When you hit a sales growth plateau, it can be a real challenge. There are so many ‘top tips’ that it’s hard to know what works. There are many people who will tell you what to do, but it’s hard to know which one actually works. After 30 years in sales and helping others overcome their plateaus, I will let you know what not to do based on all my bumps and bruises.
There's something counterintuitive about this. If you want to increase your sales, you must hire more salespeople, right? That's the old adage from the pre-industrial revolution; just add more people. In 2023, however, throwing more people at a problem won't solve it. This idea has failed both in large and small organizations. When they hire a large sales force, they don't often take the time to understand who their target market is (more on that later). I've seen it go badly in both small and large organizations.
Additionally, you should never hire people from your big competitors and assume their skills will transfer. They won't. In a large company, people are highly focused on specific tasks, one small cog in a much bigger engine. A big company is a very different environment from a smaller growing company, and it takes a different skill set. You don't have to worry about $5 million Super Bowl ads or soccer team sponsorships in a small business because your teams have to work on additional tasks and strategies. Sales superstars from IMB or AWS won't be able to succeed in a smaller company, no matter how smart they are or how good at their job.
In many cases, a company that has hit a sales plateau might think that a partner network is the answer. It is a very seductive idea, a magic bullet to get past your sales plateau, especially if you're entering a new territory or market. If you can find someone else to do the hard work and sell for you, then the problem is solved. It's not uncommon for companies that want to break into the North American market to think they can just recruit some partners to do the work. Sadly, that rarely works.
You'll want to know what's in it for any partner. Why would they invest their valuable time, effort, and sales talent into selling your product if you don't have something to offer, if the partnership wouldn't lead to more sales of their core product?
Once you've reached the end of your initial family, friends, and existing contacts, a sales plateau will often occur. You may also have customers who have been with you for a number of years, but you aren't sure how to increase those customers. The first thought is usually “I need to lower my price.” This is a knee-jerk reaction that is unlikely to work.
Most of the time, you'll end up working the same amount of time and putting in the same effort for a lower margin. The bottom line is that businesses run on numbers. Now if you can lower your prices and increase sales for a long time while maintaining the same profitability, then fine with me. While it isn't always wrong to lower prices, it must be part of a long-term strategy. We're not talking about a Q4 plan, but a 3-5 year plan.
You would also have to consider how lowering prices might hurt your relationships with existing clients who already paid full price. The crown jewels, the revenue stream, of your business, will be affected by reducing the price if you're in software or technology. For SaaS companies, you're selling subscriptions rather than software. Lowering your price might work but at a high cost.
My first question when working with a company is to ask why their customers buy because they never thought about it. It’s understandable. Sometimes you feel that you don’t have time to talk to your customers when you’re head down and trying to grow your company. You've probably worked through your initial contacts in your existing network without thinking about who your target market really is. The problem you're solving, or the people you're solving it for, may not matter to some people, so they'll buy merely based on your reputation.
The key is to understand who your customers are, why they're buying, and most importantly what pain your product/service solves.
How long does it take them to purchase? Certain industries, like IT and financial services, have very defined sales cycles. During certain times of the year, they may not be interested in buying, even if your product is amazing. In addition to what happens before your customers interact with you, what happens before they do so is very important as well. Customers do a lot of research before they interact with a salesperson, whether they buy a product from Amazon or a large B2B purchase. In order to get to those growth areas, you need to understand how you're reaching them and why they're buying.