Trying to figure out how to grow sales is top of mind for most business owners and CEOs, but if you’ve been struggling with flat or downward sales for any extended period of time, it’s likely these thoughts consume your every waking hour.
A client of mine had been dealing with this exact issue. His sales were declining and he was taking money out of his personal savings to fund ongoing operations.
Never a fun place to be.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, I know you’re in a tough spot. The important thing to remember is you CAN move past this hurdle. You just need to figure out exactly what’s going on and why so you can choose the most effective strategy to get your company moving again. And the time to do it is now!
Start by asking the right questions
I always tell people that great results and informed decisions come from asking the right questions. If you have a competent management team (and you should), then put all of that brain power to use – and remember to be open to new ideas and different perspectives. You’ll need all the insights you can get to turn around a flat or lagging sales problem.
Consider the following and how each are affecting your sales growth:
- Your business model – Is it still viable?
- Current positioning – Quality, service and price
- Operations – Lead times, wasted efforts
- Personnel – Have you deferred hiring the right people?
- Cost structure – Are your products providing benefits not valued by your customers?
- Sales & Marketing efforts – Are you replicating your sales successes and eliminating the dogs?
- Customer service – Is your service set up for your company to be efficient or to really help your customer? For example, what’s your ratio of customers to customer service reps?
- Distribution and delivery services
Even your billing practices should be looked at – basically anything that touches your customer or affects the perception of value in the eyes of your customers.
Next, dig even deeper:
- Any recent changes to product or service offerings, vendors or strategic partners?
- Have customer needs or expectations changed?
- Does your current management team have the skills necessary to manage growth?
- What’s going on in your industry at large and what are your competitors doing?
- Has a competitor grown while your company has leveled out? Why?
Don’t be satisfied with superficial answers!
It’s not good enough to say your salespeople are getting pushback or your pricing is too high.
Keep drilling down to root causes:
- What are the real issues?
- Is there an elephant in the room no one wants to talk about?
- Do you have quality problems?
- What about your lead times?
- How does your customer satisfaction rate compare to your competitors?
- How are you adapting to changing conditions and new realities in the marketplace?
Thoughtful answers to these questions don’t come easily. Even more difficult, it’s unlikely that you or your team have the time to address these issues during routine staff meetings.
Keep in mind, unless you drill down to the real reasons for your current situation, you’re in danger of coming up with ineffective strategies that will only partially solve your problem.
In other words, you’ll soon find yourself in the same situation, frustrated once again, and still not achieving the sustainable growth you’re looking for.
After discussing these issues, my client decided the best answer for him was to hold an offsite planning meeting where we could go through a structured and methodical process to really uncover the issues that were keeping his company from sales and profit growth.
So how did my client do?
The results he and his team achieved this past year are nothing short of astonishing:
2015 was a record year for his company, surpassing his next highest year by 800%. And his profit growth? Up almost 10X!
His story exemplifies the potential of the strategic planning process – even if you’ve been struggling or going in the wrong direction. And it doesn’t matter if your company is 10 years old or if you’re leading a family business that’s been around for 50 years.
When planning is done correctly, you dramatically increase your chances of successfully reaching whatever your goals are for your business – growth, innovation, social impact, whatever.
This happens because:
- You complete a thorough analysis of your business: your customers, positioning, current challenges, opportunities, etc.
- You work with your team to formalize your decision-making process.
- You’re forced to consider all of the cascading projects and tasks that arise from a particular goal or strategy.
- You align efforts to goals throughout your entire organization.
A number of factors need to come together in order for you to get better results growing sales and profits, and it’s a never ending challenge. But it all starts with asking the right questions.