforming and therefore it is more difficult to help them.

Rewards Systems – Are there things we are doing to drive the right behaviors?  Some of that could be compensation if there is a misalignment with what we want them to do.  However, many times it is simple recognition and reinforcement of the things we want them to do.  If we sit down each week and check to see if they hit their goal for new prospect appointments, sales people will most likely hit their number.  However, if we never check and never recognize those activities, there is a good chance they won’t hit their goals or metrics.

Execution – Does the sales leader set good expectations and hold people accountable to those expectations?  Does he/she provide coaching and feedback to the sales people to make them better?  Do they communicate well and make adjustments when needed?  Do they reinforce strategy and make sure people are following the process?

If any one of these six components is off, then the team most likely will underperform.   That is why a simple fix of sales training or changing up the comp plan doesn’t work if the issue is really a poor or undefined strategy.  Changing out the people won’t work if the problem is a poor sales process.   Sales training won’t work if there is no performance management or accountability.

We strongly suggest that you take a more comprehensive and holistic look at your sales force before you make your next move.

About Gary Braun

Gary is a founder and co-owner of Pivotal Advisors. He has worked for 20+ years as a salesperson and sales leader. Gary has been a guest speaker for many groups such as Vistage, Allied Executives, CEO Roundtable, Sales Management Association, and more. If you want to find out more about Gary check out his profile here.

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