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When You’re in a Sales Slump, What Do You Do?

In every performer’s career there seems to come a time when then have a “slump.”

It happens to golfers, baseball players–and yes, even the best of sales pros.

How do you handle such a slump–a slow streak or sales drought?

To answer this question, I took a look back to my time as a new business development rep and account executive, and how I addressed such downturns. I also put the question to other sales pros, because no two sales reps do things the same way.

In my case, I would always start by working backward to figure out the root cause (sometimes painful to realize), and then the next steps would become clear and defined.

Here are the four causes of sales slumps, and ways to power through them:

A Big Win Means Letting off the Gas. I have been able to trace most of my slumps to the aftermath of a large win. Following the intense pursuit and onboarding of a major account, I would become intricately involved in ensuring my new client was happy and that everything was going smoothly. But at the same time, if I’m being honest, I’d also ease up on the gas on the prospecting and business development side because a) I was being carried by a big win and b) I was tired!

Such a reaction may be normal, but the aftermath–one, three or six months later, depending on the business cycle–was always a slowdown in wins and revenue. When I finally isolated this particular pattern for myself, I negated its effects by doubling down on existing clients while in the early stages with new customers. That meant renewing existing clients, increasing their spend, and growing them. This made new account transition time manageable, and afterward I rapidly moved back into prospecting and nurturing.

Of course it depends on your product or industry, but normally you can’t afford letting off the gas, even with a big win. It will bite you and cause a crash a quarter down the line. Take a good look and see if this is what is happening to cause your slumps, and if so develop a plan to get you through those times when all the focus is on the “big fish.”

Chasing the wrong customers or Bad Pipeline. Sales expert Liz Heiman suggests that a “Sales slump is often the result of a poorly managed funnel,” which makes complete sense. Struggling to make progress or close business could be because your funnel is full of bad prospects or weak leads.

Sometimes your customer base can shift, but most often, looking for easier wins or chasing “shiny objects” distracts you from the target customers more likely to purchase from you. The best customers are usually using your competitor’s products and those are often longer and more challenging to convert.

If you’re struggling with a floundering pipeline, take a step back and look at those customers you’ve been most successful with. Are you pursuing them or looking for something easier?

Go back through your pipeline and take a second look. Honestly and objectively pre-qualify those prospects you’re pursuing to see if you’re barking up the wrong trees.

Not enough “good” activity. If you are pursuing the right clients, maybe you’re not doing the right things. Spending your time on the wrong activity or simply not doing enough of the right ones could be the reason your closing rate is lagging. From The Bridge Group, inside sales expert, Trish Bertuzzi says she lives by the advice she once received, “You know what to do so just do what you know.”

Could it be that simple? Yes, but I’ll add my two cents here and say, “do it better” as well. Sometimes we need to double down on not just activity, but the effort we put into it too. Are you phoning it in with lame emails? Are you half-heartedly following up? Our customers need to know how much we want to do business with them and how we value them as people and partners. They deserve more effort than what the “average” sales rep gives. Don’t be average, be better. Be more diligent. Be more purposeful. Be more disciplined in your actions and activities you put forth for prospecting and follow-up.

A Crisis of Confidence. Sometimes a rough patch lets more Head Trash creep in and we begin to adopt a defeatist attitude about our capabilities. This probably happens to everyone too but how you handle it makes all the difference. Your mindset allows you to turn around everything. “Thinking positive” isn’t just a mantra for cute cat posters; it truly affects your brain chemistry and has a very powerful impact on your outcomes. When you brick a presentation or flop a pitch, it’s easy to start the snowball of negative thinking. One, two, three losses in a row can lead to a crisis of confidence.

I’ve found, however, that most crisis of confidence is really a lack of persistence or loss of patience. Dan Frost, an inside sales pro, goes back to his customers to reflect on how he really helped them. He carries those stories and confidence into his next calls and also “stokes his fires” with music or books and sets mini goals for himself.

Another way to overcome this Head Trash is to “double down on the basics,” a suggestion from Kenny Madden, a sales specialist in technology. “I get mad in a good and positive way . . . read, study, and set my self-discipline goals.”

The first thing to think about when you’re experiencing one of these dry spells is to know that every sales pro has been there. Talk with your manager, your friends, or heck, a bartender if she’s a good listener . . . but you need to identify what’s really going on and get to the root cause of your slump. Is it your pipeline, that big win, not the right customer or the right activities? Or, are you letting a few rough calls and losing outcomes creep into your head and corrupt your confidence?

Know what it is, make a plan, and take action to fix it – QUICKLY.

Until next time, stop hoping, start SELLING!

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