A colleague recently asked me, “If demand is so high then why are so many salespeople still struggling to hit quota?” I explained that during great economic times, most salespeople find themselves extremely busy, getting quotes out and handling smaller “in-bound” opportunities. The challenge is that while the phones are ringing with lower level stakeholders calling to gather info and pricing, larger scale budgeted projects are few and far between.
During an economic up-swing, people are more risk averse, need more consensus on every decision, and have much less time to spend with salespeople. Unfortunately, most sales organizations are too busy responding to interest to take note of the severe decrease in closing percentages. Rather than address the many mistakes being made throughout the sales process, they are simply throwing more sales support and technology at the issue, therefore reducing profitability and increasing the cost of every sale.
For most, the vision during strong economic times is to capture larger, more strategic accounts. Many take the first step toward this goal by assigning targets to the sales team. This is good start, but unfortunately just scratches the surface.
The key to real success is for sales management to help their reps develop an understanding of how power and influence work within these target accounts. Why? Because great salespeople navigate their way through all the stakeholders in a target organization, aligning with the right influencers who can champion a project as well as the right decision makers who can approve it. This is an exhaustive effort that most salespeople will avoid in favor of conveniently throwing pricing and resources at lower level stakeholders. Oddly, it is more difficult for lower level stakeholders to obtain project approvals during good times than in a recession. While this may sound counterintuitive, the reality is people have more time to review projects, collaborate on change efforts, and are more open to improvement during a recession.
So how do sales organizations recalibrate for the present economic cycle? First, we must reverse-engineer the way our people sell by correcting these top four mistakes they make during a “high tide” economy.
Mistake #1: Sales reps not working the entire decision team in each account. Most will efficiently focus their sales efforts on the front-line managers. During good economic times, these people are more than happy to receive a proposal that could streamline process, improve support or make their job easier. Typically, these mid-level managers mistake the nod of approval to evaluate a solution or vendor with the approval to make the change-decision and spend the money. The solutions they present to upper management are highly scrutinized against other priorities as well as any perceived business disruption. It has never been more critical to gain access and alignment with all the decision makers from the C-level on down.
Mistake #2: The rep utilizes the “checkerboard approach” where they assume every stakeholder has the same concerns and issues. They have a one-size-fits-all pitch/presentation, regardless of whom they are presenting to. Salespeople who thrive in a great economy understand the lack of communication taking place internally at their prospect’s organization due to lack of time. They are aware that the mid-level stakeholder is driven by personal issues and concerns during a good economy rather than company initiatives. Instead of this one-size-fits-all approach, reps need to see a prospect organization as a chessboard, where each stakeholder is an individual with their own objectives and desired outcomes. Reps need to pivot and change up the messaging based on the level of stakeholder they are meeting.
Mistake #3: Giving up too easily. The rep assumes that if one person tells them there is no budget or need, then this is the case for the entire company. A salesperson who thrives in a boom economy understands that there are many different doors into a company. If one stakeholder says no, there are dozens within the organization with need and budget who can still say yes.
Mistake #4 This is the number one sales management mistake. Managers coaching reps efficiently rather than effectively. When customer demand is up, most managers will efficiently focus their pipeline reviews on “closeable” deals forecasted at 50% or greater. The challenge at this point in the cycle is that mistakes have already been made by the salespeople and it is too late to fix them. During an economic high tide, reps need the most guidance on deals that are forecasted between 10-50%. If coached and managed correctly, these early stage opportunities will stand a much greater chance of closure.
Peter Drucker, celebrated by BusinessWeek magazine as the man who invented management said, “Efficiency is doing things right, while effectiveness is doing the right things.” The focus during a high tide is on doing things right, but the cost of not doing the right things will most certainly become more apparent when the tide recedes.
Venator Sales Group is a Sales Consulting, Optimization, & Training firm with a laser-focus on improving every aspect of a client’s sales culture and sales performance. Founded over a decade ago by high-performing, professional sales practitioners, Venator combines a strategic sales management approach with real-world understanding of the factors necessary for success in today’s selling environment. Venator helps companies turn around inconsistent or lackluster sales performance by infusing a sales culture based on accountability, compliance, and critical thinking.
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