A reader asked:
- What is the first thing you would do to turn sales around in the shortest possible time?
Prince William tries blindfold archery at new centre, Feb 2010
The first thing anyone has to do is to define their problem. Disappointing sales are never the problem; they are the symptom of a problem. Without realizing it, we in the North America tend to get confused around the term “problem.” That is because we do not have a tradition of defining our terms. In marketing and sales, most businesses engage in a form of blind archery. Unwittingly, they shoot solutions at problems they have not defined. That’s why nothing improves, and it feels like you are in a rat race.
What, exactly, is happening in your situation? Can you express it through observable, measurable data and evidence? Are sales going down from previous levels? If so, what has changed? Are they not rising fast enough? What made you think they would go up in the first place? There are tons of questions to ask, and they are all about defining what you know about the current state. That is how of find clues to potential causes.
Defining the problem differentiates process excellence from traditional management approaches in marketing and sales. You should never try to solve a problem you have not defined. Traditional sales and marketing tries things that sound good. This compounds the problems and makes it difficult to see what is going on. That’s why sales training doesn’t work, CRM systems don’t improve results, lead generation programs don’t increase sales, and on and on and on.
Solving a problem begins with data and evidence, and proceeds in a systematic way from there. It uses the data to identify potential causes for the situation, and it seeks to find the root cause of a problem. When you confirm root causes with data, it tends to point to potential countermeasures. Countermeasures can then be tested. This is a scientific approach, and any other approach depends on blind luck. You either know what you are doing, because you can use evidence to trace the symptoms to root causes, or you don’t.
The traditional approach is more “instinct” oriented. Often, executives commit enormous time and money based on gut reactions and “instincts.” Have you worked for years on “opportunity management,” “lead generation,” or “selling solutions”? Have the problems gone away? Then it is a safe bet you have not defined the problem. You only think you know what needs to change. You might not be able to know if improvement happens. B2B companies whistle away millions doing this daily.
If you want to learn more, consider these articles:
Those should give you a good start. I look forward to learning how things go.