Sales leaders find themselves wearing different hats as they navigate sales cycles with their teams.
One moment you’re a coach to a group of new hires fumbling their way around your CRM. In another, you’re a crack detective, probing why your team metrics didn’t turn out as planned. Across the entire stretch, you’ll find occasions where you play the role of a parent admonishing a wayward team member, or a cheerleader trying to push everyone to give their best even amid a lopsided market that strongly favors your competitors. You love your job, but sometimes you wish you were a shrink, so you can give yourself energy-boosting therapy just to go on.
Given all the good stuff it offers, nobody ever said sales was easy. You know this, and that’s why you need to prepare your team for those difficult occasions that commonly arise in different stages of the selling process.
Here are some tips for when common sales challenges prevent your team from moving forward. These are neither quick fixes nor cure-alls, but mere starting points that can lead you to the unique solution for specific pain points your team experiences.
When goals are set too high or too low
It’s easy to make plans, build road maps or formulate sales strategies — at least when compared with turning them into reality. Finding your team in perfect sync with everyone’s expectations rarely happens. And the numbers agree. Depending on how you define “failure,” 70% to 80% of startups fail at meeting ROI goals, while up to 95% of them fall short of meeting forecasts, according to a Harvard Business School publication.
Part of the discrepancy lies in how and which kind of goals are set. Aiming for a certain revenue growth over a previous year is imperative in any kind of business. That’s why forecasts remain staples at year-end town halls and investor meetings. After all, revenue goals help determine whether an organization achieves success on the financial front.
For sales teams, however, it might be better to “reverse-engineer success” by transforming results-oriented goals into activity goals. The trick is to remember that you have no control over your team results, but you can definitely control which activities they perform on your watch.
For example, if your team metrics show that it takes 30 qualified prospects on average to close a single deal, your team needs to introduce 300 qualified leads into your pipeline to make 10 sales. If management expects 100 such deals in a quarter, then you need to require your team to bring in — through prospecting, meeting, emailing, demoing and other activities — at least 3,000 prospects to make the cut.
Going deeper, be sure to examine other metrics (such as sales velocity) and your individual team members’ strengths and weaknesses so you’ll be able to optimize the required number of activities for each stage of your sales cycle. Note that a sales team performing below peak efficiency can still meet targets if those targets were set low in the first place.
When failure happens
So you put on your analyst hat and probed your metrics. You fine-tuned your sales process, accurately defining key stages and setting activity goals that optimize your team’s capabilities. Down the line, everyone already had plans for the hefty bonus management promised.
But something unexpected happened. A new market player ate a piece of your pie. Two of your top sales performers suddenly left, ready to set up a business of their own. An old rival unleashed an aggressive campaign that attracted a few of your long-time clients.
The short of it: You missed your targets. And your team — who did their best and expected a rousing success — suddenly experiences the painful sting of failure.
Morale is low. But as a leader, the responsibility of managing failure falls squarely on your lap. Fortunately, failure is a fairly common phenomenon in the world of sales. Unless your team is made up of rookies, interns and first-time sellers, you’ll find it easy to empathize with even the most downhearted member. Indeed, rare is the guru who hasn’t covered the topic in a best-selling book. And rare is the sales veteran who hasn’t encountered strings of failures.
In a compelling article published in her blog, sales icon and best-selling author Jill Konrath described her bouts with failure. Konrath recalled instances where she fainted during sales calls, got sick and lost 95% of her business. Her conclusion: “You’re virtually guaranteed to experience lots of failure [in sales] . . . Failure is your route to success.”
As a sales manager, you can adopt a formula Konrath calls “reframing failure.” As other experts similarly advise, turn your team’s failure into a valuable learning experience so you’ll avoid mistakes the next time the team sets out toward a goal. Pipedrive’s Timo Rein offers a more mathematical approach to handling the failures you’ll encounter while selling. He suggests that you willingly and quickly “lose” prospects who don’t fit your ideal customer profile so the team can focus on the ones who have at least a 70% chance of opting in.
When team members lack motivation
It doesn’t take failure to sap a person’s energy. Small frustrations at home or personal grudges at the workplace can easily undermine a staff’s performance. Sometimes, all it takes is a rainy day to distract a person.
If you personally feel you need some motivation, here’s a post from Quora that’s so insightful Fortune decided to republish it on their site. Central to the post is the need to “understand your purpose” and to “focus on the big picture.” (You can also check out 18 Tips to Keep Your Salespeople Happy and Unlock Sales Team Motivation.)
When finding and winning customers are difficult
What do you do when your team appears to have reached a plateau when it comes to bringing in new prospects into your pipeline?
First, don’t panic. Unless your product is something only a handful of people would want, the world is a big place populated by countless companies. Moreover, technology enables your team to reach new prospects. If social selling ranks low on your team strategy, maybe it’s the time to hone everyone’s social selling credentials. After all, people spend more than a quarter of their time online on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. Certainly, some of these people are the decision makers (the right people) your team needs to engage.
Sales authority Brian Tracy suggests a number of steps when finding new people to buy your product. Among them: Clearly define your customer. Go further by having your team qualify their prospects based on winnability. Have them ask for referrals regardless of whether they have closed sales or not.
Managing Setbacks Primes Your Team For Success
Sales leaders perform many tasks but their main function is to guide, empathize, motivate and train their team, preparing them for setbacks they’ll surely encounter.
As Colin Powell once said: “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure."