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Bill Blades, CMC, CPS
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Sluggish Sales? 4 Ways to Get Past the Excuses and Increase Profits


Many organizations blame the economy when sales start to stagnate. What a timely crutch they have found. However, blaming the economy for sluggish sales makes about as much sense as thanking the economy when revenues rise. Neither option has much business merit.


All sales activity (or lack thereof) is a result of the salesperson's efforts. Whether the economy is up or down is irrelevant. What matters is what your sales team does differently to grow their sales by 25 percent.


Unfortunately, when most organizations encounter a sales slowdown, the top executives refuse to change their game plan. They simply encourage their sales department to do more of whatever activity is obviously not working, and they refuse to spend the money required to get out of the mess they are in. In the midst of their dilemma, they cannot comprehend that they need to change their approach faster than their industry changes in order to avoid a more severe downturn-possibly even extinction. Only after it's too late do they realize that sales practices and diapers have one thing in common: they both need to be changed regularly, and for the same reason.


While there's no way to completely guarantee your organization will never face a sates slump, there are things you can do to ensure your team has the mindset for continued sales success. To keep sluggish sales from continually plaguing your organization, make the following practices a regular part of your sales department's culture.


Embrace and prepare for change.


Change is difficult for most people. Nevertheless, your sales team must learn to embrace change and prepare for it. Consider this: there is more change represented in the events described in today's newspaper than took place during the entire sixteenth century. The business world is no different. For example, construction industry knowledge completely changes every six years. For the technology industry, the time frame is even shorter. Those who are most comfortable with change view it as an opportunity to try something new and to adapt new lessons to the current circumstance. They have the philosophy that in two days, tomorrow will be yesterday.


To encourage change, challenge everyone in your organization to put a creative spin on every sales technique they use. Then, challenge them to do ten new things for ten prospects. Reward those who come up with the most creative ideas. If something bombs, don't reprimand them. Compliment them for the effort and encourage them to keep trying new things. Remember, new things rarely are without bugs. Don't stifle your team s attempts at innovation.


Take risks.


If you want your team to sell with gusto, you must encourage risk taking. The fact is that most salespeople are creatures of habit. They make sales calls the same way they drive to work every day-without excitement and almost unconsciously. When it comes to sales, taking risks means having the courage to be zany. It is the ability to do unusual

and even silly things by design in order to win loyalty and repeat business. Why is this so important? Because people enjoy working with those who are fun to be with.


Some examples of risk taking include setting up a hot air balloon ride and breakfast instead of the standard business lunch, sending a telegram rather than an e-mail or standard letter, or offering to baby-sit a client's kids so the parents can have a peaceful night out. While none of these suggestions are outrageous, they are unusual enough to make you more memorable than the average salesperson. Remember, when you're average, you're just as close to the bottom as you are to the top. Whether your team sells doors, chickens, trucks, or aircraft engines, being "off the wall" and taking an occasional risk beats the dull routine any day.


Encourage training and education.


Everyone on your team must have a passion for learning. Even though everyone shows up with raw talent, that's just the entrance price. To create an unstoppable sales force, you must invest in learning and fully expect individual growth. Unfortunately, most companies simply invest in equipment and ignore their employees' training needs. However, experience has shown that when your people have continued access to self- improvement opportunities, they simply become more talented than their competition.


As you plan training and education opportunities, realize that not everyone needs the same information reinforced at the same time. That's why targeted, self-education is always more effective than classroom learning. Talk with each of your salespeople one- on-one to uncover where their weaknesses are. For example, if someone has difficulty writing sales letters, send the individual to a writing class, if someone needs to polish his or her speaking skills, pay for the person to attend the local Toastmaster's Club. Gear the training to the specific aspects each salesperson needs. Such focused and individualized training eliminates boredom and makes the best use of your education dollars.


Lead by example.


For an organization to be successful, it must have an unconventional person at or near the top rung. Such a leader must have a passion for the company and must be innovative in his or her approach. Since your sales team will copy whatever you as the leader do, you have an obligation to continually demonstrate the kind of sales behavior, attitude, and philosophy you want your team to employ.


The fact is that there are only two components in business: your own people and your clients. A competent leader will spearhead the love affair for both groups. After all, there can't be great external service unless there is first great internal service. When leaders demonstrate the principles of creativity and respect, and encourage an open and fun work environment, the employees' morale and enthusiasm for the company will shine during every client interaction. The result will be more sales, more referrals, and more profits regardless of the economic conditions.


It's not the economy that determines your company's sates success. What matters is your commitment to initiating change, your tolerance for taking risks, your dedication to employee training, and your ability to lead smart. When all these factors become daily practices, you'll have a world-class sales team that thrives even in the harshest economic climate.

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