Every leader experiences this at least once, and often several times. This can range from growth that decelerates, stalls, or outright retreats from earlier highs. If left unaddressed, sales will remain stuck in neutral, or worse continue to erode.
But having sales fall short of expectations is an opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade: gain lasting insight, build discipline, and strengthen process so you can chart a course to predictable revenue growth.
Let’s tick through four common reasons why sales miss and what you can do about it:
Failure to Qualify
Failure to qualify prospects early enough kills sales productivity by wasting time and energy.
Only after you’ve qualified someone can you really know whether it’s worth investing your time and effort trying to sell to this prospect.
Many inexperienced salespeople pivot to pitch too quickly, without first having gained a proper understanding of their prospect.
Put another way, would you throw darts in the dark?
Focus your questions in four areas: Is the prospect aligned with your ideal customer profile? What are this prospect’s needs — individual, team, and company? How do they make “buy” decisions and how long does it take? Finally, what are the criteria for their decision?
Tip: Create a simple flashcard listing crucial questions as an easy reminder.
Art of Discovery
Selling itself is a straightforward matter of solution presentation and value justification AFTER a prospect’s specific need has been identified and captured in a quantifiable manner.
The challenge and art lie in uncovering need. This requires navigating past symptomatic or presenting issues, and probe for underlying cause or true need. This is a treasure hunt for root cause.
Once you have this, the rest is disciplining oneself to ask the right questions at the right time, and no more. “Good” questions are irrelevant if not on the critical path to close.
The best reps will challenge prospects with unique insights about how they can save money, make money, or avoid risk. Messages are tailored to the customer’s specific needs and objectives, and the rep pushes back when necessary rather than acquiesce to every customer demand or objection.
Tip: Try postponing pitching until you fully understand the prospect’s need in terms that are specific and measurable — this is harder than you may think.
Power of Trial Close
This is not the same as “the close” — ask for order, overcome objections, gain commitment, blah, blah, etc.
The objective of trial close is to see what stands in the way of securing an order when the time is right. This requires digging deeper like:
What are the underlying concerns that sit behind the objections? Which individuals hold those concerns? How to get to the right people and address the right concerns?
Tip: Consider this question: “I know that you’re not at the point in the buying process to make a decision, but in considering the options at this point, is there any concern about working with us?”
Talking Past Close
This makes every CEO cringe. A great presentation is delivered, there is strong alignment with the prospect, but the pitching continues. Or, the seller gets an objection, answers it, but then returns to pitching. Yuck.
Here are a few ways to stop talking past the close, so your reps can spend more time closing. Consider:
Tape yourself as a learning device to hear and catch yourself.
Use a script that ends with your reps asking for the deal, and craft a good response to common objections they are getting.
Give your reps a “quota” to ask for the deal — and have them track it.
Celebrate getting a “no” because it usually means you’re moving closer to a “yes.”
Teach your team to be quiet for five seconds after they ask for the sale — consider this the “silence-is-deafening” trick.
Tip: If your sales team is among the 50% of teams that aren’t making their quotas regularly, then specific sales training is the key.
Boost Sales Productivity
Tackling any one of these “blockers” will improve the sales productivity of your team. Understand other factors impact sales productivity too, like selling process, role clarity, and marketing to drive inbound leads and nurture existing contacts.
Chris Preston is a business advisor and sales leader who helps turn emerging companies into market leaders. A former Microsoft executive, two-time startup veteran, and board member, he is founder of True Partners Advisory. If you’d like a little help, contact us.