As we move past the 4th of July, a number of people from the office are on vacation, enjoying summer and their families. It’s a great time to relax and indulge in those activities we work so hard to afford.
It’s also a time of potential challenges for sales leaders. As our people recharge and rejuvenate, we run the risk of having our revenue take a vacation and either losing some of our first half gains or falling behind altogether. Here are signs this may be happening to you:
• People are simply taking time off – While this is important, you’ll start to see a dip in activities (prospecting meetings, new opportunities and actual orders).
• Overconfidence in “finishing strong” – Sales people are confident and we want them that way. However, our actual selling time is getting shorter. Depending on your sales cycle, there are precious few selling days left to identify new opportunities where there is still time to close them before the end of the year. Many sales cycles are three to six months or longer. That means that by this time in the year, any new opportunities are likely to be next year’s business.
• Your team isn’t quite the way you need it – You may have open territories, new hires that are not coming along as fast as you had hoped or underperformers that you haven’t addressed. As you reflect on YOUR team, ask yourself: is it going to get you where you need to go and is it improving in a way that positions you for a successful 2013?
• Your top performers are communicating less – Top performers tend to drive more than 50% of the revenue for many sales teams. They’re also active in asking for time and resources and always seem to be generating “what’s happening” in the company. If they seem a little quiet, be cautious not to set it aside as summer rest. Many sales teams are looking for talent and this is the time of the year recruiters can get very active looking for new talent. Regular and routine communications can be helpful in demonstrating appreciation to keep them close.
So, what’s a successful leader to do to ensure that vacation is taken by their staff, but not by their revenue? Below are five things you can do right now to keep things moving and position yourself to achieve your goals.
1. Pause, reflect and adjust – Take some time (a few hours or half a day) to think about what’s worked well and what hasn’t. As we drive our people, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day stuff and not really sit back and feel good about the progress we’ve made and make necessary adjustments. Over the years, we’ve written, collaborated and reviewed hundreds of sales plans. Every one of them seems plausible and the spreadsheet always adds up. With that said, we’ve never seen one that didn’t require adjustments. It’s simply a fact that things don’t always go the way we planned. Products come out late, people quit, markets shift and competitors do things we didn’t expect. Now is the time to test your assumptions, recast your plan, make your best guesses and implement your changes immediately.
2. Dig into the pipeline – As true prospecting days diminish, it’s critical to really know what’s in your pipeline. At the same time, sales teams can tend to get a little lazy updating the CRM and really thinking about what their pipeline is likely to produce. The most successful teams spend time critically reviewing the pipeline to understand if there are enough opportunities identified to make the numbers. If not, which is very common at this point in the year, then Q3 should really be an all-out prospecting effort, so we still have time to guide prospects through the buying/selling cycles before the end of the year. A tip for managers: Conduct these reviews without judgment. Sales people are very aware of where they stand and criticism can lead to exaggerating the pipeline or the progress of specific opportunities. The goal is to gain a brutally honest and clear picture. Then you can make the necessary changes to activities to ensure your people are focusing on the right things.
3. Make people decisions – If you have open territories, fill them. Every day you go without someone calling on your customers and prospects is a day your competition is gaining ground. Make it a priority to get people in place. While you may get a little lift yet this year, you’ll be even more certainly positioned for the increases 2013 will bring. If you have new team members who aren’t making the progress that was promised at hiring, develop a specific set of expectations and timing for what they need to Learn, Do and Deliver between now and the end of the year. These milestones will serve as a gauge for them and you to determine if they’re going to make it. If you have underperformers, address them directly. There are usually reasons for the poor performance and they rarely go away on their own. Investigate what’s getting in the way and remove the barrier. If they’re simply not going to be effective, make the change now. A new player still has time to make an impact this year — any waiting will affect next year.
4. Sharpen the axe – Whether it’s a product, sales process or methodology, now is the time to brush up on relevant skills. When salespeople are in their stride, they sometimes feel they’re doing what’s necessary, but in reality are losing track of the subtleties that separate them from their competitors. Mid-year training can be helpful to sharpen the axe and enter the second half of the year with new confidence. As you think about training, be sure to check out the ES Research website or Dave Stein’s blog for some great insights on selecting a sales training partner.
5. Stay true to your Sales Operating System (S.O.S.) – The sales operating system is the drumbeat you create as a leader. What are the weekly expectations (sales meetings, one-on-ones, activity reports, CRM entries, etc.)? How do you collect and report on those expectations? What meetings do you have and what do you talk about and reinforce? Research has shown time and again that sales people do better with structure. If you have one in place, be sure to keep it going. If you’ve loosened up the cadence, re-establish the rigor. It will truly keep people on track. Also, pay extra attention to your super stars. Let them know their impact on the company and how much you value them. Provide them an opportunity to be involved in a strategic discussion or have access to executives. These people want to be involved and we don’t want that to be with a recruiter.
The second half of the year brings great opportunity to make adjustments although time is precious. I hope some of these ideas will help ensure that your salespeople are taking off time this summer — not sales. If you have any mid-year ideas that have worked for you, I’d love to hear about them!