If your sales team is underperforming, it's likely because you have a broken process.
We asked these eleven sales experts what processes they often find and fix for their clients.
Salespeople are directed to prospect by cold calling, cold e-mailing, researching on social media, and staying glued to their computers. They e-mail and call and have few substantive conversations. In other words, they're spinning their wheels.
The fastest way to get every meeting at the level that counts and to convert prospects into clients more than 50 percent of the time is through referrals. When salespeople receive referral introductions, they arrive pre-sold with trust and credibility already earned. They shorten their sales processes, reduce the cost of sales, and ace out the competition. No business-development strategy comes close to getting these results.
Yet, few companies have a disciplined, proactive referral system with metrics and accountability. It's the greatest competitive differentiator for salespeople, and it's the No. 1 reason reps underperform. If they don't start with quality leads—prospects who expect to hear from them and who actually want to talk to them—how can they be successful?
~ Joanne Black, No More Cold Calling
Salespeople and sales teams underperform because they spend very little time selling. Yes, I just wrote that, and it wasn’t intended to be funny. It’s not funny at all.
In company after company, I observe sales teams who’ve forgotten what the word “proactive” means. Underperforming reps seem willing to do anything but block time to proactively work targeted accounts and prospects.
They babysit and over-serve their favorite pet accounts under the guise of “customer service.” But the truth is that is a convenient excuse not to prospect for new business.
They get involved in project management and operations, or, even better, volunteer for the Safety or Halloween Party Committee. It’s not always the salesperson’s fault; often it’s management who’ve lost their minds in an effort to be lean.
I’ve had clients where underperforming reps were charged with pulling orders from a warehouse, filling out paperwork for international shipments, or running deliveries to customers. The sad reality is that a very large percentage of salespeople are failing because they fail to spend enough time and energy focused on selling.
~ Mike Weinberg, The New Sales Coach
Unfortunately, most sales teams do a poor job of effectively following up on sales leads.
Sales lead follow-up is the area where most companies waste potential revenue opportunities. (In my work with clients I can show them that the easiest immediate path to growing sales is to effectively follow-up their sales leads.) The primary problem is that most managers assume that the sales leads are being followed up. They assume that following up a potential sales opportunity is an automatic response, like breathing in after you breathe out. However, studies have shown that companies, on average, only follow up on approximately 50% of their sales leads.
Follow-up is a core sales process. The first step to effectively following up on sales leads is to document the process. I have surveyed over 200 small-midsized companies on their sales processes and only 82% have a documented process for lead follow-up. If the process isn’t documented it usually means that it isn’t happening.
The lack of a defined process means that management hasn’t established a) an expectation with the sales team that leads must be followed up; and, b) metrics they can use to ensure leads are being followed up in a timely and effective fashion.
~ Andy Paul, Zero Time Selling
I'm going to stay away from processes here. There are a lot of processes that may be missing or broken. But most of the time if the sales team is underperforming there's something else that requires attention: leadership.
I was fortunate enough to attend Harvard business school. In an organizational development class I took, a young Indian student described the problem in every case study with the following statement: "A fish rots from the head." In his mind, every problem was a problem of leadership.
I didn't want to believe this. It's difficult to accept because it means the leader is always responsible. But it's true; the leader is always responsible! If the team is underperforming the leader needs to make changes.
If the individuals don't have the necessary mindset, the leader has to install it. If the sales force doesn’t have the necessary skills, the leader has to provide them with the training, development, and coaching necessary to obtaining them. If the sales force doesn't have the tools, then the leader needs to provide them. If the individuals are unwilling to do what is necessary the leader needs to replace them.
It’s the leader’s job to identify what needs to be changed to produce a better result. That’s the most important process.
~ Anthony Iannarino, The Sales Blog
Most underperforming sales team don’t know who wants to buy their wares. They have not spent enough time researching their ‘ideal target customer’ so they try to sell to everyone. And that means that they don’t have a high close rate, enough revenue at the end of the quarter, or enough morale internally to turn in outrageous sales results.
Fixing that is easy. Spend time saying “NO” to the wrong prospects. And carve off time each month to refine your target customer model. Make it collaborative. Reward great ideas. Fight for clarity.
A Team assessment and coaching process – most companies confuse their performance review process with a team assessment and coaching process. It’s almost impossible to be consistently successful without having a process in place that assesses the team and then leverages the learning with aligned and relevant coaching.
A sophisticated team assessment process allows you to know the collective AND individual strengths and weaknesses of the team. I got 10 bucks any one reading this right now can tell me the 3 major weaknesses AND strengths of their collective sales team RIGHT NOW!
See! I told you!
Go assess your sales team by the required skills to be successful, hard and soft.
~ Jim Keenan, A Sales Guy
They allow everyone to do what they want and however they want to. There is no consistency and no standard way of doing anything. A simple example would be allowing reps to send e-mails through Gmail, Salesforce OR Oulook.
The best recommendation I can make to any company who has underperforming sales is to implement any type of process, even the simplest process and then start looking for the weak links to make systematic and educated improvements.
I think one or more of three things is most likely at play:
1) The salespeople are not being held to account for their promised activity
2) They are not tracking their activity
3) The salespeople are focusing only on the deals that are closing and forget to fill the pipeline
All three are intimately connected. Keep doing the right work from the right place and you will start to perform!
~ Dianna Smith, The Irreverent Sales Girl
I call it the “wishing and hoping” syndrome. Sales reps forecast which accounts they expect to close during the following quarter and then proceed to chase after these same accounts which will never close – this quarter or next. This situation wastes time and resources which could be better devoted to new business development and upsells for existing customers.
Sales management needs to stop taking each rep’s word for it that the forecasted accounts are going to close. Instead, the manager should set appointments to ride with each rep on at least two accounts which have been forecasted to close. At the end of the appointment, the manager and rep will do a debrief and reality check to determine whether the rep is chasing after a “pipe dream” or not. It could boil down to that rep not prospecting the accounts best suited for that rep’s, and the company’s, sweet spot. Both rep and manager need to “do what they said they would do.” If the manager determines that the rep is spinning their wheels on a non-productive account, that rep has to buy-in to dropping their pursuit and re-align themselves to accounts more likely to close. The manager needs to ride with the rep on a regular basis and that rep needs to close the account that quarter.
~ Babette Ten Haken, Sales Aerobics for Engineers
Sales teams make too many untargeted calls with not the right information. Reps drag out deals and send way too many canned emails into black holes.
Qualification means doing your research, making hypothesis of your prospect’s needs and digging in to the pains they face asking tough questions and really learning their business along the way.
Qualification is what separates the players from the pretenders in sales.\
~ Kyle Porter, SalesLoft
A common problem is lack of clarity in the sales process and inconsistency in pricing. This is typically the result of weak sales management. If the sales management is not clear on their objectives and has not given the team the necessary tools, a high degree of problems will prevail with customer interactions.
Can a salesperson rise above weak sales management? Sure, but it is impossible to have an entire sales team do it. If management wants a consistently high-performing team, they better make sure they are clear on the sales process and the pricing structure.
~ Mark Hunter, The Sales Hunter