How to Beat the Competition When Sales Slump
When sales slump, team becomes demoralized. This becomes a test to a leader’s meddle and commitment to the team. More importantly, it challenges the sales team’s loyalty. Therefore, a leader must act positively and decisively.
Two Examples of a Sales Slump
Bill is a VP of Sales and sales slipped suddenly. His company engaged new competition that gave customers aggressive price reductions that robbed his team of key accounts. Consequently, they entered a sales slump. After analyzing the situation, he implemented a new plan. This plan involved laying off people, reorganizing districts and dropping low gross profit accounts.
An EVP of Operations named June experienced a same store sales slump. First, she scolded the team. Then, she executed two strategies: aggressive advertising on key products and new policies for merchandising. She only asked a few senior leaders for their opinion. After a few months, results were still negative. So, she fired some field leaders and reset the plan. Sales stalled. Consequently, the rumor mill hinted at needing a change in leadership as sales kept declining.
An Example of Great Leadership During a Sales Slump
These kinds of scenarios happen every day in business. However, the unfortunate reality according to change masters, 70% of efforts by managers to improve in challenging situations – fail. Why? Primarily because they focus on the mechanics of the change: price, product, processes. They neglect the creative potential of people.
One of my clients, an eighty-year-old business services company, needed to improve sales to existing customers. They needed to combat a sales slump to counteract a much larger global competitor. Unfortunately, this competitor bought business with low prices and creative contracts. Therefore, they asked me for help. After determining the challenge and reviewing the situation, they hoped to achieve a 10-15% gain. However, they implemented their plan late the first quarter of the year. Their results soared by 75% for the year. This company executed three strategies remarkably different from the other two situations. Also, they made no price adjustments. Furthermore, they did not add any new product offerings.
3 Lessons Learned to Turn a Sale Slump Around
First, they kept their teams informed about the challenge, and included them in their planning process. Top management conducted strategic discussions. Similarly, all sales teams did as well. Through planning meetings, confidential surveys and brainstorming sessions, everyone participated to give their input to address the sales slump. The final plan and action steps were communicated to everyone in a series of regional sales meetings. With a company goal established, each manager and employee partnered to create their individual growth goals to relate to the company goal and incentive. Tracking reports were put in place, so everyone knew results on a daily basis. This included local office results, all district results and overall company results.
Second, an upgraded sales and service training program was implemented. Field managers attended a “train-the-trainer” session. Subsequently, they were responsible for conducting weekly training meetings with their teams. Little training was done prior to this. Tracking metrics were established. District leaders attended the meetings during their location visits. They coached the managers based on their results and gave feedback on the quality of training presentations. John F. Kennedy said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to one another.”
Third, they engaged an aggressive coaching program. The truth, everyone ran hard. All managers had a full plate and many priorities. Coaching took a back seat. To beat the sales slump and reach their goals, better performance was a necessity. There had to be a daily sense of urgency. All district and department managers attended training on how to coach their teams in a weekly formal setting. Likewise, region managers coached them how to do informal daily coaching. Various tools, reports, and recognition awards supported managers to reinforce brilliant execution of plans. As described, the results exceeded expectations by five times.
No sales strategy becomes 100% fool proof. Yet, proven “people” approaches work often in any setting. Too many managers and companies depend on technology or new products as the answer. They tend not to tap the raw potential of their teams.
Pulling It All Together
Most employees think they are performing better than they are; most can perform significantly better. Any manager can replicate these results to overcome a sales slump. Certainly, they need guidance and support. In fact, the real work of sales leadership involves people. Everything thing else is secondary. Leaders who focus on their people tend to win most often. The best recipe for success that beats the competition requires investing in the team. Confucius said, “The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.”
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