Sales

Why Your Sales Are Disappointing and How to Turn Them Around

If you’re reading this, you’re probably disappointed in your recent sales. Maybe you’ve done okay in the past, but you just saw two quarters of decline in a row, or maybe you’ve just started a new business and you’re not getting any sales traction.

In any case, your sales strategy is a hot mess.

You aren’t getting the results you want, but more than that, you aren’t sure exactly what’s “wrong” with your existing strategy. If you knew how to fix it, you would have fixed it by now.

The bad news is there aren’t any quick and easy things you can do to start getting more sales tomorrow. But the good news is, if you’re willing to analyze what’s going wrong with your current strategy, and you’re willing to make positive changes to correct those flaws, you can really turn your sales strategy around.

Improving Team Sales: What’s Wrong With Your Sales Strategy?

When I work with sales teams to analyze their efforts and make improvements, I generally notice some combination of these five problems in play:

  • Your objectives are unfocused.

What exactly are you trying to do? Yes, you’re trying to sell to people, but who are you selling to, what are you trying to sell them, and what are your backup strategies if that initial approach fails?

Most companies new to sales (or struggling with sales) find it hard to answer basic questions about their strategy; that’s because their objectives are unfocused. They have a general idea of what they want to do (i.e., they know they want sales to be higher), but they don’t have a specifically directed program for how to meet those vague goals, nor do they have clear processes in place.

You can begin to fix this issue by setting some concrete goals, like improving sales by 20 percent next quarter, or hitting a specific dollar amount by the end of the year. It may also be worthwhile to set goals for each individual on your team, challenging them to improve.

  • You’re basing everything on anecdotal evidence instead of objective research.

Today’s top sales teams don’t base their efforts on intuition or speculation; instead, they base their work on objective data.

It might seem obvious that objective data is superior to subjective whims, but it’s tempting to design your sales strategy around what you think might work. For example, you likely put yourself in your customer’s shoes, wondering how you might like to hear about this product or service for the first time. But your experience is biased, colored by your existing knowledge of the product or service; you may also belong to an entirely different demographic, and have no idea how someone in your target audience might react.

Everything starts with market research. You need to figure out exactly who your target customer is, exactly how they typically behave, and how they’ve responded to sales strategies in the past.

  • Your team simply isn’t motivated.

Much of your sales success will depend on your salespeople’s ability and willingness to pursue your objectives. Ideally, they’ll work autonomously, naturally inclined to follow best practices and push themselves to achieve higher sales on their own—but most people aren’t like this.

If you want your team to succeed and earn more sales for your organization, you need to hone their motivation. There are several strategies you can use here, focusing on both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation comes from an outside source; for example, you might offer a cash bonus to the top salesperson on your team, or team-based rewards when you hit a certain dollar amount for the year.

Intrinsic motivation comes from within and is harder to develop. You can coach your team to feel more passionate about sales, but you’ll also want to start early by spending more time finding and hiring candidates who are self-motivated.

  • You’re working with low-quality leads.

Sometimes, your salespeople are working just fine—but they don’t have the high-quality lead pool they need to do their best. High-quality leads have a few things in common; they already fit your demographic “ideals,” they have qualities or past behaviors that indicate they might be specifically interested in your products, and in an ideal world, they’re also “warm,” meaning they’re familiar with your brand or have been in contact with your company in the past.

A good lead generation strategy will provide you with high-quality leads and plenty of them, but if your lead generation is lacking, your salespeople will be set up for failure. There are countless ways you can build and polish a lead generation strategy, but the most efficient methods rely on automation and funneling; in other words, you want a strategy that can generate new leads for your team automatically, and push them through a process that naturally ignores the people who probably won’t be interested in what you’re selling.

  • You aren’t experimenting and adapting.

As much as I’d like to say there’s a secret formula that can guarantee higher sales to every business that uses it, the reality is that every business is unique. You’ve got a unique product, a unique team, and a unique customer base to work with. The only real way to tell whether a strategy is working is to directly measure it and analyze your results.

The scientific method is your friend here; conduct an experiment by trying a new approach or tweaking your existing strategy (such as changing the wording of your phone script), then roll it out under similar conditions and determine whether there’s an improvement, a decline, or no change. Based on that information, and applied over dozens of experiments, you can gradually inch closer to the “perfect” combination of strategies for your business. If you aren’t experimenting or adapting at all, you’ll be stuck in your rut forever.

All five of these points do assume that you’re selling an attractive product or service for a reasonable price; otherwise, even the best salesperson in the world may not be able to help you.

Never Get Complacent

After noticing and correcting for one of these issues, you’ll likely see an uptick in your sales—but don’t let that make you complacent. Your sales strategy can always be better, and no matter how many issues you fix, there will always be opportunities for improvement. Adopt a mindset that your work and your team can always be better, and you’ll have a much higher chance of long-term success.

What Does It Take to Be a Sales Rockstar?

You might think you know what it takes to be a top salesperson, but are you sure your ideas reflect reality?

There are many misconceptions about the best qualities in sales, based partially on portrayals of salespeople in pop culture and partially on historical approaches (which no longer work). To make matters worse, many of these misconceptions aren’t just wrong; they’re the polar opposite of the qualities that truly make for a successful salesperson.

Let’s take a look at what it takes to excel in sales, and how different that is from what most people think.

The Expected Qualities of a Top Salesperson

If you ask an average person about the qualities they think most closely align with a successful sales strategy, they’ll probably mention the following:

  • Intuitive. It might make sense that good salespeople are naturally intuitive; they have some kind of hereditary or preternatural ability to sense what makes people tick. A good salesperson might be able to clearly imagine the preferences and potential objections of a given prospect, and be able to respond accordingly. They brainstorm their ideas in a vacuum, then put them to the test.
  • Constantly working. You’ve likely heard that salespeople rarely work less than 40 hours a week; instead, they’re putting in 12-hour days, working long nights and weekends to meet their baseline objectives. While there are certainly some salespeople who work long hours, merely putting in more hours isn’t what makes a salesperson successful.
  • Coercive. All salespeople do require some persuasive skills, but the common conception is that the most successful salespeople are borderline coercive. They’re extremely effective at goading people into taking action, to the point where prospects almost feel hypnotized by the experience.
  • Talkative and eloquent. Along similar lines, it’s common to believe that the best salespeople in the game are extremely talkative and eloquent; they spend most of the conversation explaining why their product is worth buying, and have an impressive way with words. There’s definitely a grain of truth to this one, but the full picture is more nuanced.
  • Consistent. Sales scripts are common, and the fact that most successful salespeople are consistently successful leads people to believe that they follow the same formula (more or less) with each new prospect. They expect salespeople to repeat the same process, beat for beat, every time.

Throw these ideas out the window.

The Real Qualities of a Top Salesperson

Instead, these are the qualities that make for a top salesperson, often adding complexity or outright contradicting the qualities in the preceding section:

  • Scientific. It may seem like the best salespeople are the ones who can rely on their own intuitive thinking, but the truth is, today’s top sellers base their strategies and approaches almost entirely on science. They’re willing to do the demographic research necessary to really understand what makes their customers tick. They’re willing to challenge their assumptions and try to prove or disprove their intuition by comparing it to objective data. They also employ the scientific method in their sales approach, forming hypotheses, conducting experiments with different approaches, and evaluating their results to see which angles work best.
  • Efficient. It’s tempting to believe that the best salespeople are the ones burning the midnight oil, putting in 80-hour weeks every week, but in terms of how you spend your time, quality is more important than quantity. You may spend 80 hours a week in the office, reviewing prospects, having conversations, and trying to close deals, but only land 5 major sales. By contrast, if you spend 35 hours, but you spend those hours wisely, staying highly organized, focusing exclusively on the people most likely to buy from you, you might land 6 or 7 major sales. The best salespeople work smarter, not harder, and are able to accomplish more in fewer hours due to their efficiency.
  • Helpful. The “used car salesman” persona is unfortunately pervasive, but coercion isn’t the defining quality of most successful salespeople. Instead, the top sellers in the game tend to be helpful. They’re not interested in finding a lead who’s reluctant to purchase their product and going out of their way to convince them they need it; this is a waste of time. Instead, they want to find people who have a genuine need, or a problem to solve, and help them by providing them with a product that solves it.
  • Patient and willing to listen. I’m sure you know at least one or two salespeople who tend to be chatty; when much of your job depends on holding a conversation, it’s natural to become skilled at small talk. But good salespeople aren’t defined by their ability to talk; instead, they’re defined by their ability to listen. In action, the best salespeople spend more time listening to their prospects’ needs, problems, and general outlook than they do making pitches or dominating the conversation. That way, they can learn the ins and outs of their target prospect, determine whether they’re an ideal customer, and close the sale fast.
  • Adaptable. If anyone tells you they have a surefire formula to close a sale every time, they’re either lying or they’re working with an extremely well-qualified and consistent lead pool. The best salespeople don’t rise to the top of their team by following a set formula; if they did, then anybody with access to that script could do the same. Instead, the best salespeople are highly adaptable. They’re willing to change their approach based on the type of person they’re interacting with, and they’re always experimenting to evaluate the strength of new tactics.

Sales is a more nuanced field than most people want to admit, but if you’re trying to build a career in this area, or improve sales in your own company, it’s certainly approachable. Challenge your preconceived notions about what makes a salesperson successful, and instead look to what works in reality.

Overcoming Objections Shouldn’t Be Your First Priority. Here’s Why.

New salespeople often believe that the biggest key to success is overcoming objections—finding out what’s stopping people from buying and negating those reasons through persuasion. And to be clear, this isn’t necessarily a bad strategy. But if it’s your main priority, at the expense of the rest of your strategy, it’s going to devastate your sales numbers.

The Concept of Overcoming Objections

In case you haven’t put a name to it, overcoming objections is strictly focused on predicting (or documenting) the common points of opposition from your prospects and finding ways to get around them. For example, if many of your prospects explain that they’re reluctant to use your service because they don’t want to be locked into a long-term deal, you can come up with an alternative plan that offers shorter terms, or find a way to justify why long-term contracts are better.

If you’re already mid-conversation, responding to objections like these is vital, and if you can overcome them, you’ll get closer to a sale—but if this is the crux of your entire sales strategy, it could hurt you. There are several problems with this approach.

Problem 1: You’re Letting Objections Manifest

Objections are typically a sign that you haven’t done enough to explain the advantages of your product or service. In the preceding example, the customer’s main objection is that they don’t like the nature of your long-term contract; but if you introduced multiple packages, each with different term lengths, they never would have had a chance to point out the disadvantage of the contract term you offered.

In other words, the ideal approach is to have your objection-busters “baked in” to your core pitch. If your initial presentation or conversation is sufficiently persuasive, you’ll eliminate most objections before they can even form.

Problem 2: Your Salespeople Could Seem Pushy

It’s no secret that pushy salespeople can cost you sales. While it can be advantageous to instill a sense of urgency or apply light pressure, if people feel like they’re being forced to make a decision they don’t want to make, or if they feel bullied or undermined, they’re going to pull out. They don’t want to deal with a company whose values would permit such behavior, and they don’t want to make a hasty decision.

Focusing too much on overcoming objections can lead to an overly pushy approach. Your salespeople will treat the conversation like a battle, anticipating the possible objections a person could have and getting ready to destroy them. If every objection a customer raises gets met with a swift, formulaic rebuttal, the customer isn’t going to feel heard. It’s usually better to acknowledge and sympathize with the objection than to simply focus on ways to cut it down.

Problem 3: Every Customer Is Different

This is one of the biggest problems with overcoming objections as a core sales strategy because it can affect you in so many different ways. No matter how thorough your demographic research is, or how accurate your customer personas are, the bottom line is every customer is different.
That means:

  • You’ll never be able to predict every objection. No matter how much you brainstorm or prepare, there’s no way you’ll be able to account for every objection. And if you focus too hard on the “overcoming objections” route, your salespeople won’t have any idea what to do when they encounter something new.
  • Your scripted responses won’t work on everyone the same way. Most objections come with some kind of set of scripted responses, but again, because everyone is different, people can (and will) respond differently to even identical prompts.
  • Logical arguments can only get you so far. Overcoming objections is all about logic; someone presents you with a problem, and you have to resolve it. But people aren’t always strictly logical. Sometimes, it’s more beneficial to read a person’s emotions than to flatly contradict their challenges.

Problem 4: Objections Can Actually Be a Good Thing

Making overcoming objections your priority generally assumes that objections are a bad thing, but in many contexts, they’re actually a good thing. A prospect who’s flatly uninterested in your product will walk away from the conversation, or give you an immediate “no.” A prospect who’s interested, but needs some more information will give you an objection; in other words, objections are invitations to further conversation, and a sign that your approach is working.

Objections are also an opportunity. They’re usually presented as a question, which means you can respond in any way you want. Instead of seeing them as roadblocks that need to be demolished, see them as valuable opportunities for engagement.

Problem 5: Focusing on Objectives Means You’re Scared of Rejection

Here’s another thought for you: if you have tunnel vision driving you to overcome objections, it’s probably an indication that you’re, on some level, scared of rejection. You’re worried that your prospects aren’t going to follow through on their purchases, and you’re not sure that you have the right solution for your target demographics.
A fear of rejection is a dangerous thing in the sales world. It makes you less likely to take risks. It makes you less confident in your interactions. It also holds you back from opportunities that might otherwise be valuable. If you’ve been perpetually focused on overcoming objections, take this moment to look introspectively, and consider whether an innate fear of rejection has driven you to this place.

What to Focus on Instead

So if overcoming objections shouldn’t be the main focus of your strategy, what should take its place? The answer may be different for different businesses, but these are some strong alternatives:

  • Qualifying leads, making sure you meet with the warmest and most interested prospects.
  • Landing a perfect introduction, nailing the “perfect” pitch that refutes most objections instantly.
  • Providing better training your salespeople to be adaptable, teaching them how to change their approach on the fly to suit the individual needs of each customer.

Remember, overcoming objections can be a useful addition to your sales strategy, so long as it isn’t your main priority. Spending too much time or energy on it will have a negative effect, ultimately tanking your sales numbers.