How to Beat Your Sales Slump in 2021

If you feel that the entire last year or so has been one big sales slump, don’t worry — you’re not alone. Since the start of the pandemic, sales professionals across the board have been noting “fewer deals and more missed quotas.”

Our research has shown increases in meeting volume per closed deal since the pandemic began. On top of that, we’re seeing sales reps enter into individual slumps through sheer exhaustion. Our data show that burnout mentions are up 32% compared to Q1 2020.

But the sales slump is not a fact of life for your sales organization. Hard times both breed and reward creativity. With the pandemic far from finished and a return to normality nowhere in sight, negotiating 2021 without suffering a sales slump will need great effort from all levels in your sales organization.

You’ll need:

  • A relentlessly positive attitude from your front-line sales reps
  • A responsive and data-driven sales training strategy from your sales management and sales enablement pros
  • A sales organization that can adapt throughout the sales process, from qualifying to close and from one sales call to the next
  • Sales management that is receptive to sales pros’ personal needs, as well as their professional ones

Steep list of requirements, right? Don’t worry. We’ve put together a comprehensive guide for diagnosing the roots of your company’s sales slump and then strategizing and fighting your way out of it.

What Causes a Sales Slump?

When they hit a sales slump, it’s not uncommon for sales reps to believe that it’s all on them. Our research shows that you need more meetings per closed-won in the pandemic economy. This amounts to a longer, possibly rougher road for your sales reps.

New Pressures On Sales Reps

Nevertheless, a rep who’s finding deals hard to close successfully, or a rep or facing a lot of champion churn, might start to worry about how secure their job is or how their lack of success will impact the company — or both. This kind of anxiety will only make a sales slump worse.

A whole host of factors can lead to a sales slump. Some of them are relative to your sales team’s attitude, approach, and skills: Are they creating enough engaging moments per call? Are they forecasting accurately? A good sales manager can help pilot a rep out of slumps like these with a few strategic changes to that rep’s sales activities. For example, sales management might equip a rep who has forecasting difficulties with more robust historical benchmarks to base their predictions on. They might prompt a rep who has difficulty creating engaging moments to listen to call transcripts by colleagues who do this very well.

However, some sales slumps have less to do with a rep and more to do with wider circumstances around your company or client. Those circumstances tell a different story and require you to shape your sales organization’s wider approach in order to adapt.

Let’s take a look at the different types.

Slumps due to global circumstances

Some sales slumps aren’t a matter of helping individual reps upskill; some are due to huge matters of global circumstance.

The obvious example of a global sales slump is COVID-19. People make fewer purchases when times are uncertain, both financially and socially. Unless your company is selling a mission-critical product, such as groceries, door-to-door delivery services, or a video conferencing solution, your business is likely to be affected. These kinds of slumps require you to revise your sales objectives, begin targeting higher-yield buyer personas, and double down on user/customer retention.

In more regular times, you might also find your sales organization in a slump owing to the nature of a cyclical market. Demand for your product is not determined solely by the skill of a sales rep. Many industries, such as travel or manufacturing, are cyclical. Demand is volatile and depends upon a number of external factors beyond the industry’s control. If your industry itself is in a slump, you might see this reflected in your own results. This kind of slump will affect many reps in the industry in question and may require you to make a temporary revision of the types of businesses that your reps target.

Slumps YOU CAN RESOLVE

There are also plenty of internal factors that can cause a rep to experience a sales slump, even if they are related in some way to the chaos and uncertainty outside. A slump that comes from the inside can be fixed from the inside.

These sales slumps are often a matter of error in practice or approach and can look like one of these scenarios:

  • Poor Mechanics: This is the most immediately solvable reason behind a slump. Your sales rep has, through lack of care or inexperience, gotten away from best practices. They’ve forgotten the four components of the perfect cold call. They’ve forgotten that mentioning competitors during discovery calls lead to more closed-won deals. They’ve forgotten that you shouldn’t get too technical during a sales presentation. No wonder they’ve hit a bump in the road! This is known as poor mechanics.
  • Shortage of Skills or Knowledge: The market changes rapidly, and your reps need to constantly be on top of the latest in industry knowledge, product experience, and approaches to sales presentations. Our research shows that reps need to be masters of storytelling and presentation and possess expertise in their field to be well suited to their jobs. It’s a lot to ask! Particularly in SaaS, where the most purchase-ready prospects are also the most informed, even a small knowledge/skill deficit can provoke a slump. This goes double in our current circumstances, with increases in C-suite participation on calls and demand for extreme ROI.
  • Poor Lead Qualification: This one goes beyond your stricken sales rep. Not even the best seller can succeed with leads that just aren’t good enough. If your rep is trying to hawk your product to buyer personas that are poorly built-out, a slump is inevitable. For example, suburban housewives are unlikely to need direct marketing solutions or 3D printing hardware. Keeping qualifying standards high is vital.
  • The Slump Itself: Sales slumps can be self-perpetuating. A slump from poor prospecting or just bad luck dents your rep’s belief in themselves, which can lead to downturns in their attitude and presentation skills. Effective management oversight and a departmental culture that doesn’t over stigmatize underperformance can help. You want to avoid a situation where reps are too embarrassed to acknowledge their slumps.

How to Strategize Your Way Out of a Sales Slump

If your sales slump is owing to big global factors, like economic recessions or pandemics, your solution will need to be more thorough. If your sales slump is owing to your sales professionals’ performance, you need to coach your way out of it (which we’ll get to later).

Strategizing your way out of a sales slump involves a root-and-branch change to your sales processes.

Double Down on Retention

Focusing on retention has a double-sided effect on your sales slump. By prioritizing customer success, you’ll lower your churn rate and prevent the effects of your sales slump from getting worse as a result. You’ll also find that retention via upselling will increase the strength of your relationship with clients.

Well-retained clients are also more likely to refer you to other businesses in their network. This is like your customers taking care of qualifying for you. Prospects who are referred are more likely to convert, providing easy wins to a beleaguered sales department.

Sales managers should aim to coordinate with marketing and customer success departments to handle the retention effort. Advise sales reps who haven’t had a win in a while to target existing customers who are at risk of delinquent (credit card expiration) churn to get them back onboard. Standardize the approach each department takes to customer messaging; make sure you’re making your existing customers feel loved. Kill two birds with one stone by offering them great discount upsell deals if they can bring you referrals.

Focusing on easier sales wins within your existing customer base can give your organization a great platform to beat a sales slump.

Revise Your Buyer Personas

It’s possible that your original buyer personas may have significantly higher price sensitivity than they did pre-pandemic. For instance, if you’re a B2C company that used to sell to students or freelance professionals, you may find your market is cash-strapped.

If you’re a B2B company whose primary buyer persona is SMBs, live-events companies, or sports customers, you may find yourself in a similar situation. Their ability to pay for your product, even their need for your product itself, may have changed in the last year.

To avoid a locked-in sales slump, broaden your targeting to include companies that are more likely to be willing and able to pay for your product in this period. Most often, that means enterprise-grade companies with lots of cash runway. Enterprise deals tend to take longer to close (60 days from the first call, according to our data), with more room for error, but they represent higher-quality deals with lots of upsell potential.

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Coaching Cheat Sheet (for Managers)

Lean On Team-Selling

The art of selling itself has changed in the last year. There’s a greater focus on team selling than there was previously. This is because reps now have to secure more buy-in, from a wider variety of buyer-side stakeholders, than they used to. Sales reps won’t be able to answer all these questions alone — and facing down a buyer-side C-suite member as a new rep can be daunting. However, our data show that during 2020, C-level participation on sales calls increased on the selling side too.

Why? Because having a heavy-hitter from the top level of your company is a great sales technique. Encourage your reps to coordinate sales calls with additional members of your team. If they need to get buy-in from a buyer-side CTO or tech lead, bring in a tech lead of your own who can speak their language. If they need to convince a buyer-side CFO of the ROI your product can provide, wheel out your own CFO. It helps build belief in your product and reduces the likelihood of mistakenly targeting the wrong decision-maker.

How to Coach Your Way Out of a Sales Slump

Your sales objectives have been refitted, your team selling plan established, and your prospecting is set to enterprise. You have done everything possible to circumvent the global factors behind your sales slump. If your reps’ slumps are continuing despite these changes, you may have to coach your way out of it.

Assessing Your Sales Reps’ Individual Profiles

When addressing a slump, a sales manager’s first port of call is always to answer this question: Where is the slump occurring? The sales cycle is long and is getting longer, and slumps at different points along it are suggestive of different flaws. Is the slump occurring at the top of the funnel? Is your rep having difficulty converting calls into meetings? Or are they having more trouble at the bottom of the funnel ( i.e., in closing deals that appear promising)?

If it’s a top-of-funnel slump and you’re confident that your leads are good, analyze your rep’s approach to cold calling and follow-up. If it’s a bottom-of-funnel slump, assess whether your rep is following best practices for late-stage calls. For example, ensure that they ask fewer questions than in discovery and allow more space for the prospect’s concerns.

Your reps are unlikely to be getting in front of prospects anytime soon, so make sure they’re adapting their approach to the remote-only environment. Coach a philosophy of pressing forward when the deal’s almost there for a successful closing. Procrastination is a serious cause of bottom-of-funnel sales slumps and incorrect sales forecasting.

Next, consider your tech stack. Your rep will, at any given moment, be dealing concurrently with information inside your CRM. They’ll also be handling social selling tools, such as LinkedIn. Are they comfortable with the stack, and can they use the tools effectively? Having a robust CRM optimized to assist your reps can also be good for keeping the basics in mind, sustaining them while they rise up out of their slumps.

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Coaching Cheat Sheet (for Reps)

Consider the rep’s personality profile and how this relates to their current incentives. It’s possible your rep’s sales slump coincided with a change in the way you’re rewarding them or is being caused by perceived instability in their job. They might just be feeling straight-up gloomy about the state of the world and in need of some podcast positivity. Are you helping your rep feel secure and confident? In motivational terms, are you playing to their strengths?

Giving a revised incentive package isn’t always effective as a long-term solution to a slump — it may not even be possible at the moment if cash flow is an issue. Nevertheless, the offer of more PTO or even free online courses can be good as a short-term pick-me-up, particularly if your rep is prone to burnout or is looking to upskill.

Last, examine your expectations. What might initially appear to be a sales slump might be a case of unrealistic expectations. Did the rep have an unusually high Q3, leading to the expectation of the same being set for Q4? Has this new, inexperienced rep been bumped up to the same sales targets as their more experienced peers? In such instances, a slump is all the more likely, through no fault of the rep.

Whatever cure you settle on, set up daily accountability for it. This shows your investment in your reps and their performance. The best thing you can provide during a slump is a steady hand. Monitor a handful of representative metrics — calls made, hours spent on the learning management system (LMS) — and modulate your approach accordingly.

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Motivating your sales professionals

The first rule of dealing with any slump, in sales or anything else: Keep going. The slump will only worsen if you doubt your skills and approach. While you and your manager build a profile of where you’re going wrong, keep trying.

Be proactive. We talk a lot about the importance of coaching here at Chorus, but self-coaching is a vital component of any learning experience. If you feel like you already have a handle on what weaknesses are causing your slump, seek out online courses to develop those skills. Scour your company’s LMS for tips and new selling techniques. Also, listen back to your own calls with a conversational intelligence platform, and take notes. Our research suggests that top sales reps listen to up to eight calls per month while self-coaching.

After you’ve found a method to help you improve your skills, establish your own systems of accountability. If you’re not making call volume, tally the number of calls you’re making in real-time. Each time you listen back to one of your calls, take note of how close you’re coming to the six “engaging moments” our research suggests is the optimal number for a successful call. Synchronize your accountability with your manager’s accountability to compare; not only will your slump end faster, but your proactive approach to learning will also win you points with your supervisor.

Talk to your team. It’s not like the old days, where sales reps were considered competitors. In SaaS, team dynamics in sales should be cooperative. Find a colleague who’s good at something you’re trying to improve at, grab a beverage, and simply ask them how they approach their work.

Finally, make time to get away. Don’t obsess over your slump when you’re away from work — selling is intensely psychological, and without the proper space to rest and relax, you leave yourself open to burnout. Read more, socialize, exercise, and relax outside the work environment. Refreshment can be the key.

Every Slump Ends

That’s the good news, and it’s something that any sales organization or sales professional undergoing a dry spell would do well to keep in mind. However, you can take the right steps to break out of a slump sooner while making your sales department more resilient in the face of global event-induced difficulties. The responsibility for this falls on both individual sales reps and their immediate superiors.

Senior sales personnel should read sales slumps as a vital opportunity to improve processes at both the individual and the group level. A slump, whether it’s affecting the whole department or just one rep, can uncover key insights about the sturdiness of your sales and coaching processes. It can divulge a wealth of info about how you attack the sales funnel and how you deal with different personality profiles within your team.

Sales professionals should read slumps, first and foremost, as part of the life of a sales professional. Pandemic or no pandemic, almost everyone will experience a slump at some point in their career. The truth is, beating your slump makes for better, stronger salespeople and sales departments — you’ll find they make your company stronger than it was in the first place.

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