Even high-performing sales teams experience a slump in sales from time to time. The problem is worse for sales teams with a consistently less-than-stellar performance record.
Often, the most tempting action to take is simply getting rid of the worst salesperson on the team and starting from scratch. Though if you calculate the time and expense involved in recruiting, hiring and training a new salesperson, it becomes quickly apparent that focusing your efforts on coaching an underperformer through a “dry stretch” is a better option.
“A little professional nudge in the right direction is a more economical choice over the time-consuming and expensive process of hiring a replacement sales representative,” notes contributor Tim Donnelly of Inc.
What steps can management take to get a sales team back on track during a slump?
Hire a skilled, dedicated sales manager. Companies often mistakenly promote their best salesperson to manage others on the team. However, the skills required of a successful sales manager are only marginally related to the skills needed to close sales.
Sales coaching is a wholly separate enterprise, and one way to dig your team out of a slump is by hiring a proven sales manager who can do more than deliver occasional pep talks to the team.
Carefully assess each team member. How much do you know about each salesperson’s work habits? Addressing a slump in sales begins with a thorough evaluation of each individual, measured against such criteria as client satisfaction, amount of repeat business, account size, etc.
Identify the skills and traits your top performers have in common. Look for similarities in work habits, self-motivating techniques, customer satisfaction strategies, and so on. By compiling an ideal profile based on this information, you can design individual action plans that effectively address the shortcomings and bad habits of underperformers.
Set measurable and attainable sales goals. Sometimes, average or low-performing sales are the result of a lack of structure and goals. There may be an overemphasis on “total sales dollars,” when other, more specific objectives will generate more favorable results.
The best objectives, notes human resources expert Charles Sujansky, “reflect the stages of the selling process and should encompass the skills necessary to achieve those goals.” Such skills include “product knowledge, research skills, developing leads, maintaining profit margins and building customer satisfaction.”
Focus on individual training. Meeting with each salesperson to focus on specific challenges is another useful approach. Ask what he/she finds most difficult about the job, what resources might assist him/her, and any other suggestions he/she has about improving job performance. Underperformers feel more encouraged to speak up if they sense you’re genuinely willing to help.
With more information in hand, you can then design individualized training plans aimed at enhancing performance, while remaining aligned with the growth objectives of the company.
Reduce the workload, where necessary. Some underperformers may improve their results immediately, once they’re freed of time-consuming administrative tasks and other distractions. With fewer calls to make, they can generate more leads and thus become more confident in the process. (This is also an opportunity to coach them on any shortcomings in their approach to sales calls.)
“Off-load as many non-essential administrative or other non-selling activities as possible from the sales force to give them more time to sell,” advises sales trainer Jim Dunn of The Whetstone Group. Also, Dunn says, “Break down your reporting periods into much smaller units so you can monitor progress better. This will avoid surprises later.”
Refine your hiring process. Improving the ways in which you recruit and hire salespeople can go a long way toward reducing or eliminating the presence of underperformers on the team:
- Craft interview questions based on a comprehensive profile of your ideal salesperson.
- Give candidates specific exercises to get a sense of how they address customer objections.
- Clarify your organization’s expectations so each candidate understands what the job will look like.
Sales slumps happen. Companies that proactively address the possible causes are likely to avoid a “repeat performance” in the future.
Author bio: Geoff Winthrop serves as an executive vice president at Acquirent LLC. Geoff brings a background in new business development, sales strategy and sales management to Acquirent and its clients. Today, Geoff is involved in building and managing many of Acquirent’s client accounts.