Getting Off The Sales Plateau
If your company is not growing, it’s shrinking. Here’s how to start moving again.
One topic that I rarely see addressed in sales literature is the one I’m taking on this month: how to get yourself off the dreaded sales plateau. You know what that looks like, right? Your salespeople are still doing the things they were doing, but suddenly the sales growth is gone. All their effort goes to maintaining the status quo, or maybe “growing” the company at five percent.
This is the point where many sales managers will go off half-cocked, make big changes and suddenly that “plateau” becomes a goal to get back to. Don’t be that guy! Instead, diagnose the problem correctly, make the right adjustments, and that plateau will be in the rearview mirror. First, there are three questions you should ask:
- What’s your market share? If your market share is high—say, 70 percent or more—you have a legitimate reason for a plateau. In this case, double digit growth might require radical changes, which I’ll discuss below.
- Are your salespeople really doing the same things? Call reports and stats don’t tell the whole story. The basic equation of sales achievement is this: Quantity of activity x quality of activity = results. Even if your salespeople are averaging the same call quantities, you may need to dig deeper. Are they having the same quality of conversations that they used to? Is their prospecting mix similar? Are they calling on the same quality of contacts? Any of these variables can hide a reason for a plateau, and they all involve deep digging and getting out into the field.
- What’s changed outside your doors? The obvious suggestion here is to examine the competitive landscape or the overall economic condition in your market (have customers closed their doors, for instance?), but the biggest change I’m seeing right now is in customer expectations. The internet has likely caused that change so the sales conversations that met customer expectations a few years ago, now fall short of expectations. Maybe it’s time for you and your salespeople to raise your game.
Only after examining the answers to the previous questions are you ready to move forward with some potential solutions.
- Take on a new product or a new market. This applies mainly if the answer to No. 1 is that your market share is so high that it’s unreasonable to expect your salespeople to continue to drive double-digit growth. There’s obviously danger in this approach, particularly if you have a great market position, but the health of your company demands it. High market shares that lead to plateaus also lead to complacency. When you’re complacent, the quality of everything you do begins to decline, just a little, until everyone is operating at half speed and you don’t know what to do about it. New products or new markets keep everyone challenged. Yes, everyone will squeal—particularly the salespeople—but it’s for their own good, and yours as well.
- Refocus your sales force. Maybe the answer to No. 2 is that your salespeople are not doing the things that got them to the level they are now. It can happen. People can slack off in their prospecting, the quality of their customers or the quality of their sales interactions. At this point, it’s time to refocus the salespeople, using good management techniques, to get them back on track and get your company growing again. You may also need to rework goals, activity metrics and other key measurements in doing so.
- This affects the answers to No. 2 and No. 3. The hardest thing for salespeople, and sales managers, to wrap their heads around is this: Even if your salespeople are having the same quality of conversation they were 10 years ago, it probably isn’t enough now. Your customers expect more. The key here is to retrain with a sales training pro who has kept up with current trends and with the internet’s influence on sales dialogue, and knows how to have the kind of conversation that customers demand now.
- Talk to your customers. Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees, and sometimes it’s hard to see the real reasons why your customers buy and keep buying. Let me be blunt here. The best source of information about why new customers should buy from you is your current customer base. I’m always amazed at companies that will throw huge dollars at ad campaigns and marketing programs designed to “reposition” them without taking a minute to ask their happiest customers why they buy and keep buying. The answers your customers give you will help you freshen up your marketing approach without getting rid of the reasons why your current customers love you.
- Make staffing changes. Yep, this is the last resort but sometimes it has to happen. A couple of years ago, I helped a client get off a four-year plateau and grow 60 percent in one year. The biggest change made was that we released a sales manager who was in “coast and collect” mode and replaced him with someone who is a driver and strategic thinker. Along with that, we changed sales processes and activity metrics, retrained the salespeople and hired some new employees. In fact, we did everything above except find new markets, because that wasn’t their problem. But what we did worked, and it can work for you too.
You may be thinking, “But, Troy, what’s so bad about a plateau? My company is making me good money, we’re not working that hard and my risk is low. I like my plateau!” I can answer that this way: If you’re not growing, you’re shrinking. All it takes, in a plateaued company, is one or two major customer losses and not only are you trying to work back up, but your company has lost the habits that made it grow in the first place. Keep working and you’ll keep growing.
Troy Harrison is author of Sell Like You Mean It! and The Pocket Sales Manager; he’s also a speaker, consultant and sales navigator. He helps companies build more profitable and productive sales forces with his cutting-edge sales training and methodologies and is a frequent speaker at The PPAI Expo and Expo East. Sign up for his weekly e-zine at www.TroyHarrison.com or contact him: 913-645-3603, Troy@TroyHarrison.com.
Hear Troy Harrison At Expo East
Troy Harrison will be presenting two education sessions at Expo East, June 12-14 at the Atlantic City Convention Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Both are free to PPAI members, and to nonmembers with a ticket, and earn one CAS point. Register for the sessions when you register for the show at www.expoeast.ppai.org.
Making Your Net Work
Monday, June 12
This session will help you stop socializing and move toward real referral generation techniques that work.
Naming Your Price—And Getting It
Monday, June 12
Harrison says salespeople are their own worst enemies when it comes to giving up on price. This session will teach how to hold your price—and make money.