Record-breaking months followed by slumps add up to a
mediocre year. How can you bring those low points up to par and avoid the rollercoaster ride in the first place? Of the many sales strategies that exist, only a few tried-and-true stand out from the others.
Here, five sales experts share the one strategy which they have found most effective in driving consistently high sales. Luckily, they each emphasize different strategies, so you can adopt one, two or all five and rock a consistently great 2015.
1 Fix the Reasons for Nosedives
Colleen Francis, sales consultant and author of the new book Nonstop Sales Boom: Powerful Strategies to Drive Consistent Growth Year After Year, says ups and downs are common. However, she’s noticed in her years of sales consulting that there are three main causes and each can be solved.
“It wasn’t economics and it wasn’t seasonal,” says Francis. “It was completely self-inflicted. In every case that I saw where we had wild roller-coasters, they had the same traits associated with them. And once you identified the traits, you could fix the problem.”
The first problem is an over focus on closing. “When we found a sales leader was cracking the whip at the end of the month or at the end of the quarter to close, what happened was the sales team would do as commanded and close everything in the pipeline to the detriment of any prospecting, asking for referrals or marketing, and so they’d drain the pipeline,” says Francis. The next month they would have few prospects to talk with and would need to rebuild from scratch.
The second reason is that some seasoned sales pros think they are above making cold calls or prospecting and just want to sell to existing clients. The problem is the client base disappears – they retire, go out of business, or are acquired and can’t buy anymore. Francis advises reps to balance new client attraction with growing their existing client base because you can’t “forsake brand-new customers for account management.”
The third problem occurs when sales reps favor one product over another. “So while it may look like they’re hitting their targets, what’s happening is that they’re doing it on the back of a certain product line and then they erode market share and success of another product,” says Francis.
In addition to fixing those problems, Francis says to not think of the sales funnel as a linear process. Instead, customers may skip steps and move forward at varying speeds. So observant salespeople tune into how the customer wants to buy and constantly ask themselves, “How can I improve the client condition?”
There are four key things to client engagement – attraction, participation, growth and leverage – and a client can exist in any of those stages at all times,” says Francis. “So you could be selling an account for the first time, but they’re already so excited they can be leveraged to give you referrals.”
Nurture all four stages to keep the leads coming. “The reason why so many companies don’t experience success consistently is that they don’t do things consistently to add leads to the top end of the pipeline,” says Francis. “They’re not consistently broadcasting to the marketplace – they go in fits and spurts.”
2 Service, Service, Service
Like the cliché in real estate that the three most important things are location, location, location, one advertising specialty pro says this industry’s mantra should be service.
When Robert Stillman left his Wall Street career to found Far From Boring Promotions (asi/192001) in Florida, he hung a banner running the length of the office with the word “service” repeating across it. “I wanted everybody who either visited or worked here to know that this is the cornerstone of our business,” he says.
Stillman says that while top-notch service helps you stand out in any industry, it’s more important with promotional products because sales reps are competing to sell a commodity. Service means knowing how to sell items, getting them to the client on time, and being the first to share new products. It doesn’t mean having the lowest price.
“Compete on service because our business has become sort of a race to the bottom in terms of price,” says Stillman. “Nobody wins that game including the clients because at a certain margin, it’s impossible to give your client the right amount of service.”
Stillman points out companies need sufficient profit margin to afford the things that enable them to offer high-quality service, such as trips to industry shows and back-office support. For example, his team includes one to two assistants supporting each salesperson to ensure proper follow through on all the details – from ensuring the inventory is in stock to having the correct shipping address. “The most expensive product is the one you get a day after the trade show,” he says.
Top-tier suppliers can be your partners in delivering superior service. Develop a short list of vetted suppliers who will go the extra mile to get what your clients need, and continue to reward them with more business to cement the relationship. Also, the right suppliers keep you up to date on the hottest products. When wireless Bluetooth speakers first came out, Far From Boring sent samples to clients which resulted in “a lot of sales.” They also introduce new products via email to their national and international client list.
“For consistent sales, make sure your clients know what’s out there so that they can be one of the first companies to give that product out and be more interesting and relevant,” says Stillman. “Because if they don’t know about it, of course, they can’t buy it.”
This emphasis on service has resulted in consistent monthly sales, growth each year and minimal client loss.
3 Create a Prosperity Mindset
“Our success in sales is 99% our expectations and our mindset, and only 1% sales process,” says Weldon Long, speaker, entrepreneur, and New York Times bestselling author of The Power of Consistency: Prosperity Mindset Training for Sales and Business Professionals.
Long knows the power of positive thinking. In his first 32 years, he dropped out of high school, lived on the streets and went to prison three times. It was his father’s death which gave him a “moment of clarity” and started his journey from a life of poverty and struggle to wealthy businessman. That day, he started studying the traits of smart, successful businesspeople. His conclusion is summed up in the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote: “We become what we think about all day long.”
“I’m talking about a prosperity mindset geared and designed to thrive in the face of adversity,” says Long. Salespeople can get “beaten mentally” by a process filled with competitive challenges, economic challenges, cheaper products and prospects who need to get three bids before buying. “If we’re waiting to thrive once we get in the spot where we don’t have these struggles, we’re going to be waiting forever,” he says.
Long teaches others to break out of these negative mindsets using FEAR: focus, emotional commitment, action and responsibility. First, focus on your objectives in the three main areas of your life – money, relationships and health. Narrow it down to one or two things to do on a daily, consistent basis to reach those goals. “In sales, that means I’ve got to run every call with passion and purpose and ask for the order every time – just those two things could change a sales career,” he says.
Second, build emotional commitment by writing those goals in present tense and reviewing them each morning – get completely absorbed in it for 10 to 15 minutes a day. This daily ritual keeps you in the present moment and drowns out negative thoughts. Long says the majority of successful people spend their time in the present rather than wasting time regretting the past or worrying about the future.
Next, act in line with your prosperity plan. “If you stick with the plan, it starts driving the new behaviors,” says Long. “Success is not a knowledge problem; it’s totally an implementation problem.”
Last, Long says adults are responsible for the contents of their brain, and can make conscious decisions to release negative thoughts, regrets and hurts. “It feels so good to focus on all these positive things that we become less willing to pick up all that past stuff – you realize how burdensome it is,” he says. “By starting our day consistently with those 10 minutes, that’s going to help us take the consistent actions all during the course of the day.”
4 Proactively Prospect
Jill Albers, executive director of global sales at Shumsky (asi/326300), expects her sales reps to spend 20% of their time seeking new business to fill the space lost from changes in personnel and marketing budgets. “We find that there’s about 10% of attrition,” says Albers. “So in wanting to grow your business, we want to at least find 20% more new business so you have to allow 20% of your time open for that.”
There are many resources to learn how to spend that time usefully. Albers likes Jill Konrath’s book Selling to Big Companies for its “foot-in-the-door strategies” to help crack new and bigger accounts. Prospecting includes a broad variety of activity such as reaching out to suppliers, asking for referrals, getting samples in customers’ hands and emailing LinkedIn contacts who have new positions.
Her team has had success in seeking new departments within an existing client’s organization. For example, one rep who had worked with a company for a long time asked to be introduced to the HR department. It turns out HR was looking for a new awards recognition provider and the result was a new sale.
“The proactive prospecting gets them to transition into other departments quite often,” says Albers. “You may do it a couple times and not get a bite, and the third time you do. So if you don’t continue to do it, you never know what’s going to happen.”
While her team seeks new accounts, they also make sure to keep up with existing customers. They review the year’s past projects to see if customers will be ordering again. Then they find out the budget, provide ideas and start sourcing. Their goal is to be a creative resource to help clients drive their marketing engine.
Albers says prospecting is essential to driving consistent sales, even when other activities may seem more urgent. “Sometimes when you’re prospecting, you feel like you’re not doing something else,” she says. “I tell our team that prospecting is so important – you have to do it.”
Since you can’t count on what you had in your book last year, be prepared for attrition by continuing to open new doors. “My biggest message for consistent sales is never stop prospecting,” says Albers. “If you haven’t planted those seeds a while back, you’re not going to have anything growing in the future.”
5 Plan Your Work & Work Your Plan
In his 24 years of sales training, Carlos Quintero, founder of Sales Effectiveness Inc., has noticed one common trait in consistently high achievers: True sales pros develop a plan and metrics. “A good salesperson establishes a playbook for his year, with intermediary guideposts to determine if he’s making progress,” he says.
Start off each year by reviewing the previous year, examine where business came from, how much can be expected to be repeated, and then identify the gap which needs to be filled with new business. Quintero calls this a Territory Growth Plan outlining how to meet your numbers, where growth will come from, and what steps will get you there. Second, create metrics to track progress – they can be activity metrics such as numbers of calls, visits, and newsletters, or what type of companies you’re pursuing such as ones with a budget of $25,000 or more for ad specialties.
Taking time to develop a vision and a plan is a lot different than just thinking you’ll work really hard. “That’s planning by hoping,” Quintero points out.
This approach helps even out seasonality and spikes and valleys. After starting the year with a plan, schedule a reality check in June to determine if your plan needs to be adjusted for the balance of the year. Quintero says that President Dwight Eisenhower stated, “Plans are worthless, planning is priceless.” It’s the thought process that’s crucial even when plans need to change.
Quintero says the planning process shouldn’t be a burden. Some customer relationship management (CRM) tools come with too many screens and become cumbersome. Instead, he’s found a simple spreadsheet listing customers and probability of revenue can help sales pros reach their goals. In addition, he recommends finding a coach, mentor or mastermind group to meet with regularly as an accountability partner. “When people establish routines like that, it really can make a difference because they say I now have somebody in my camp helping me,” he says.
A plan should include marketing strategies such as joining business associations or hiring an outside firm to do telemarketing. Invest limited resources in the top five strategies to grow business, making your plan focused and manageable. At the minimum, companies need a competitive website, and sales individuals need a strong LinkedIn profile complete with testimonials and 500+ connections. “Consistency is made of quality of content, repeatability of content and, by having that done well, that profile is working for you around the clock,” says Quintero.
Susan Thomas Springer is an OR-based contributor to Advantages.