How to Fix Declining Sales

CSO Insights surveyed over 2,800 companies and found most were raising sales quotas, despite low quota achievement in the prior year. In fact, sales person quota attainment has been steadily declining for years and CSO Insights expects it to drop even more.

Top executives ask for more and more, looking for revenue growth, however, sales professionals are experiencing an increased pace of key challenges:

  • Lead flow is in decline
  • Decisions are stalled or delayed
  • Budgets are tight
  • Fewer buyers return calls

We used to clear 6 feet, but it’s getting harder and harder. Now the bar's going up. If it was tough before, now it's nearly impossible. What's a sales leader to do?

This article examines the root causes of these sales challenges and explores how the best companies have adapted to deliver superior results. The goal is to provide you with a road map you can use to put steps in place today for improved sales performance.

The Slow Death of Interruption Marketing

Almost since the telephone was invented, salespeople have cold-called prospects – interrupting them with a sales story. After the advent of email, another invasive communication method emerged. Email blasts became the low cost, mass delivered equivalent of cold calling. Other outbound marketing channels included Pay per Click and broadcast communications.

The advent of technology such as Caller-ID, CAN-SPAM, and DVRs are slowly but steadily rendering so called "interruption-marketing" obsolete. It's not that it never works, after all, even a broken clock gets the time right twice a day, but rather that it's become easier to stop and its effectiveness will only continue to decline.

Businesses that rely on salespeople to cold call prospective clients or employ other interruption marketing techniques are experiencing sales rep churn and missing their numbers. It's clear something needs to change.

Key Sales Challenges

Here are the difficulties that sales professionals face with increasing frequency:

  • Cannot get that elusive first and second meeting.
  • Deals are shrinking, decisions are delayed, and discounting is rampant.
  • In the eyes of the prospect, all options look the same. There is little differentiation.
  • Salespeople today meet a prospect more informed than ever. They know your product, your customers and probably your pricing. They have visited social networks and read consumer comments or peer reviews.
  • Buyers are tougher than ever. With shrinking staff, each person needs to do the job of multiple people and companies can get top talent for key roles like the Strategic Purchasing Manager.

The Sales Experts Chime In

When experts were asked for the top 3 or so problems they see in sales organizations today, their responses shared consistency and the real world frustrations held by sales staff and sales managers.

Jill Korath, Selling to Big Companies

  • The chasm separating marketing and sales. Marketing is not providing what sales really needs.
  • Shrinking sales pipelines. Fewer deals to work.
  • Lack of differentiation. To prospects, all options sound the same.

Kevin Temple, Enterprise Selling

  • Fewer sales deals. Need to get more from each opportunity.
  • Qualification. With fewer deals, we need to know whom to disqualify.
  • Motivating to take action. Stop losing to "no decision."
  • Redo the selling process to gain empathy.

Dave Stein, ES Research

  • Tough buyers. More experienced and highly trained, such as Strategic Sourcing rather than Purchasing.
  • Salesperson selection. We hire those good at interviewing but not good at sales.
  • Lack of selling skills. Few salespeople are in formal sales training and most sales training is tactical, rather than focusing on the needs of buyers.
  • Lack of a sales methodology. Most is product-oriented while sales really needs understanding of how and why buyers buy.

Kendra Lee, KLA Group

  • Sales has lost the ability to grow customers.
  • Companies rely on marketing to create and nurture leads, but the ball is dropped on sales handoff.
  • Inability to engage in selling with new leads drives up sales costs, lengthens sales cycles, and lowers win rates.

With those challenges cited, what can companies do to improve the success rates of their sales people?

The Path Forward

Sales leaders must adopt new sales and marketing techniques to remedy market challenges and outperform their competition. Consider the following plan and course of action with steps in particular order.

Step 1 - Approach Change with a Strategy
If we are going to effect change, we cannot simply flip a switch and expect it to happen. After all, a sales team engaged in ineffective cold calling and email blasts cannot be changed overnight. You need to clear your mind and dedicate yourself to changing direction in a planned and systemic manner.

Step 2: Develop Customer Personas and Adjust Your Messaging
Your goal in this step is to learn what makes buyers buy. What are their problems and concerns? Where do they turn for information? Whom do they trust? What are their personal goals and wishes? These are often called personas.

Your buyer personas will become invaluable in developing the optimal messaging, for your website, your marketing content, sales conversations and more. And a deep understanding of prospective buyers will enable you to clearly understand how best to talk to buyers – using provocative language that drives behavior.

Step 3 – Reengineer Sales & Marketing With Customer Centricity
With the prior information gathered, you are equipped to work back from buyer personas to buying process to sales engagement to marketing and so forth. A customer-based go to marketing approach is something that far too few companies implement, but the minority that do enjoy undeniable results. According to a recent Online Customer Engagement Report by e-Consultancey with CScape, only 45% of companies have a customer engagement strategy.

Step 4 – Automate Sales Processes with Business Software Systems
Once re-engineered processes are in place, it’s time to look for software and tools to automate the new processes. You might wish to consider software to identify triggering events like InsideView or Hoovers, or lead management systems such as Adobe Marketo or Salesforce Marketing Cloud, or a social listening tool to monitor online conversations.

One fundamental application that every organization needs is Customer Relationship Management software (CRM). One of the reasons CRM software is so important for sales reps is that its the system of record for leads, prospects and customers. CRM systems can deliver a 360 degree customer view, automate sales and marketing processes, aid new reps in getting up to speed quickly and provide sales and marketing staff with real time key performance indicators and business intelligence.

The sales and marketing world is changing, however, most sales and marketing leaders remain on the sidelines - unsure or not committed to implementing the change necessary to overcome pressing challenges.

Business needs to catch up to the world of today. Interruption marketing is fading away. Buyers do not fit into a single category of one. The process of identifying buyer personas, aligning messaging, implementing more customer centric business processes and automating activities with business software systems can remedy today's challenges and provide competitive advantage against those sales organizations which fail to grasp change.