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Marcus Cauchi
Marcus Cauchi: you may think it’s the market.

Company heads must take responsibility for poor sales performance, says .

Bad selling and management habits are rife in today’s businesses. Company heads that allow these behaviours to persist could be leaving money behind that is equal to or greater than their current profits.

Stuck in traditional selling paradigms, many company heads are actively encouraging these inefficient behaviours. Tough times need tough, disciplined management.

Only yourself to blame

CEOs (chief executive officers), owners and investors who fail to weed these habits out now, only have themselves to blame when their plans for growth or exit deadline is inevitably threatened by poor sales performance.

In the good times, selling was easy. No-one’s balance sheet showed the true cost to win each sale. A discount here, another pitch, proposal or 200-page tender document there. It didn’t matter, as long as deals kept on coming. Revenue came in by taking orders, not by selling; really selling. Company heads who encourage these same selling habits will find themselves betrayed by them, because the success they think they bring has been revealed as an illusion.

Real selling skills

Selling in recession requires real selling skills and a systematic, disciplined execution of the plan. Companies with order-taking habits are feeling the pinch as buyers ratchet up the pressure and exploit struggling salespeople’s psychological vulnerability and need to be busy.

If you lead, own or invest in companies delivering disappointing sales performance, look to yourself and your own behaviour. A fish rots from the head down.

When you discount, you subconsciously tell your people it is OK to discount. When you accept a ‘think it over’, you indicate it is OK to leave without closing or establishing a clear next step. When you give free consulting, your salespeople will spill their guts too. All these behaviours waste your scarce, technical and management resource and end in drawn out, expensive and hopeless sales cycles.

Compensation and management

Look at your compensation and management systems, what habits do they really drive? Are they encouraging the opposite behaviour to that which your actually company needs?

Sales people are creatures of how they’re paid and managed. If your systems encourage your people to chase revenue rather than profit, you are in real trouble. Chasing revenue means that they will hunt any suspect who can fog a mirror. They will spend their time and the company’s money writing proposals to non-prospects and taking part in unqualified beauty parades, only to find that they have nothing to show for it.

They will continue to forlornly forecast deals that died months ago just to keep the pipeline looking full and won’t ever close the file because they’re too emotionally involved in the outcome. Why does this happen? It happens when management allows it to and doesn’t know how to fix these problems or hold their salespeople accountable. 

Long-dead deals

Managers who fail to dig deep and ask why a salesperson is about to eat into company resources or is still working long-dead deals need a wake-up call. Wouldn’t you rather know early on if the prospect is wasting your time, rather than two or more months down the line, when you have already wasted thousands of pounds in time and resource chasing a mirage?

Never do anything unless you know why you are doing it. Always get commitment from the prospect as to what will happen next. Don’t accept non-committal, wishy-washy answers. Ask the difficult questions early, even if you don’t want the answers.

You can’t control the numbers

Stop trying to control the numbers. Face the cold hard truth. You can’t. You can only control the behaviour that generates the results. Teach your sales teams the right behaviours. Perfect practice makes perfect. Enforce a selling system that drives agreement between the salesperson and prospect and delivers predictable, timely results. Enforce consequences if commitments on behaviour are not delivered.

Before getting involved in an ITT (invitation to tender), RFP (request for proposal) or any other kind of beauty parade, make sure it is in the best interests of the company to do so. Demand that your sales team find out if the prospect really needs your help before they commit any resources to the sales process.

Purge the pipeline

Discourage easy yeses. There is no such thing. A positive prospect is no prospect. Get them to go for the ‘no’, to cut the deadwood out of your pipeline quickly. Send timewasters and your worst customers to the competition. Let them ruin their balance sheet.

You may think that it’s the market. You might accuse your salespeople of losing their courage. You could even believe it’s because no-one is buying. These are all excuses. Seize responsibility for what is happening. Plan for the best, expect the worst and then take decisive action towards your goals. That last bit is essential for any plan to succeed.

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