Increasing our revenues during a crisis

Increasing our revenues during a crisis

2023. February 20.

The last four years have put immense pressure on salespeople: while it used to be enough to serve incoming demand, the motto has now become "proactively gaining customers".

But few companies have managed to successfully implement this change in strategy; success obviously requires many components working well together. In this paper, we draw attention to factors that are seldom highlighted, but which are fundamental to the ability of a sales team to innovate and implement a new strategy.

Leaders have no easy time

Based on a survey of 35,000 sales teams, our sales development partner Objective Management Group (OMG) says 82% of sales managers are not able to meet the expectations placed on them. It’s no wonder: most of them were hired not on the basis of their leadership strengths, but on their sales numbers. 

In a booming economy, this is not a problem; but in a crisis, it would be key to identify the causes of the problem, then systematically weed them out and train your staff to take the new direction. If leaders can’t do that, they will do what they do best: get into the fray and bring in the business. This, of course, will not solve the problem, but will exacerbate it, because their subordinates will feel they have to compete with their boss for the best deals.

But it is not appropriate to blame sales managers for this. How would they know what they don’t know? Did their boss – often the first person in the company – ever explain to them what to do, or was their focus just on raising the bar? No wonder most companies are unhappy with their revenues and blame the market for their problems. But this only compounds the problem: as long as you don’t focus on your own shortcomings, you have no chance of moving up. What’s more, it creates a culture where the unspoken message to staff is: it’s acceptable if they don’t deliver.

Critical success factors

According to OMG’s sales model, the first critical success factor is the feeling of ownership. Imagine a salesperson returning from a failed negotiation. You ask him why he failed to close the deal. Who do you expect him to blame? The client? the prices? the market? the competition? If you accept this (as opposed to saying “I screwed up”), you absolve him of the need to reflect and learn from the incident.

What we can do immediately to increase sales: stop accepting excuses from our salespeople (even if they are partially justified)! In all cases, expect them to learn some lessons about what they could have done better.

And the extent to which we are successful in doing so depends mostly on what we call desire and commitment. In the OMG model, desire expresses: how much does our employee want sales success? Is his or her goal to achieve the highest possible level of fulfillment in this profession? Or is it more a case of having somehow drifted into this field because they need to make a living?

Desire is also related to: how “money hungry” is our salesperson? This is harder to judge than you might think at first glance. It may be that the person has spent a lot of money over the last 10 years building a house or buying a holiday home. But, maybe he is now content and would rather sit back a little.

Outstanding sales success is most likely to be achieved with employees who are completely dissatisfied with their income. We wouldn’t wish anyone to have a bad loan or other personal problems. Instead, it’s much more effective to ask what they would spend their commission on if they achieved their goals. A vacation in the US? A safari tour? Home cinema system? And then, on a day-to-day basis, we’re not primarily interested in how many clients they’ve visited, but whether they’ve bought the video projector already.

Often, the reason why it is not possible to effectively build on “money hunger” is that the fixed income is too high compared to the performance-related commission. This gives employees security – but also makes it impossible for them to set ambitious financial goals. In other words, we pay our salespeople not to do their job. This is especially true if the fixed salary is enough to live on at a basic level; the really money-hungry salespeople avoid us.

In addition to desire, commitment expresses whether the salespeople are doing everything (ethically possible) to achieve their goals. Desire alone is not enough if it is only about dreaming and is not combined with the determination and thoroughness that is essential to achieve the goals. Like desire, commitment is a factor that our employees must essentially bring with them, as we have little control over it. So it is best to filter all of this out when recruiting.

OMG, based on data from 2,300,000 salespeople it has surveyed, says that desire and commitment are the two critical success factors that most determine the extent to which someone will be successful as a salesperson. This also means that if either is missing, it’s best not to hire the person at all. And if you’re already working with them, there’s little point in training, as it’s predictable that they won’t put what they learn into practice.

Who is your best salesperson?

It is very interesting to observe who is considered a good salesperson in a company. This is most striking when a new recruit is told by their boss: “Look, son, there’s Joe, he’s the best! Watch him, follow him, he’s the star!” Then, when asked what makes him the best, the answer is predictable: “He has the highest revenue by far.” And if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that he’s been working here for 15 years, slowly building up his client base during the boom and inheriting some accounts. Let’s ask ourselves: if we took away all of Joe’s accounts and asked him to build up his own client base, in the current economic climate, how successful would he be? There may be Steve, who only brings in a quarter of Joe’s turnover – but he’s been with us for two years and has built it all up from scratch, following exactly the market building strategy that the company expects of him!

Let’s ask ourselves: Who then is the best salesperson we have as an example?

Rejtett gátak

A fentieken túlmenően vannak kevésbé nyilvánvaló okai is annak, hogy egy értékesítő nem tudja kihozni magából a maximumot. Ebbe a kategóriába tartozik, ha pl. az értékesítő számára túlzottan fontos a népszerűség, és ezért inkább nem tesz fel kellemetlen, kényelmetlen kérdéseket az ügyfélnek, amikor le kellene zárni az üzletet. Hasonlóképpen káros, ha az értékesítő – pl. neveltetési okokból – kényelmetlenül érzi magát, ha pénzről kell beszélnie az ügyféllel, s így nem tudja hatékonyan feltárni a költségvetését. Több mint 60 ilyen rejtett gát létezik – a közös bennük az, hogy korlátozzák még a képzett értékesítőket is abban, hogy tudásukat éles helyzetben kamatoztassák.

Hidden barriers

In addition to the above, there are also less obvious reasons why a salesperson may not be able to get the most out of his or her sales. This category includes, for example, if the salesperson is overly concerned with being loved and therefore prefers not to ask the customer uncomfortable, awkward questions when he or she should be closing the deal. Similarly, it is harmful if the salesperson is uncomfortable talking to the customer about money and is unable to effectively explore his or her budget. There are more than 60 such hidden barriers – what they have in common is that they limit even skilled salespeople from putting their knowledge to use in a real-life situation.

Two types of staff turnover problems

The factors and barriers described above basically determine whether or not the sales team – even if overtrained – will sell. However, it is not common for companies to consciously map these factors for either new or existing employees.

This leads to two types of turnover problems. In the first case, there is a constant turnover of staff because they are not being replaced and the company is spending huge amounts of money on recruiting and training replacements. The other is when there is no turnover at all – i.e. we do not constantly recruit with the aim of finding an outstandingly strong salesperson and then either adding to the team or replacing the weakest one, thus constantly improving team performance.

It is interesting to note that companies invest a relatively large amount of effort in finding out whether someone can sell. In comparison, it would be more important to ask the question: will they sell? This depends to a large extent on the above factors. If any one of these is missing, then it is both irrelevant whether they can and unnecessary to train them.

How do we increase our revenue?

Based on OMG’s findings, the most useful step you can take to increase revenue is to first assess your sales team to find out, among other things:

  1. Have we hired the right people? If not – what do we need to change?
  2. Are they even capable of implementing our strategy?
  3. What can we expect from them today and what is their potential?
  4. Are they able not only to sell and service, but to defend our prices and profits as true salespeople?
  5. How well can sales management get the most out of their staff?
  6. Who can successfully expand the market and poach competitors’ customers?
  7. Who is worth saving (if underperforming) and what is needed to do so?

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