There are only two reasons a salesperson or sales force might have poor sales results. Improving these results requires that you address one or both reasons, as ignoring them will ensure that you suffer poor results longer than necessary.
The first reason you might have poor results is because your sales approach is not effective enough to create and win opportunities. Effectiveness mostly means creating meaningful value for your prospective clients within the sales conversation. When you can’t do that, your lack of effectiveness will prompt your contact to find someone else to help them improve their results.
The second reason you might suffer from poor sales results is because your activity level is too low for you to succeed. Selling requires a set of activities, some of them difficult. When salespeople avoid doing the work of sales, poor results are guaranteed. It's also possible to combine low effectiveness and too little work, an awful combination that is difficult to reverse without real effort.
Measuring Your Effectiveness
The most common reason for poor sales results is low sales effectiveness. B2B sales has never been easy, but it is increasingly more difficult in today's environment, one marked by uncertainty. The uncertainty of the 21st century has made it more difficult for clients to decide to change, so salespeople need a different and more complicated set of skills, things like building consensus in their client’s company and using sense-making to create enough certainty for the client to decide to change.
Business acumen is also important—it’s always been a helpful competency for salespeople, but today it’s crucial for effective sales. Every salesperson must understand that they are part of a change initiative, meaning they must help their clients manage change. That requires understanding and engaging client needs far beyond your product or solution. The widespread (but false) belief that finding a problem is what creates value for clients is one reason sales is broken, as the traditional discovery process has long been completely commoditized.
There is nothing more important to your results than sales effectiveness. The more effective you are inside the sales conversation, the greater your ability to both create and capture new opportunities, new clients, and increased revenue.
Measuring Your Activity
You should improve your sales effectiveness before adding more activity because increasing poor and ineffective activity doesn't result in greater sales. The only person who decides whether a salesperson is effective is their clients, who vote with their wallets to show whether the sales conversation was valuable. When a prospective client disengages or buys from another salesperson, that’s strong evidence that you lack effectiveness—even if you have a high level of activity.
It is possible, however, to have a high level of effectiveness while still doing too little work to improve your sales results. In many sales organizations, the most senior salespeople do too little prospecting, even though they have the greatest ability to create value for their prospective clients. A highly effective salesperson with little activity will not produce results up to their potential.
Most sales managers and sales leaders prefer not to track and manage activity, instead giving their salespeople the autonomy to determine how best to reach their goals. Indeed, salespeople often complain about “micromanagement” when asked about their activity, even though tracking activity is never necessary when someone is doing their work and producing results.
If you are an individual salesperson, you need to exercise self-leadership, matching your professional autonomy with the discipline necessary to ensure you are doing enough work to reach your goals. If you are a sales manager or sales leader, you need to ensure that the work is being done, lest you miss your goals because of a lack of activity.
How to Improve Your Sales Results
Adding more ineffective activity will not improve your sales results, but neither will boosting your effectiveness with too little activity. Both effectiveness and activity are critical, even though most sales managers incorrectly believe that more activity is always the answer. Instead, sales effectiveness must dominate any improvement or transformation: the more effective the salesperson or sales force, the greater the outcomes of their activity. Both intertwined factors can be improved at the same time, creating an upward spiral of better results.
There are two outcomes that prove you have the right level of sales effectiveness and activity. The first outcome is the creation of new opportunities, some from your existing clients and some from new clients. A lack of opportunities may be caused by an outdated approach, one that doesn't offer the client any value in trade for their time. When your approach is effective, a deficit of new opportunities is certain to be caused by too little prospecting and too few meetings, i.e., an activity problem.
The second outcome is capturing those opportunities. A low win rate is generally proof of a lack of effectiveness. You can learn a lot about effectiveness by looking at how the best salespeople sell. But keep in mind that many struggling salespeople work for the same company, sell the same thing, work for the same managers, compete against the same competitors, and have the same pricing, all while winning far fewer opportunities.
Improving your sales results starts by increasing your sales effectiveness to create more value, then leverages that effectiveness by taking the actions necessary to schedule the meetings and create opportunities, so your clients can benefit from your effectiveness.