When you hit a sales growth plateau, it can be a real challenge. Plenty of people will give you their opinions and tell you what you should be doing, but there are so many ‘top tips’ that it’s difficult to know what actually works. Well, after 30 years of working in sales and helping others overcome their plateaus, I’m going to leverage all the bumps and bruises I’ve collected over the years and tell you what not to do.
Don’t hire more salespeople
For many people, this seems counterintuitive. If you need to increase your sales, surely more salespeople will help, right? It’s the old pre-industrial revolution adage; just throw more people at it. However, in 2021, throwing more people at a problem isn’t going to solve it. I’ve seen this idea go badly, both in small and large organizations. They go ahead and hire a huge sales force, but many times don’t take the time to understand who their target market is (more on that later).
On a related note, you should never hire people from your big competitors and assume that their skills will transfer. They don’t. A large company is a completely different environment from a smaller growing company, and it takes a different skill set. At a large company, the individuals are very focused on specific tasks, one small cog in a much bigger engine. Smaller companies require their teams to work on additional tasks and strategies, the kind of things you don’t have to worry about in an established business. You don’t have a $5 million Super Bowl ad or soccer team sponsorships to rely on. Put a sales superstar from IMB or AWS into a smaller company and, no matter how smart or good at their job they are, they’ll quickly get frustrated.
Don’t rely on channels or partners to do the hard work
A lot of companies who have hit a sales plateau might think a partner network is the answer. If they can find someone else to do the hard work and sell for them, then the problem is taken care of. It is a very seductive idea, a magic bullet to get past your sales plateau, especially if you’re entering a new territory or market. I’ve worked with a lot of companies who want to break into the North American market and think they can just recruit some partners to sell for them. Unfortunately, that very rarely works.
Any partner will want to know what’s in it for them. Unless you have something to offer, if the partnership wouldn’t create a compelling way for them to sell more of their core product, then why would they invest their valuable time, effort, and sales talent into selling your product?
Don’t lower your prices
A sales plateau will often happen after you’ve worked through your initial family, friends, and existing contacts. Alternatively, maybe you’ve been working for a number of years and you’ve got customers, but you don’t know how to grow that customer base. In either case, the first thought is usually “I need to lower my price.” It’s a knee-jerk reaction, and unlikely to work the way you hope.
Most of the time, you’ll end up working the same amount of time and putting in the same effort, all for a lower margin. Businesses run on numbers. Now, if lowering your prices can drive a long-term increase in sales volume and you can add some efficiencies, all while remaining just as profitable, then fine. Lowering prices isn’t always wrong, but it has to be part of a long-term strategy. We’re talking about a 3-5 year plan, not a Q4 plan.
In addition, you’d have to consider how lowering prices could hurt your relationships with existing clients who’ve already come on at full price. If you’re in software or tech, lowering the price will impact the crown jewels, the lifeblood of the business—your revenue stream. You’re not actually selling software; you’re selling maintenance. For SaaS companies, you’re selling subscriptions. Lowering your price might generate a bump, but at too great a cost.
Do re-evaluate your target market
When I work with a company, one of the first things I ask is to talk with their customers and understand why they buy. All too often, the company has never thought about doing that. It’s understandable. When you’re head down and trying to grow your company, you might feel you don’t have time to talk with customers. Maybe you’ve worked through your initial contacts in your existing network and never had to think about who your target market really is. Some people will buy based purely on your reputation, without you having to give distinct thought to the problems you’re solving, or the people with those problems.
However, understanding who your customers are, why they’re buying and—most importantly—understanding the pain or challenge that you’re solving with your product/service is key.
For example, what’s their buying cycle? Certain industries, like IT and financial services, have very definitive sales cycles. There are times of the year when they’re budgeting and won’t be interested in buying, no matter how amazing your product is. What happens prior to your customers engaging with you is also very important. Whether it’s someone buying a product off Amazon or a large B2B purchase, there’s going to do a lot of research before the customer ever interacts with a salesperson. Understanding what’s happening at those stages will get you to that growth area. How you’re reaching them and why they’re buying.
Dan Griffith is a coach who works with entrepreneurs, private equity firms and enterprise technology sales professionals and leaders, helping them to overcome their sales growth plateaus. Reach out to Dan to learn more and book a free exploratory call to see how he can help you.