First let me say that I’ve seen many top performers, at one time or another, fall into a sales slump. I’ve been in a few myself over the years. Some last longer than others, but be assured that none last forever–unless you literally give up.
It’s up to you to accept responsibility for getting yourself out of the slump. You certainly should ask for and expect support and encouragement from management and your colleagues, but no one can get you out of your slump. You have to do it yourself. It takes time, effort and organization.
If you or someone who works for you is experiencing a slump, I’d like to suggest a few things to thing about and some actions to take to turn things around: Assess: The first thing to do is to admit to yourself that you are, in fact, in a slump. This isn’t easy. I find that many sales pros in this situation avoid thinking in those terms.
Once you’ve said to yourself, “I’m in a slump,” evaluate your situation. Objectivity is critical in doing that effectively. When I work one-on-one with a good salesperson who is in a slump, I ascertain whether the root cause is a direct result of actions the salesperson took (or didn’t take), or the cause is systemic. For example, if the person hasn’t prospected in a year, brought in no business during the last two quarters and is sitting with no qualified leads to pursue, at 50% of quota, that’s one problem. On the other hand, if they’ve done all the “right things,” but their company announced they were filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and no one wants to meet with, not to mention buy from that sales rep right now, that’s another situation entirely. (An argument could be made that the sales person should have seen this coming and moved on to a new job…)
By the way, I’m not a believer in luck having much to do with successful selling. Some good timing here, a bad break there, sure, but I’ve seen winners “create” their own luck too many times to be spiritual about it. “I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.” Thomas Jefferson
Go for Little Wins: Once you’ve assessed the situation, you need to go for some little wins–achievable mini-goals–that will get you moving in the right direction. The message here is: take control. We know the “big win” is recovering and over delivering on quota. But that may be too daunting a challenge when you’re in the midst of that slump. Little wins contribute to finding your footing again in areas where you might have lost your confidence, or perhaps need to beef up on some skills. Here are some examples:
If your pipeline is weak, decide that you are going to prospect your customer base. Visit enough customers until you have three solid new business leads. Also, take time to revise your cold calling script. Use it to generate five meetings with potential decision makers in your target market or territory.
If you’ve been complacent, really get up to speed on that new product line. Perhaps your slump was the result of your reluctance to adapt to a new direction your company took. I’ve seen this happen too many times. Company introduces new product… salesrep continues to sell old one since it is within their comfort zone… leads and business dry up, leading to a slump.
If you can’t earn the credibility you feel you need to sell to executives, get the last three issues of the major trade magazines that cover the industry into which you sell. Read them cover to cover next weekend. Visit a customer or two and talk about the issues on which you are now up to speed. Then obtain security as well as industry analyst reports on the industry into which you are selling. Read those. Again, talk to some customers about what you learned. Once you’ve spoken to customers, try it with prospects. This is an incredibly powerful approach to building not only your credibility, but your confidence as well. If you’ve been outsold by a competitor, get a much deeper understanding of them. Talk to other members of your sales team, your marketing department, or some customers to get that insight you are looking for. Take the time to formulate a competitive sales strategy for any deals in which you are competing against them.
If you can’t seem to move deals along and get them closed, reevaluate and retool your qualification process and your value proposition. You may either be pursuing unqualified business or may not have a compelling enough business case to get the prospect to buy, or both.
Whichever little wins you decide to accomplish, create a plan: write your goals down, along with your strategies for achieving them, including completion dates.
- This is really rule number one when you are in a sales slump: Get out of the office. Visit customers. Go to a trade show or industry conference. Network with sales reps from other, non-competing companies. Get into situations where you will get pumped.
- Ask management for their support. Don’t wait until your boss comes to you. Present an honest self-assessment and request some coaching. An effective, experienced sales manager will not only have ideas to help you build positive momentum, but will give you the leeway you need to get yourself back on track.
- Ask a trusted colleague for help. Mirror a skill or capability they have.
- Buy a new sales book, or reread one that made a positive impact on you in the past. If it works for you, listen to your old Sales 101 or motivational audio tapes or CDs. Pick up a new skill and use it right away.
- What skill do you need the most immediate help with? Negotiation, presentations, writing? Take a course, live or on-line.
- Don’t focus on the negatives. If you’ve had some disappointments, or made some mistakes, accept them, learn something from them, and move on.
- Accomplish something challenging that is not directly related to work. The confidence you will get from that will provide you the boost you need to muster the energy and focus to get back on track.