If I had a dollar for ever business owner I have worked with who has chastised Sales, and all who work in it, for a lack of sales I’d be a very rich man. It’s not always their fault. In fact, although this may seem counter intuitive to some, it is rarely their fault. It’s often a failure of other things, like Strategy, Marketing, Management and Recruitment and if it isn’t clear who is responsible for these things in your business then you are. However, when things get tough, like now, they seem the right people to blame, don’t they?
Of course, the other reason that Sales come under so much scrutiny in a tough economic climate is that it appears, on the face of it, that they can have the most impact in the short term. You want results now, right? Unfortunately, the main reasons why sales begin to dry up at times like this are often more fundamental and they require longer to resolve. Sacking you Sales Director may make you feel good, but it rarely gets you the desired results.
There is a paradox here though. It isn’t very easy to persuade someone to invest time and effort in sorting out some of the more fundamental, strategic, marketing, management and recruitment issues when things are going well. It isn’t a problem. Yet. When things are good folk quite like to lie back and enjoy the ride, putting little effort into preparing the business for the long term. When they start going bad, they want immediate results and turn to what they consider to be the easiest thing to fix, Sales. From my experience, the good bits don’t actually last that long and you will soon come to a hurdle to jump if you want to stay in the race and the best time to train your horse is before you get onto the track.
The reason why getting the fundamentals right is such a good idea is that if you position yourself as one of the strongest in your market your sales are much less likely to suffer, than your weaker competitors, in tough times. I’d go further and say that you should strive not to have any competitors to speak of. This isn’t just having a “USP”; it’s about taking a justifiable and defensible position in your market so that most of your target customers will choose you. I have worked with many businesses over the years where we have been able to achieve this and at the moment they are faring much better than those who haven’t.
Apart from the above, Sales may also decline because, for one of many reasons, demand is less than you thought it was. It is a surprisingly common mistake to overestimate demand and not directly attributable to Sales.
Of course, if you recruit the wrong people and then don’t manage them very well Sales may justify some attention and you can make improvements in the short term, but not just by hitting them harder with your whip.
So, if you want to sell more, even in times like we find ourselves in now, you need to make sure that next time around you are better prepared and when things get good again you don’t just relax and think it’s all over. It isn’t, it will come back. Next time. If you’ve been wrong about demand you will also need to think more creatively about the next stage of the development of your business. If it’s just a management thing, you are in the fortunate minority; you just need to sort it out.
Quite often you will find that you have a confusing mix of all of the above and a little outside help will be needed to make sense of it all.