Neil Fogarty is a writer, speaker, facilitator and consultant - this article is on the subject of fixing sales problems

A common query raised by clients in the boardroom is about fixing sales problems.

Whether this is due to the business model, pricing policies, or your use of technology, the most common underlying cause by far is people.  This is hardly a surprise, I know: everyone pitches the ‘people problem’ when it comes to anything in a business.

Unfortunately, just because it’s been said so often, it doesn’t make it any less true.

I once heard the line that “we either sell something to someone or they sell us on the reason why they’re not buying from us”.  Either way, a sale takes place.

This happens in every organisation : either the sales team sells to clients or they sell to their bosses the reasons why they haven’t sold to their clients.

So let’s cut to it: the reason why your sales team is failing is because of the owners of the business.

It can be a bitter pill: when the sales team hits the figures, we take the praise; when the sales team misses the figures, they take the blame.

Lessons from 1989

Sales Culture

I was originally trained in B2B sales in 1989.

In the first 16 days of October 1989, I had 16 sales colleagues leave and I started to hear the phrase “use them up; burn them out”.  The culture of the organisation was driven by a CEO who used to log onto the server from his bedroom before breakfast each day to see who was also logged in.  People would arrive in the office from 07:30 just to be ‘seen’.

For my first weekend with the company, we had a company get-together where, on the Friday night after a few drinks, a comment was passed between two sales guys in the washroom.  Come the Saturday morning as we filed into the room for sales motivation (cue music from Miami Vice and a guy telling us not to take no for an answer), the two sales guys were stopped from coming in as they were both publicly sacked.

I remember closing a deal with a client and had a phone call from one of the other offices.  I was expecting congratulations when, in fact, I got, “if you talk to that client again, I’ll break your legs.”  Competitive times.

Attention To Detail

With zero training, I figured that I needed to go through the card box of contacts (yes, a box of cards – not a sales force automation / customer relationship management piece of tech).  And so calls were made day after day – and then I realised that the information on the cards was either incomplete or incorrect. Further calls were made but with the point of checking information as well as asking for business.

For one month, I called all the contacts on the cards and asked “what is your business all about?” This made me memorable to the now-defunct Daylay Eggs when I asked them what they did and they said, “eggs, son. We do eggs. We’re Daylay Eggs.”

But telephone-based canvassing had to make you smile along the way as it was a ballsache – and the rudeness of clients became a badge of honour with the worst client insults being related across the office.

What I discovered was that I was the branch’s highest biller and I had the most complete client information.

Trust Your People

The sales director was due to visit four of the offices in a day (London, Slough, Birmingham, Manchester).  On a Thursday morning, he passed some highly confidential (office-based) information to a colleague with strict instructions not to say a word.  By the time he got to the Midlands office, the information had made its way to us.  He then carried on up to the Manchester office, called the London office and sacked the guilt party.

The issue was that the information he’d given was deliberately false just in order to see what happened.

Sales Directors Should Be Strategic

It can be a tough one : you have targets (maybe passed down from the boardroom rather than through consultation).  Sales Directors can be sucked into short-termism which inhibits long-term business growth.

Six months into 1990, it occurred to me to go and see a client.  This was a big thing in the office as it wasn’t common practice to leave the phone.  The client was Wang which then became Getronics (1999), KPN (2007) and CompuCom (2008).

The sales person in me now reflects on how great to have been working at the strategic levels with Wang and to be taken on the journey as a trusted advisor so that I now work with an organization owned by Office Depot with an $11bn revenue.

With the right skills and approach, the sales visit of 1990 could have led to so much – but the sales director had a constant drive for short-term figures meaning that strategic thinking in sales was a luxury rather than a key part of the toolkit.

Are the good old days better?

Now, along the way, I’ve used my emotional intelligence signature strengths of optimism and resilience to spot opportunities and go for it – I have built businesses precisely on those skills.

I also lost a lot of business as my emotional intelligence areas for improvement included empathy and relationship.

I was a hunter but definitely no farmer.

So I set up businesses; grew businesses; sold businesses and am now working on my latest adventure Eskil.

As part of the expansion into the Middle East, I put a call out for sales people. As part of the qualification process, I asked all of them, “how will you secure new business for Eskil?”

I had over 120 responses from sales people interested in working with Eskil with a specific remit to sell learning & development in the Middle East.

The proposed approaches by almost every single one of them comprised of using Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to post content.

None of the respondents suggested being proactive or building a relationship.  No reference to segmenting the market, researching client needs, direct calls, or seeking any form of face-face meeting.

Given a card box and a phone, I have built businesses. Given technology, the modern sales person (based on the 120 responses) is reactive and hides behind a screen.

Someone, somewhere, will have tapped into Wang in the 1980s, built relationships; thought strategically; been proactive… and will now be well-positioned with an $11bn organization.

Condition / Recondition Your Sales People

I see enterprises making the same mistake today: great sales people don’t necessarily immediately become great directors / leaders.  Similarly, how does a busy Sales Director intervene and turnaround individual sales professionals / teams?

Eskil has a 100-day ‘step up to leadership’ intervention called condition / recondition– this works with individuals and teams as you look to refocus them for 2019 and beyond.  It is a blended approach founded in applied business psychology, facilitation, coaching and mentoring.

We need to be proactive and to be both hunters and farmers.  Do you think that sitting behind the screen is the best way to build relationships?

Click here to discuss your interest in sales in 2019

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Are We Fixing Sales Problems?