Your sales team has been hitting their sales goals and it’s an exciting time for your organization. Your problem to be solved shifted from growing sales to shipping orders on time. Then something happens …what seemed like an ever-growing sales pipeline goes dark. Sales stall and in some cases decrease. Why? What causes sales growth to stall and more important what can you do to prevent sales from stalling?
It was an exciting time. Our sales team had opened the majority of the targeted new dealers we wanted and we were hitting new sales records. The President and CFO were stopping by my office to give me high fives and our senior manager meets had almost a fun playful tone. My sales people were achieving their individual sales goals, hitting bonuses they have never experienced before. Everyone, even the workers on the assembly line who were getting all the overtime they wanted were happy.
Our strategic planning meeting was spent discussing fun things like how will we invest to support this sales growth…. And then everything changed quietly, slowing at first and then our sales stalled. What happened? Why do sales stall and more important what is the plan to get our sales back on that sales velocity of 140% year over year growth we were enjoying?
I have seen the above scenario play out many times in companies. I have heard CEO’s say: “ Mark the reason we are talking to you is sales were growing strong year over year and then we hit a plateau, we are stuck and we can’t seem to get back on the same growth trajectory we one had.”
What Causes sales growth to stall?
If you read my content you know I like to read. Like is not strong enough of a word. I have a passion to read and research topics that impact sales team’s performance. One of my mentors at Frito-Lay used to say, “Leaders are readers and if you want to be a leader the burden is on you to constantly sharpen your saw”. I recently finished an excellent book I highly recommend: When Growth Stalls, How it happens, why your stuck & and what to do about it, by Steve McKee.
A quote that jumped out at me early was …
“One of the biggest challenges any business leader faces is generating consistent, profitable growth. But stalled growth is the rule, not the exception, even for the best-managed companies. That’s especially true in today’s tumultuous economic environment”
The author does a great job of capturing examples of market leading companies who experienced a growth stall like; Home Depot, Bear Sterns, Excite, Lehman Brothers, McDonalds, IBM, Kodak, Lucent Technologies, Sears, Kmart, Sun Microsystems, Tidy Cat, Mercedes, The Gap, Chrysler, and many more. Growth stalls impact both large and small companies. Publicly traded market leaders and privately help family business all experience stalls.
Most companies experience a sales growth stall at some time, and some experience a number of sales plateaus.
So what causes growth stalls?
Want a quick answer?…Look for what changed!
Today’s markets are dynamic. The first question you need to ask if your sales growth stalls is: What changed? The one thing we can all count on is change. If your sales were showing strong sales velocity then stalled I promise you something changed.
Changes can occur outside your organization as well as inside.
Outside your organization you can have a number of factors impact your sales growth…
Changing Industry Dynamics
Aggressive move from a competitor
Buyers need new criteria to make buying decisions
Buyers use a new buying process
There are also internal changes that can cause a sales growth stall…
Change in service level
Quality of product or service decline
Chance in price model
Lack of management consensus
Loss of Focus
A dated Value Proposition
Loss of company nerve
Inconsistency within your organization
Any one of the above can cause what the author refers to as a “seismic shift” that disrupts your sales growth. If your team experiences a number of both internal and external changes your sales growth does not just stall, it starts a steady decline. The longer it takes your team to identify what changed and make a course correction the more difficult and the longer it will take to correct. If internal and or external changes go unchecked long enough you will experience what I refer to as a sales death spiral.
The best business book I have ever read is the Bible. The Bible does not say we might face adversity…it says we WILL face adversity. Adversity is a time teams can rally together and grow united or do blame storming and drift apart.
The first step is to identify what changed or as I prefer to call it… throw the skunk on the table. It is very uncomfortable to discuss problems for most teams. Teams with strong cultures openly discuss any issues that could be preventing them from achieving their objectives. Discussing problems, like having a dated value proposition that no longer resonates with buyers, becomes emotional.( been there have the T-shirt)
Someone companies may have developed processes and procedures (web sites) 10-15 years ago and now that person sits in the CEO’s chair. If you have a strong culture and a leader with a high emotional intelligence you will discuss the issues. One sign of an unhealthy culture are what I refer to as PIMS. This stand for: Politically Incorrect Market Secrets. Your team knows the issues holding your teams back from achieving their sales objectives but they do not feel safe to share them. I actually love it when someone who reports to me says…Mark, I just don’t get it, you are asking me to ——- but the market and even the buyers at some of our accounts are saying ——-. Awesome, let’s pivot and win the business!
The author shares how to get your company back on a strong sales velocity track in practical and applicable ways. I highly recommend this book for two kinds of companies:
- Companies who have experienced their sales growth stall or decline
- Companies who have not experienced a sales growth stall (yet)
How about your company…
Have you seen your sales growth stall?
Has your team thrown the skunk on the table or is still just stinking up the place?
What other kinds of shifts/ changes have you experienced that stalled your team’s sales?
How did you fix them?
If you are in a business experiencing a sales growth stall this book will help you identify places to look that may have changed. It will also teach you ways of getting un-stuck and practical steps you can take to getting sales growth back on track.