Having removed external factors that might be impeding your ability to perform as a salesperson, and having measured yourself against top performers in your team and finding yourself bringing in less than 30%-50% of their average results, you should be starting to be concerned. 2009 is going to be a tough year, and if you are not yet working to expectations then next year things are going to be even tougher.
It isn't my intention to do a sales education segment here, but there are indeed some basic things that you need to ask yourself as to why your performance is sub-par, and what you can do about it.
The first thing is to be honest. Is your heart in your work? Are you paying attention to the basics? Are you networking with others so as to gain word-of-mouth introductions? Are you respected and listened to by your customers and colleagues? Customers like to buy from a winner, so are you projecting a winner's image and confidence?
I've worked with many sales staff over the years, since most of my businesses are start-ups and we're often developing the product/service as we go out and sell. Although many of these people were talented and did well, I recall with some frustration those who had trouble getting over the goal line because of fundamental issues holding them back. For several it was a drinking problem, for others an inability to take the job seriously and show up for work on time. Some people had a lack of confidence that led them to bluster during presentations and thus not listen to the customer's feedback, and for some it was a basic lack of understanding of how the technical side of the business worked, so as soon as they opened their mouths the customers knew they didn't know what they were talking about.
I offer my new sales staff, in particular the ones who are struggling, a short "cheat sheet" to sales success. If they stick to the core program, usually they can make themselves more valuable to the company and thus less easy to fire. The program is as follows:
1. Be an Expert. Without being a know-it-all, customers like and respect the quiet confidence of an expert. Therefore, you owe it to yourself to learn as much as you can about your area of business - or even just one part of that business. Several times I have had sales people who learned the technical side of the business so well they could multi-task as a part-time project managers or engineers. Those people were highly successful in selling technology to customers, because the customers believed what they had to say.
2. Follow up. Especially in detail-oriented Japan, if you say you're going to do something, do it. I make all my salespeople take copious written notes during meetings so they don't forget a promise. For some customers note-taking may mean lack of mental acuity, but for most the body language is, "This is important, I’d better write it down."
3. Practice out-of-body sales. If you get stage fright when making presentations, or if you find it difficult to make cold calls or introduce yourself at business events, then try the little mind trick of pretending to be someone else telling yourself what to do. I personally used this technique, of disassociation, and that I was someone else watching myself do the phone calls or event ice-breaking. After a while, I gained the confidence to do it in first-person. Likewise, if you're having trouble feeling motivated to make cold calls, then pretend that you're a manager dealing with the reluctant inner you. You may find yourself becoming your own toughest task master and getting a lot more done as a result. As Intel's Andy Grove once famously said, "Only the paranoid survive."
4. Talk to the level of the other person (per Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs). Sales is not about beating someone over the head and saying "Buy this!" But when you're desperate for sales, that's what you can often wind up doing. Instead, try to have meaningful relationships with your prospective customers, and try to have them like you as a person. This can help you compete where simple price cuts alone cannot (although recently, price also matters). I tell my sales team to listen to what the other person is saying, and talk to them at the same level. If they like baseball, then by all means shoot the breeze about your favorite teams for the first 15 minutes. If they are concerned about technical issues, then talk to them at this level and do research for them.
5. Keep your activity levels up and network effectively. It is much harder for a senior manager to fire someone who is obviously working hard and putting in the hours. Condition yourself to make calls in the mornings and go out to do customer visits in the afternoons. With focus, you should be able to see at least 15-20 new prospects a week. This is the minimum activity level for a successful salesperson, in my opinion – unless of course you have a stable of repeat customers, in which case, you should be out seeing each of those customers at least 1-2 times a week.
6. Report back. Let your boss know what you've been doing. The more they know, the more they feel the excitement of new leads and the more vigorously they will defend you when a senior manager questions your sales track record.