How to Get Out of a Sales Slump

How to Get Out of a Sales Slump

January 17, 2020

Sara Howshar

It’s that one terrible phrase that everyone in sales fears. You’re not meeting targets, you keep inexplicably losing deals that look set to close with a win, and, one way or another, everything you’re doing just isn’t quite working out right.

Face it: You’re in a sales slump.

Acknowledging that you’re in a slump, and that slumps are a fact of life in the sales industry, is the first step toward beating it. There’s no shame in experiencing a rough period — once you recognize the slump, you can work your way out of it.

In the fast-paced world of sales, it’s easy for a rep to lose their cool if they feel they’re falling behind. But with the right cooperation between a rep and their manager, most sales slumps can be turned around before they spiral.

Let’s take a look at just what brings about a dreaded sales slump and what you can do about it.

What Causes a Sales Slump #

When you hit a sales slump, it can be very easy to think it’s all on you, especially if the rest of your team seems to be hitting it out of the park. But that isn’t always true. Or, at least, it’s not the only reason.

A lot of factors can lead to a sales slump. Some of them — relative to attitude, approach, and skills — are well within a rep’s reach to change with the help of a little structured encouragement from their immediate superiors.

Sometimes a dip in your quota has to do with the rep’s techniques, and sometimes it has to do more with the circumstances around your company or client. The important thing is to determine whether a sales slump is due to factors that are in your control to change - or not - and to adjust accordingly.

Sales slump example

Let’s take a look at the different types.

Slumps Outside of Your Control #

Some sales slumps can’t be helped with coaching or changes in approach and include things like:

  • Cyclical Markets: 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 is in a slump itself, 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 reps target.

  • Political or Economic Conditions: People make fewer purchases during times of uncertainty — like a change in regime, a recession, or a period of increased inflation. If your market is experiencing the effects of political or economic upheaval, unless what you’re selling is mission-critical, you can expect numbers to taper off. This is an even more difficult type of wider slump to deal with than our previous example, but reassessing your sales objectives is a good start.

Slumps You Can Resolve #

There are also plenty of internal factors that can cause a rep to experience a sales slump. 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: 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; that mentioning competitors during discovery calls leads to more closed-won deals; 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, presentation, and possess expertise in their field to be well-suited to their job. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 slump.

How to Get Out of a Sales Slump #

While it starts and ends with sales reps, responsibility for breaking a sales slump shouldn’t fall squarely on their shoulders. It should be a joint effort between the rep and their manager to identify and address the issues behind this dry spell.

Let’s break it down into methods each team member can leverage to crawl out of a slump:

For Sales Managers: #

When addressing a slump, a sales manager’s first port of call is always to isolate where the slump is occurring. The sales cycle is long, and slumps at different points along it are suggestive of different flaws. Is the rep’s slump occurring at the top of the funnel, i.e., are they having difficulty converting calls into meetings? Or are they have 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 bottom-of-funnel, 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. 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.

Sales process sales slump

Next, consider your tech stack. Your rep will, at any given moment, be dealing concurrently with information inside your CRM, any platforms dedicated to the management of existing accounts, as well as social tools. 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 their minds, sustaining them while they rise up out of their slump.

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. Are you playing to their strengths?

While offering an improved incentive package isn’t necessarily effective as a long-term solution to a slump, an offer of a spa day, more PTO, or even free online courses can be good as a short-term pick-me-up.

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.

For Sales Reps: #

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, then 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 advised number of six ‘Engaging Moments’ our research suggests is the optimum number for a successful call. Synchronize your accountability with your manager’s own to compare; not only will your slump end faster, but also your proactive approach to learning will 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 coffee, 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 one that any sales rep undergoing a dry spell would do well to keep in mind. However, you can take the right steps to stop the rot sooner and prevent a similar slump from happening again. The responsibility for this falls on both the rep and their immediate superiors.

Sales managers should read sales slumps as a vital opportunity to improve processes at both the individual and group levels. One rep’s slump can uncover key insights about the sturdiness of your sales and coaching processes, the way you attack the sales funnel, and how you deal with different personality profiles within your team.

Sales reps should read slumps, first and foremost, as part of the life of a sales professional — almost everyone will experience one at some point in their career. The truth is that beating your slump will make you a better salesperson — and, very likely, a better person overall.