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First, you may be in the middle of a flat or declining market. Many industries are experiencing the second or third year of flat or decreasing sales. That alone makes you wonder. If your sales aren't growing, what are the salespeople doing, after all? Could you maintain your business with out salespeople?
Then there is the constantly drip, like a Chinese water torture, of price pressures from the competition. It's likely that their sales are down as well. Many of them, in a desperate bid to maintain their businesses, will continue to resort to more aggressive discounting. When margins fall, can you afford to pay salespeople?
Of course you keep reading the reports about the quantity of business being done over the web via e-commerce. You can't help but wonder if a cleverly constructed web site might substitute for a field salesperson. How long before everyone buys over the web?
Finally, to rub salt into the wound, you have consultants who maintain that your customers really don't want salespeople calling on them, and you should abandon that outmoded vestige of days gone by.
Add all that up, and it makes a pretty compelling case. Should you fire all the salespeople, and pour the money you save into a dynamite e-commerce solution? Should you beef up inside sales to field more phone calls?
The answer lies, not in the general trends and national reports, but rather in the specifics of your customers, your salespeople, and your suppliers. The trends and pressures may be global, but the answers are local.
The real questions have to do with your customers and your salespeople. This time of tremendous pressure is calling for, not desperate changes, but rather rational assessment.
It is time to look carefully at aspects of your sales system and to examine them from some new perspectives.
It is time to study your customers and answer some questions:
What a sobering analysis of your customers may reveal is this:
While a small portion of your customers may want to implement all their buying decisions over the web, the overwhelming majority want to use the web as a means of facilitating the transactions, not as a substitute for a relationship with a live person and a real company.
While a small portion of your customers will be enticed by lower prices from a desperate competitor, the majority typically see the gambit for what it is: a risk to the security of their supply lines.
While a portion of your customers may not want to spend time with a distributor salesperson, the majority will if they feel that the time investment is worth it. This is more an indictment of the quality and performance of your sales force than a reflection of a trend among your customers.
What a sobering analysis of your sales force may reveal is this:
The majority have been lulled into comfort zones and are unable or unwilling to break out of them. Same customers, same methods, same products and year of ingrained habit are hard to break.
Only a few are really adhering to the disciplines that will help them grow the business: focusing on the high-potential customers, promoting the strategic lines, planning, and consultative selling processes.
What a sobering analysis of your vendors may reveal is this:
Most would view your action as withdrawing from the market, and would immediately begin seeking a more active local partner.
Many would be happy to see just the opposite approach - a more aggressive, organized pro-active effort to capture more of the market spearheaded by effective salespeople
As a result of doing your own local analysis, you may draw these conclusions:
Rather than leaping to the extreme and firing the salespeople, a wiser course of action is to study your situation, and then to refocus your sales efforts. For years I have been calling for "fewer and better" distributor salespeople. Now is the time to initiate or intensify your movement in that direction. Here are four initiatives that will move you in the direction of a refocused, more productive and effective sales effort.
1. Study your customers.These are major initiatives that will occupy a great deal of your executive time, talent and emotional power over the next year. However, when you get to the other side, you'll have a more effective, more powerful sales force. You'll have a sales force that your vendors respect, that brings value to your customers and is a powerful strategic asset for you. It'll be worth it.
Or, you could just fire them all.
Dave Kahle ( www.davekahle.com ) is a consultant and trainer who helps his clients increase their sales and improve their sales productivity. He speaks from real world experience, having been the number one salesperson in the country for two companies in two distinct industries. Dave has trained thousands of salespeople to be more successful in the Information Age economy. He's the author of over 500 articles, a weekly ezine, and five books. His latest is 10 Secrets of Time Management for Salespeople.
He has a gift for creating powerful training events that get audiences thinking differently about sales. Dave Kahle's "Thinking About Sales" Ezine features content-filled motivating articles, practical tips for immediate improvements, and helpful tips to help increase sales. Join on-line at www.davekahle.com/mailinglist.html
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