While some businesses can happily rely on word of mouth and reputation to keep their pipelines flourishing, for most companies - selling is part and parcel of their day-to-day.
In this guide, we’ll take a look at some of the most common sales-related issues businesses come to us with and explore how to instill sales culture within your organisation in a way that doesn’t alienate prospective customers and your own staff.
Pinning down problems
For the most part, businesses approach us wanting to know how they can sell more or train people to become better salespeople.
Overwhelmingly, however, this tends to be a case of ‘solutionising’ and the area we most commonly advise them to look at first is sales management.
Just a few quick questions can penetrate to the core of the issue and highlight vastly different processes, techniques and methodologies being used across the organisation.
Common issues include duplication of work, hitting the same prospects multiple times from different angles and under-utilising frontline staff that aren’t strictly sales.
If you’ve hired staff in a sales position, chances are they’ve already got the nouse needed to convince prospects in most cases. However, beyond weekly, monthly or quarterly sales targets - time and time again, we’ve seen sales teams get little in the way of leadership and direction.
Good salespeople don’t necessarily make the best sales managers and while leading from the front should be applauded, they won’t have much time if much of their day-to-day still involves conducting the selling that they’re passionate about and good at.
Juggling numbers can also become something of a trap, with sales managers getting buried on the burden of managing admin and outputs - leaving them little time to provide hands-on coaching with staff.
Being pulled from pillar to post by conflicting demands gives sales managers little leeway to pay attention to anything that doesn’t offer immediate and demonstrable rewards. Over time, this can put sales teams on the back foot - leading to a situation where they’re constantly playing catch-up.
Research from the Sales Management Association found that coaching often sought to target under-performers, rather than making more of the cream of the crop. However, those that did invest in a structured, pragmatic approach to training reaped dividends.
“Our research correlates coaching effort with improved sales performance, and indicates that a focused, programmatic approach to coaching pays substantial dividends in sales force achievement. Importantly, a defining factor of effective coaching programs is their focus on manager enablement, by providing manager training, accountability, and coaching-to-coaches,” said the report.
Coaching the coach
Sales managers are often promoted from the ranks of the sales team and are routinely under-equipped to tackle the challenges of their new role. They may be excellent at selling, but lack the ability to motivate and focus the performance of their team.
Many struggle with taking a big-picture approach, as well as providing direction for their team and practical resources to help them do their job.
As discussed in our post about overcoming the Peter Principle, thrusting someone into a new role without equipping them with the capabilities to succeed is like asking your accountant to complete your year-end tax return without any spreadsheets.
Sales may come naturally to them, but to be able to coach properly, they need to be coached themselves. To this end, we’d recommend getting your sales managers up to speed and regularly refreshing them on critical issues like:
- Long-term sales strategy
- Performance management
- Productivity and team optimisation
- Recruitment and retention
Taking advantage of non-sales staff
Up-selling prospects is a never-ending battle - but that doesn’t mean your front-line salespeople need to fight it alone. Striking a balance between getting more sales and maintaining good customer service is obviously a critical concern, but making the most of your wider team can pay dividends when it comes to increasing sales.
Some of the best successes we’ve seen come from equipping non-sales staff with the impetus to identify potential up-sell or cross-sell opportunities, particularly when they’re engaged with prospects in a customer service or administrative capacity.
This needn’t be a hard-sell either and while it can be hard to quantify the impact - simply highlighting the availability of other products and services to the right people at the right time can be an effective way to boost your funnel.
You can’t necessarily expect non-sales staff to understand and implement this straight out of the gate, however, and we’d always recommend appropriate coaching to help them spot potential opportunities and react in the right way.
Operational and market factors
Falling sales are often laid at the door of those responsible for front-line selling, but you shouldn’t underestimate the impact of market-specific and operational factors.
The ways in which people research and acquire goods and service is in a constant state of flux. The rise of technology that can simplify transactions has left many in ‘oldschool’ floundering. And while the often-quoted statistic that buyers conduct 67 per cent of the purchase process before talking to a sales representative is hotly contested - it’s clear that more consideration should be given to the customer journey and sales role within that.
In the digital age, having the right product or service isn’t enough. From awareness, to conversion and beyond - businesses need to be sure they’re firing on all cylinders throughout their customer’s lifecycle, even if that means making some operational changes to facilitate the ease of acquisition and purchase.
Sales and marketing
As business development expert Gary Newborough stated in his recent article for us, companies have to find a balance between long-term, brand-building activities and quick marketing wins that keep the pipelines flowing and make sure the lights stay on.
There’s no silver bullet for getting this equilibrium right and the make-up of your activities will largely be determined by your organisation’s life-cycle and business goals over the short, medium and long term.
Whatever form your activities take, it’s important to ensure sales and marketing work in concert, rather than at odds with each other. Output and return on investment are obviously crucial considerations, but be careful not to sacrifice one workstream at the expense of the other.
And if you’re looking for support with any sales, marketing or operational issues, don’t hesitate to book an obligation-free consultation with our team today: