You might call it the Goldilocks Problem for sales teams: just like the little girl who was never satisfied with the state of her bed or the temperature of her porridge, there are times when the volume of customer orders may seem too high or too low.
While no one wants to be overwhelmed by customer demand, however, no one wants to be in a position when revenue dips precipitously, either. Maybe the “just right” state of sales is when the number of deals closing increases at a pace where it’s easy to determine whether to add more members to the team. Unfortunately, in most cases something else happens -- sales keep coming in, but the volume hits a wall. This is a sales plateau, and it makes the Goldilocks Problem seem almost insignificant in comparison.
When teams or individual reps hit a sales plateau, it means reaching a particular quota may be unattainable because they are only getting purchases from their existing roster of customers. It makes goal-setting more difficult because it’s not clear when or how an increase in deals will happen.
From a manager’s perspective it’s even more challenging, because reps will still be getting compensated for the revenue they bring in. Unlike a slump, where a lack of purchases may motivate the team to work harder, a plateau might lead to little more than acceptance or complacency. Reps might feel, for example, that their addressable market is simply tapped out and there’s no real room for them to grow.
Sales plateaus also have a way of creeping up on companies, whether they’re large enterprises or small and medium-sized businesses. There will be periods of sales frenzy, for example, where everyone is so busy fielding customer interest that a plateau just seems like a welcome moment of downtime. Unfortunately, that downtime could stretch on indefinitely unless managers help their teams power through the sales plateau.
If you’re stuck on how to do this, start with any or all of the ideas outlined below. Even if they don’t work right away, they may get you so actively involved in the problem that other strategies will emerge.
When the deals are flowing fast and furious, taking the time to look at new research, customer feedback or other content can seem like a luxury. Once you’ve reached a sales plateau, however, it may be a good signal to reconnect with the interests, needs, problems and areas of inspiration that matter to the people who have yet to make a purchase.
The sources of this content should come from both internal and external sources. Many marketing teams, for example, create sales enablement material such as backgrounders, playbooks or buyer’s guides that sometimes don’t get used to their fullest potential. Now is the time to review those assets and think about how they could be used to drum up more business.
At the time same, reps should be encouraged to click through to articles their existing customers are sharing on social media, or go over the most-read stories on their market’s key publications and blogs. Think about using part of the weekly sales meeting to show relevant videos from YouTube or other sources that hit home on what really matters to customers. This may be the best way to help reps spark fresh conversations with their next buyer.
When professional sports team hit a plateau or get stuck in a losing streak, what do their coaches do? Most likely they go (literally) back to the drawing board or chalkboard and sketch out the specific moves the team made in the past to win a game. Or they look at what rival teams have been doing and break down their victories in a similar way.
It may not seem feasible to deconstruct the performance of a sales rep or an entire team with little more than a marker and a whiteboard, but fortunately a growing number of companies have a lot more than that. If they use a CRM like Sales Cloud, for example, they have an incredible reservoir of data on closed deals as well as deals that went awry and near-misses.
Try this: Discuss with the team the sales that took considerable savvy or effort but resulted in a major purchase over the past year. Go back into Sales Cloud and look at all the foundations that led to success. This could include the number of times the customer was contacted, what was mentioned in their followup or a variety of other elements. A little “deal deconstruction” could identify the barriers that help reps break through the almost-there deals and, subsequently, your sales plateau.
There’s a reason we tend to stay in our comfort zones -- they’re comfortable! Unfortunately, getting beyond a sales plateau sometimes means making a metaphorical leap into a new behaviour or approach.
If most of your reps are primarily cold calling, for instance, it may be time to introduce some ideas about the use of selling via email. In other cases, teams may have done little to nothing in terms of nurturing and converting prospects using social media channels like Twitter or LinkedIn. Then there’s video, which means one of the best ways to make a quick but meaningful impact in a medium that is tailor-made for today’s attention spans. If reps have never used videos as a selling tool, now is the time to try.
Without good leads, sales teams have little to help them get past a plateau. That means, however, the leads are scored, qualified and accepted in such a way that all the potential prospects aren’t missed.
Rather than work in isolation on a sales plateau, smart managers connect with their marketing teams to look at the current approaches to demand generation and what can be tweaked. This could involve taking a second look at the size range of target companies, their geographic location or even the role that should serve as the primary point of contact.
Make sure no stone is left unturned so that marketing and sales are doing everything they can collaboratively to get deal volumes going up and to the right again.
Offering customers a special incentive based on price, configuration or limited-time opportunity can feel like a last resort, but it doesn’t have to be. The big difference between randomly discounting or offering a promo today is that companies have artificial intelligence (AI) tools such as Salesforce Einstein.
AI tools can look at your historical data to help predict how customers and prospects might respond to particular discounts and promotions, how long you should run them and even what channels might be best to introduce them.
Whatever you do, sales plateaus should never be ignored. Chances are they won’t just go away on their own but require active support from managers who recognize the signs and do what’s necessary to get back to growth.