Sales Gone Bad, Blame it on the Customers

You hired a new sales person and for unexplained reason, they cannot perform. They had all of the references, met quota since the dawn of time, etc. When you ask them about it,  they blame it on the customers not buying in this economy. Having run both sales and marketing in previous recessions, I know how bad conditions are for revenue generation in this market. Unemployment in some states is now double what it was just a couple of years ago. Some industries sales are off 25% or more.

It is a tough market, but… with unemployment at 10%, that still means 90% of people are employed. Sales are off 25%, that means you still have a base of 75%. Numbers mean a lot, but only to justify the point of the moment. Good companies grow even during recesssions and I grew sales 280% over one year in the last recession. You have to work harder, smarter, hire good people, and be more innovative.

So, back to your sales person. Not working out as expected? Explainable as a bad hire, yes.

3rd or 4th sales person who came in like a rock star and left like a roadie?  No, probably something else is too blame.

Chances are that you have a marketing problem masquerading as a sales problem. Not just a marketing communications problem, but chances are the sales people are having to do too much conceptual selling too early in the sales process. It shows up in presentations and meetings. What should be a 2-3 minute concept overview turns into a half hour explanation. Good sales people are natural story tellers, but if they don’t feel comfortable, don’t tell the same story each time, or look wooden; you probably have a marketing (messaging) problem.

Marketing’s role is to communicate the concept, support the sales process, and make it repeatable. Sales people in large organizations who take roles with smaller companies, which don’t have the sales support infrastructure, have a hard time transitioning to the new environment. I call it comfort with ambiguity. It is a lot harder to sell without the references, brand, collateral, and case studies.

Also, smaller organizations require sales teams to build the activity structure that large sales organization provide to their sales teams in the form of reports, quotas, and direct management. It takes a lot of self-discipline to build the structure on your own. Some larger organizational sales people do that instinctively and will work through the transition, but others need a more established sales support structure and tools to make them successful.

Marketing can only fix half the support issues (messaging and tools), but will not fix the self-discpline issue. A good marketer will come in and review your marketing collateral and listen to the “story”. Chances are that the value proposition is “fuzzy” and the audience is not well defined. By reviewing the product offering, the marketer can reset the value proposition of the offering and map it to the audience. If the core is correct, building marketing materials to tell the “story” becomes an exercise in building the visual elements that assist in communicating the concept.

A key to success is interviewing potential and existing customers. You have to speak their language and speak to their motivations.

Finally, a good marketer will adjust the marketing materials to support and accelerate each stage of the sales process. One key challenge in any sale is the “porpoise effect.” You gain momentum during a sales call, but lose it in the interim between contacts. This usually results in the sales person reselling the solution multiple times because the stakeholder gets busy and isn’t able to remember the value proposition. Good sales support from marketing allows the sales person to focus on the heavy lifting around the relationship; providing the support tools to do the communication of the concept, value proposition, and credential the organization.

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