Life is cyclical. We all experience ups and downs. In sales, some months are spectacular, and others are rough. It’s the latter periods that pose the greatest potential danger for sales reps and their managers. Once a sales rep enters a slump, it can cause a downward spiral that perpetuates the problem. As a manager, you’ll often need to step in and help guide the drowning rep back to shore. Following this step-by-step guide will help you succeed in your rescue mission and return the rep to productivity.
1. Recognize that Your Sales Rep Is in a Slump.
As the old saying goes, the first step to solving a problem is to realize there is one. While anyone can have an off day, week or month, two consecutive “down” periods are a sign that something is amiss and needs addressing. To catch a slump early, monitor more frequently – at least once per month for most sales teams. Much like diseases, early detection is the key to the best possible prognosis, and if you wait too long, it may be tough to reverse the damage.
2. Determine the Cause.
No slump occurs spontaneously, and no two slumps have the same root source. Perhaps it’s something in the rep’s personal life. Maybe a poor economy is not only dragging numbers down but creating a confidence crisis. The slump could be the result of burnout, which will require more advanced treatment. It could be that the rep is making tactical errors in his or her selling process or has lapsed into bad habits. Regardless of the origin, you need to know what it is before you can apply the remedy. The wrong approach to resolving the issues will, at best, have little to no effect and, at worst, exacerbate the slump.
Figuring out where the slump stems from will involve a few different angles of investigation. The most obvious and basic is to talk to the sales rep. In this conversation, you should avoid passing judgement or criticizing. The rep’s already feeling down, knowing their numbers aren’t up to par. Browbeating them will only demoralize them further and could make them defensive. Instead, approach the discussion like you would a discovery conversation with a prospect: Calmly ask questions to uncover the source of the slump.
It might be that the sales rep has no idea what’s wrong, or maybe what they think is the cause isn’t really what’s going on. For example, they blame a weak selling environment, when the problem is that they’re not adequately uncovering customer needs. In that scenario, you’ll need to do some other investigation, such as reviewing their recent calls or going with them to their next presentation.
3. Apply the Remedy.
Once you know why the slump is occurring, it’s time to deploy the solution. Broadly speaking, causes fall into two categories: technical/process and psychological/emotional. The first involves problems in the technical aspects of the sales process (such as not adequately uncovering customer needs). The second usually involves a loss of confidence or some other mental or emotional stressor unrelated to the nuts and bolts of selling. Each category has completely different treatments.
In the case of mechanical problems, use coaching to help the sales rep correct the issue. This process can involve going over previous customer interactions and pointing out opportunities for change – often in conjunction with using role-play to allow the rep to demonstrate that they grasp what needs to change and how to modify their selling behaviors. Don’t be surprised if it requires multiple sessions – one study found that it takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days to change a habit, with a mean of 66 days.
For psychological and emotional causes, the correct course of action is much more varied, depending on the specific problem and sales rep. Solutions run the gamut, from a short period of more modest expectations to pointing out what the rep has done right to suggesting outside help through motivational materials and exercises. Another potential solution is giving the sales rep some time off from work to recharge and recover.
One important note about this latter category: Because successful resolution involves so many different possibilities and options, the easiest way to narrow down what will be most effective is to ask the sales rep what will be most helpful for them. Then, provide what they request to the extent possible and reasonable. Failure to give the sales rep what they need in these situations could lead to burnout or worsen an existing case of burnout. Once burnout happens, the path to reversing the slump becomes much longer and more arduous.
Dealing with a sales slump is rarely easy or simple, both for the sales reps suffering through them and for their managers. Diagnosing the problem, discovering the cause and using the right combination of solutions can address the issue and restore a slumping rep to their previous levels of success – and perhaps even beyond.