At some point, every salesperson goes through a slump. One month you seem to close every deal in sight, and then the next month you go ice cold. No matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to close a deal.
You start questioning your skills and abilities. You over-focus on your recent failures. And the pressure you feel skyrockets as you miss your sales goals.
How Slumps Start
Sales slumps typically start by chance, a few blown deals or plain bad luck. The odds are that these lost deals are the result of “randomness,” rather than some change in the economy, competitive landscape, or anything you are doing differently. Think of a great professional baseball player who has a .300 batting average for a particular season. Let’s say he hits .400 one month, that means he may also have another month where he only hits .200.
Humans are often unaware of the existence of randomness. We tend to explain random outcomes as non-random, looking for explanations even when there are none (see Nassim Talib’s great book Fooled by Randomness). For the sales rep, this can mean blaming external forces—e.g., it’s the economy, the customers aren’t buying anymore, or the rep’s products are too expensive or not competitive. Sales reps in a slump may also internalize the problem causing them to lose self-confidence. That bad mindset can then stick with the rep, turning a minor blip into a self-perpetuating sales slump.
Breaking Out of a Slump
So, what can you do if you find yourself in a slump? Avoid blaming external factors and look to behaviors that are within your control:
- Don’t panic and press too hard. This will cause you to emphasize your needs (i.e., closing this deal!) over your customer’s needs. The only surefire secret to long-term sales success is a laser-like focus on your customer’s needs.
- Do a post-call analysis of your last few deals. Often lost deals have simple explanations. Make sure you are executing selling fundamentals. Are you properly qualifying your opportunities? To what extent were you spending too much time with unqualified (or un-empowered) buyers? Were you selling the decision-maker or too low in the organization? Did you uncover significant problems or concerns and then explore the impact of those problems with the buyers? How well did you connect the buyer’s need to your solution?
- Grow your sales pipeline. Nothing cures a sales slump faster than a robust sales pipeline. Having more sales opportunities will boost your confidence and increase your odds of closing deals. If you find yourself in a sales slump, block out more dedicated prospecting time in your schedule.
- Call existing customers. Researchers have consistently found that sales professionals have a much higher success rate selling to existing customers than to cold leads. Often the success rate is 3-4 times higher, depending on the industry. So, check your list of existing and past customers. Who can you call who you haven’t talked to recently?
- Don’t go it alone. Ask your manager to give you more coaching time. That means having your manager observe you on sales calls and provide you with coaching feedback. The evidence for the benefits of coaching is compelling. According to research, (see our Sales Management Research Report) Sales reps who received more coaching time from their managers have better selling skills and higher quota attainment.
- Be tough. Breaking out of a sales slump means being mentally tough, staying positive, and having confidence in your skills and abilities. You need to stick with the approach that has worked for you before.
Losing a few deals is not a slump. However, how you mentally manage to lose a few deals will determine whether you get into a slump. Feeling sorry for yourself when you’re in a slump can become a habit, starting a vicious downward cycle that’s hard to break. Just like professional baseball players, you must be able to control your emotions and ride out the highs and lows.
About David Jacoby