How to Break Out of a Sales Slump

Sujan Patel is the founder of Mailshake, a sales engagement software used by 38,000 sales and marketing professionals. He has over 15 years of marketing experience and has led the digital marketing strategy for companies like Salesforce, Mint, Intuit and many other Fortune 500 caliber companies.
  • January 2, 2019

Feeling stuck in a sales slump?

Don’t worry – we’ve all been there. Sometimes key deals fall through, external circumstances are stacked against you, and you just flat-out can’t find your sales rhythm. Like stepping into quicksand, you can quickly feel helpless – no matter what you do, you aren’t getting any closer to crawling out of it.

This situation isn’t unique to sales, either. In sports, it’s called a losing streak. In economics, it’s a depression. And in climate, it’s a drought.

Nobody knows exactly why these rough patches occur in life and in sales, but similar to a correction in economics, things will eventually turn around if you keep doing the right things in the right way. If you’re in a sales slump and you’re looking for some actionable advice and inspiration, here’s how you can break out of it and start selling again.

Focus on What’s Important Instead of What’s Urgent

As Stephen Covey once said, “Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” He couldn’t have been more right – especially when times are good. When things are going well, we tend to focus on what’s in front of us and not on what’s coming — or not coming.

That’s how you fall into the trap of becoming complacent. And why not? You’re hitting your numbers, your pipeline is stacked, and it seems like the month or the quarter is just falling into place. Your boss isn’t on your back anymore. You make the conscious or unconscious decision to take your foot off the pedal – and that’s the exact moment things start to crumble around you.

Every veteran salesperson can tell you that when your pipeline is full, you should double-down to keep it that way. Never stop feeding your pipeline and building the habits to keep it full. Even if you’re supposed to have the biggest month of your life, you should keep prospecting. Key deals will fall through, and if you have nothing to replace them with, it could definitely cost you your goals and some serious cash.

Calculate and Optimize Your Lead Conversion Rate

Hope is not a strategy. If you truly want to destroy this cold run, you’ve got to know all the right numbers.

Start with your conversion rate. This is crucial, because it lets you ballpark how many deals you should have in your pipeline at any given time to hit your numbers. If you close say, one out of every four deals, and you need to hit your goal of 16 sales this month, then you need 64 prospects. That’s easy math.

So crunch the numbers. How much activity do you need to get an opportunity? Once you have that number, you know you’ll need x touch points a day to get that opportunity. Hit that touch point number every single day, and be religious about it. No matter how dry or full your pipeline is, hit those activity numbers. Hold yourself accountable.

Next, out of all your opportunities, figure out how many converted and how many went cold. If you have sales tracking software, this should be as easy as pulling up previous months and comparing what was in the pipeline to what actually closed to find your average. Round that conversion number to make it easy to calculate each month.

Then, set your goal and make it something digestible and realistic. While you’re at it, leave some room for error. If you need 64 prospects, make your goal 70 or 80. That way, you’ll crush your goal some months, while others you may just hit it on the nose.

Replicate What’s Working

Unpack the last time you had a great month or quarter. How much of that was luck, and how much was tactic? More importantly, how much of that killer month is repeatable?

Things like trade shows and quality leads from your marketing department aren’t typically in your control. Naturally, you won’t rely on those one-offs or seasonal swings month-to-month, so that begs the question:

What can you replicate and repeat?

Once again, refer back to your notes or your sales CRM and see what clues you find. When you had that killer month or quarter, were you hitting your activity levels more consistently? Were you trying out a different sales deck or pitch? Taking the time to figure out what worked in the past and what you can repeat is crucial.

While you’re investigating, you should also take a moment to figure out what isn’t working. As marketing guru Seth Godin says, those bringing in 10x results aren’t just putting in more effort – they’re cultivating the discipline to say ‘no’ to distractions. “A 1x contributor can’t become a 10x merely by working ten times as hard,” he notes. “The physics of time won’t allow it, certainly, but it’s also because 10x doesn’t work on the same axis. It’s not about more effort. It’s about more insight.

“In order to make that forward leap, you need to trust yourself. To create space. To have the discipline to say no to distractions or even to projects that put you back into the 1x mode.”

Are you getting bogged down in contract details, chasing cold leads, or spending too much time in meetings? If so, ditch the time-wasters and delegate what you can to get back on track. Create your winning system, something that is easily replicated each month, and get after it.

Always Have a Plan of Attack

In The Salesman Podcast, Matt Heinz says, “Ambiguity breeds complacency.” Take that to heart. You should never come into the office not knowing what you’re going to do that day.

While some have success planning their days in the morning, it can lead to wasted time. Instead, shift your focus momentarily at the end of each day to reframe what’s important tomorrow. No two days will be the same here; some days you’ll be following up a lot, and some you’ll be prospecting.

While you’re at it, consider doing an omni-channel approach to your outreach. Shake things up by alternating between emails, phone calls, and social media engagement.

Know Your Capabilities and Limits

Sometimes you just have to face the music and concede that this month might be a lost cause. That’s fine. Take a hard look at your pipeline and see what’s actually possible this month and what is likely a deal for the following month.

Remember when assessing your pipeline that people buy for their reasons, not yours. Don’t get overly pushy with your current prospects in order to hit your goal. You may close a couple of deals if you go that route, but you could be creating collateral damage by pushing people too much and leaving a sour taste in their mouth.

If the numbers don’t add up this month, you can still get as close as possible to your goal while also stacking your pipeline for next month. After all, as Gary Vaynerchuk once said, “restrictions matter for creative processes. Start setting up next month for success and break out of your sales slump for good by showing some solid daily activity. Often, it will at least give you some much-needed momentum and have the pleasant side effect of getting management off your back about your numbers.

Don’t Start From Scratch

Last, but not least, don’t start filling your pipeline from scratch. The biggest mistake salespeople make when they’re in a slump is thinking they need to start over. That’s a huge time-waster and will gain you minimal traction at best.

Instead, go talk to the people in your pipeline that didn’t close. Find out where they’re at now and see if anything has changed that may make them a good fit for your product or service again.

Start by looking back through your CRM for deals that are marked Closed/Unsold. Also look back through emails from the same time last year or six months ago to see who you were talking with who could still be a viable candidate. Tap your colleagues to see if they have any unsold leads they’d be okay with you reaching out to. Even slightly warm leads can save you time and get things back on track in a hurry.

In the end, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you think you’re in this struggle alone or you feel like nobody else is having this problem, you’re wrong. There are plenty of people on your team or in your organization who have been in your shoes before.

Start by reaching out to senior members of the team for advice on how to break out of your sales slump, and ask if they’ve been in a similar situation. Chances are they have, and will not only be empathetic toward your situation, but can also give you some practical advice on how you can begin climbing out and get back on track for a successful year.

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