to the glory
days of selling, where new prospect opportunities were abundant,
dot-com companies were spending money in all directions, and sales
organizations exceeded their revenue targets by two, and sometimes,
what? Economic conditions have changed. In the middle of a recession
have all but disappeared, existing customers have tightened their
budgets, and most of the “low hanging fruit” has already been picked.
Where does that leave
tendency is to panic. With the bottom
line in jeopardy, many companies are now scrambling to reduce
headcount and cut back on expenses. As a result, edicts have gone
out stating that there will be no more off-site meetings, salespeople
can only travel when absolutely necessary, and some companies have
even put a moratorium on logo golf shirts.
Of course, corporate
executives are also looking for ways to boost
revenue. That usually means turning up the heat on the field
sales organization to produce better numbers…or else! But increasing
the pressure on the sales organization doesn’t usually increase
revenue. A full-court press might bring in a few short-term sales,
but at the end of the day, customers don’t respond well when they
feel pressured into buying.
Once the initial
panic subsides, and short-term corrective
measures have run their course, companies need to step back
and evaluate their sales readiness.
Over the last
ten years, selling
goods and services for the most part has been relatively easy.
I liken it to investing in the stock market during the same period.
With the exception of a few downward blips, investors could have
made their stock picks by throwing darts at the newspaper and still
brought home record returns. As the old adage says, “When the tide
comes in, all the boats go up.”
Well, the tide
certainly came in for salespeople during the 1990’s. Along with
of the Internet, the world’s economy experienced an economic
boom that was unprecedented in modern history. As a result, thousands
of new companies sprang up, backed by tons of venture capital, offering
huge stock options and significant incentives to salespeople who
were willing to jump ship and take a chance on hitting a home run.
who were smart enough (or lucky enough) to get in and out at
the right time are probably relaxing on a private island somewhere,
sipping pina coladas and wondering what the working class is doing
today. For the rest of us, the glory days of selling are long gone.
As the dust
settles, sales managers should take a few moments and review what
is to be learned from this upheaval. The most glaring lesson is
the realization that during the best
of times, sales organizations tend to get complacent when it
comes to sales skills. Think about it. In the 1970’s and early 80’s,
Fortune 100 giants like IBM, Xerox, and Merrill Lynch set the standard
when it came to establishing training programs to develop the professional
selling skills of their respective sales
Over the last ten years,
however, enhancing the professional skills of the field sales force
has been a corporate nice-to-have. And why? Let’s be honest. When
salespeople are achieving their sales goals, why should anyone worry
about selling skills? Similarly, when a salesperson’s resume shows
they have a track record for hitting their numbers, it is assumed
that they have sound professional selling skills.
But do they?
It’s easy to fill up the sales
forecast and close business when the economy is booming. But
what about when times get lean? What are your salespeople doing
now to engage new prospects to increase their sense of urgency?
What are they doing to establish credibility with cautious prospects
and fend off competitors who have become even more desperate? What
are they doing to minimize objections and move sales process forward
toward closure? What are they doing to leverage their strategic
partners to increase both mindshare and marketshare?
Most of the
sales training dollars invested over the past decade were spent
on rolling out sales automation programs—to improve forecast
accuracy and improve the efficiency of the sales organization.
But what about making the individual salesperson more effective?
Oops! Seems we forgot about that. Just look around your organization.
Even if you have good people, chances are good they are each attacking
the sales process differently—oftentimes,
based on their experience from the past ten years. Oops again! Remember,
the economy has changed and we are no longer selling into a market
environment where there are easy pickings.
There’s no need
to assign blame. There is, however, an opportunity to recognize
that the best way out of an economic recession is to increase
the effectiveness of your salespeople, so they can sell their way
out. For many companies, this means going back to basics and improving
the professional selling skills of their sales organizations.
When my first
book, Secrets of Question Based Selling, came out, some people thought,
“Who needs sales skills when business is booming?” Now that the
pendulum has swung the other way, corporate managers are suddenly
wondering, “Who needs sales automation tools and complex spreadsheets
when the forecast is empty?”