In sales, there are few things as demoralizing as a sales slump.
The financial implications aside—if you can ever really get them out of your head—your confidence takes a huge hit when you aren’t able to sell effectively.
Here are seven ways to overcome a sales slump.
1. Examine expectations
Is it possible that your slump isn’t actually a slump?
Sometimes a decline in sales that seems disastrous is actually a correction. Did you just go through a big growth period? Sales slumps often come immediately after a period of heavy sales.
Have you ever seen a rookie baseball player step into the big leagues and have a hot first season? Commentators and fans get all excited about the new talent—and then the player goes on to have a so-so career.
What’s actually going on here? Statistics.
Out of the total pool of rookies, one or two are going to have an especially good season. Even an average player has a string of better than average games every so often.
But then they go back to being average.
The same thing can happen in sales. If you have a quarter that had unusually high sales, did it happen because of something you did? Or was it a random fluctuation?
If your sales have slumped after a hot period, is there a clear cause? If not, it may just be a return to normalcy.
This is a statistical concept called “regression to the mean,” and it’s responsible for a lot of scratched heads.
When you have an unusually high or low sales quarter—but nothing has changed about your sales program, your marketing, your product, or your market—chances are good that your next month will go back to being average.
When you look at your sales projections, make sure you’re asking how your specific strategies and tactics are moving the numbers. If there’s a sales hike that seems inexplicable (followed by a slump), regression to the mean could be at work.
2. Look for causes—diagnose the sales slump
So you haven’t been doing too hot. Before you pick yourself up and dust yourself off for the next round, stay in the dirt for a few extra minutes.
What could have caused this?
Sometimes you aren’t going to find an explanation. And that’s ok. But if you’re tracking sales processes and metrics, you may be able to find a weak link that you can make adjustments to.
Maybe something about your pitch is off, or leads aren’t being qualified properly. Do you have a prospecting problem? A presentation problem? A follow-up problem? A closing problem?
There are a variety of potential explanations. To diagnose problems:
- Figure out at which point in the process a lead goes cold
- Ask lost leads directly what caused them not to buy
For larger products/services you may have the opportunity to follow up with lost prospects via phone or email. For ecommerce businesses or lower-priced deals, a simple survey sent after a deal is lost can give you a lot of answers.
In an article on how to overcome a sales slump, Tim Connor lists 15 common causes of slumps. Do any of his explanations apply to you?
- Poor training
- Poor product knowledge
- Poor attitude management
- Poor sales records
- Poor organization reputation
- Poor product quality, distribution or organization support
- An organization vs. customer focused sales strategy
- Sales compensation that rewards results only and not focused activity
- Excessive administrative responsibilities
- Poor territory potential
- Non-supportive management
- Poor sales management coaching skills
- Organizational culture that encourages the editing of honest communication
- Lack of clear purpose, goals and focus
- Poor organization and time and territory management
Finding a cause can be a big step in overcoming a sales slump.
3. How serious is it? Do triage
If you’ve discovered the cause of a drop in sales, how hard will it be to fix?
If the cause was a small blip in your processes—say a form on your website stopped working—the fix could be both important and easily implemented.
If the cause is more serious—say, your marketing messages aren’t highlighting the most important benefits of your product and leads are coming in poorly qualified—you may have some more work on your hands.
Understanding the seriousness of the cause can help you determine your next steps. Yes, you’ll need to keep selling—but if your marketing is off, you may want to refine your messaging before you work back up to a full load of calls.
4. Take care of yourself first
If you aren’t selling effectively, it’s tempting to buckle down and just try harder. But before you throw yourself back into the fray, take a few moments to examine your own habits.
Are you sleeping well? Exercising? Eating healthy? What are your stress levels like?
It’s easy to discount the role of lifestyle factors in your sales effectiveness—but not taking care of yourself will really affect your ability to close deals.
Research shows that the right level of stress can spur performance—but too much stress can have a negative impact.
Stress and lifestyle factors may be the reason you wound up in a slump in the first place. Make sure you address them moving forward.
5. Look for a small win
When you’re coming back from a slump, give yourself something easy to accomplish.
Maybe you start with red hot leads instead of warm ones. Maybe you talk to existing customers. Maybe you do a bit of light prospecting.
A small win can help you ramp back up to your full workload. Research shows that small wins increase confidence and productivity because they give you a sense of progress and accomplishment.
If you’re a little nervous going into calls, racking up a few small wins can help you get back into your rhythm.
6. Rehearse and practice
Every sales call or meeting is a little different—but there are elements and principles that stay the same.
When was the last time you listened to your own pitch?
In a provocative article for the New Yorker, writer and surgeon Atul Gawande asks an interesting question—why don’t surgeons have coaches?
He points out that the top athletes in every sport have coaches—people that scrutinize their game and point out areas to work on.
But surgeons and other professionals rarely get this kind of feedback. Once traditional training is offer, they receive relatively few opportunities to improve.
Listening to your own pitch is a way for you to coach yourself. To practice.
Set up a mock call with a colleague, or just use a sample prospect and act out the call yourself. They key step here? Record it.
Record yourself on a mock call, then play back the tape. How does it sound? Do you notice areas for improvement? Are there things that you could have explained better, or a cue from your mock prospect (if you have one) that you didn’t pick up on?
Rehearsal and practice are great ways to improve your skills overall, but they are especially helpful when you’re trying to overcome a sales slump.
Especially if selling is only a small part of what you do—as opposed to being a full-time salesperson—playing back the tape of a mock call can really help you smooth out your pitch and improve your confidence.
7. Keep at it
You can’t overcome a sales slump if you stop selling. If you’ve built a few small wins and are regaining your confidence, it’s time to get back into selling.
Stay in front of prospects. If your sales slump was the result of regression to the mean, getting in front of more prospects will cause a sales lift anyway.
Even if your slump was legitimately negative, getting back to prospecting and selling needs to happen eventually.
How do you overcome a sales slump? Sell.