Perhaps you're not hitting your revenue predictions or you're having difficulty with cash flow. Secretly, you're concerned that business is slowing. However, these things alone may not be enough to indicate that your organization is not humming along as usual.
After all, other factors could be at play, such as increased expenses or inaccurate forecasting, and it's important to make business decisions based on more than just a feeling.
Symptoms of a Slow Business
So how do you tell if business is slowing down in general or if there's internal tweaks that are affecting the bottom line? The answer: By eliminating variables as you troubleshoot from your bank account backward.
Here are some symptoms of a slow business that may be factors to consider:
This is the big one to check since it's closes to your bank account. Compare your revenue numbers to previous periods: last month to this month, last quarter to this quarter, last year to this year, year-to-date to the corresponding time period the previous year.
This not only helps confirm a known revenue drop but also when the revenue drop occurred. If revenue dipped outside of regular seasonality, or if it dipped more than you expected, you'll be able to find the cause — whether it's business slowing or something else.
On the other hand, if there's no revenue drop, you'll want to look at profitability as a culprit to confirm whether business is slow.
Did you hire new employees, invest in new tools or equipment, or take on additional overhead in some other area?
If not, you'll want to investigate the performance of your more profitable products against the ones that are less impactful to your PNL. It's possible that business is slowing for your "money makers" but staying the same or increasing for other offerings.
If revenue is down, the next step is to figure out why, and that begins by looking at sales.
Check your sales team's closing ratio against other time periods. Has the percentage of closed deals increased or decreased?
A decrease may indicate an issue with sales or marketing performance rather than a slow-down of business. However, if the closing ratios are healthy, you may simply have fewer deals in the pipeline — which is a potential symptom of slow business.
Before you make this conclusion, you'll have to ensure your team's sales activity matches or exceeds that of previous time periods. If they are not prospecting or calling as much, this can also dry up the pipeline.
Now the question becomes whether traffic is enough to sustain your sales pipeline.
Measuring foot traffic in brick-and-mortar establishments is a little harder, particularly if you don't have previous benchmarks.
Business Trends Are Negative
Another symptom to consider is the broader scope of your market:
Is it being disrupted by innovations in technology or your competition?
Is general interest in your offerings declining?
Is there a wider economic downturn or crisis affecting consumer attitudes?
These are wide-spanning variables that can be hard to quantify, but you can start with Google Trends to gain some insights.
In Some Cases, It's Okay If Business Is Slow
Mark Zuckerberg once said, "Move fast and break things. Unless you're breaking stuff, you're not moving fast enough."
However, that tendency in startups can lead to burned-out sales reps and a business ill-prepared to scale.
That's why the goal shouldn't be to grow fast but to grow better. So when you experience slow business, remember that slow and steady wins the race.
How can you grow better and experience deliberate growth?
Below, you'll learn why slow business can be a good thing and what to do when business is slow to grow better.
Why is Business Slow Right Now?
Your sales department can be experiencing slow business for a variety of reasons. Here are some examples of factors that can affect business:
Just as some businesses explode from Thanksgiving to New Year's as consumers purchase gifts and other holiday items, other businesses slow down, particularly in the B2B space as offices empty out. Holidays can have great effect on whether business is slow, so it's important to measure business performance during these times vs. similar time periods rather than linearly. It's comparing apples to oranges if you compare the holiday season against your more busier seasons.
The holiday season is one example of seasonality, though not all seasonality has to do with holidays. Some industries such as pool servicing or HVAC tend to do better in summer months while others (retail) has their busy season during the holidays. For this reason, it's not congruent to compare your slow season to your busier season, so make sure to measure business performance accordingly.
Peoples' spending habits can change based on weather patterns, as well. When I worked marketing for a roofing company in a dry climate, there would always be a spike in business if it rained since rain would expose leaks and other roof problems. During dry spells, repairing or replacing a roof didn't seem to be as top of mind for other folks. This can apply to a number of industries.
The economy and current events is probably the biggest factor on this list for affecting business. In economic downturns, consumers attitudes change. Those who lose jobs have less money to spend, and even those who retain work may change their consumer behavior as their positions seem less secure. The average buyer may make less luxury purchases and try to extend their dollars the best they can.
Consumer trends change based on generational attitudes, economic prosperity, current events and more. Consumer trends may affect a single product or a whole industry. For example, there was still home buying hesitation for nearly a decade after the housing bubble burst in 2008.
Legal or Legislative Changes
Legal or legislative changes can force a business to shut down, change its entire operational model, or adjust the type or velocity of marketing that it does. For example, cigarette ads were banned in 1970, and these advertising restrictions had a big impact on their bottom line.
With the advent of the internet and recent innovations in technology, there are many industries that can easily be disrupted with emerging (and perhaps more efficient or convenient) competition entering the market. Just as Uber disrupted the taxi cab industry, other industries can slow due to disruption or competitor innovation.
Some of these factors can be weathered through, and some require more inventive solutions. If you can predict the periods of slow business, you can prepare accordingly. However, even if you can't predict when you'll experience slow business, you can use the list below to help scale your sales process.
What To Do When Business Is Slow
Analyze your CRM.
Gather new leads.
Refine systems and processes.
Strategize for the future.
Work on professional development.
Perform a competitive analysis.
Brainstorm new products or services.
Conduct customer interviews.
Automate your sales process.
Practice sales strategies.
Collaborate with other sales reps.
There are times when business is slow for a sales department. Every rep experiences ebbs and flows in their pipeline. However, slow business can be a good thing for your staff. When you're experiencing slow business, it can free up your time to address weaknesses and focus on prospecting and connecting with potential leads. Here are several ways to innovate your strategy when business is slow:
1. Analyze your CRM.
During periods of slow business, you can analyze the contacts in your CRM and examine the performance of your sales team.
For example, your sales reps can ensure their contact details are completely filled out. Do they have the company size, location, and vertical of all their prospects or clients? These details are important for closing deals.
As a sales manager, you can use data in your CRM to see how your team is performing. How long is the typical sales cycle for your reps? How often do they close-win deals versus close-lose?
To help you monitor your team's performance, you can create a dashboard and keep track of metrics including:
Activity Sales Metrics
Pipeline Sales Metrics
Lead Generation Sales Metrics
Sales Outreach Metrics
Primary Conversion Sales Metrics
Channel Sales Metrics
Sales Productivity Metrics
Rep Hiring and Onboarding Metrics
Sales Process, Tool, and Training Adoption Metrics
These analytics will enable you to make decisions for your team. You can use CRMs like HubSpot's Sales Hub to create reports and dashboards for your team's performance.
2. Gather new leads.
As a sales manager, you'll want to work with your marketing team to generate leads. The sales and marketing teams should work together to make sure you are top of mind with your audience.
Caroline Forsey, a staff writer for the HubSpot Marketing Blog, says "Your marketing and sales teams need to be in tight alignment because your buyer needs to be communicated with, and sold to, wherever and whenever she wants. To truly delight your customers, it's critical you reduce friction by implementing a strategy to align your sales and marketing teams."
Other than working with your marketing team to document gaps in the buyer's journey and create a buyer persona together, your sales reps can work on their prospecting skills. While prospecting most likely isn't a sales rep's favorite task, it is one of the most important. Your reps can send warm emails, use social media to build a relationship with prospects, and conduct research on potential buyers.
3. Refine systems and processes.
To sell successfully, your sales team should have a refined system and process in place. How does your sales team keep track of their prospects? How do they monitor the deals in their pipeline?
During slow periods, you can take a step back and analyze your sales systems and processes. According to Cambria Davies, product manager at HubSpot, she says "consider what is and isn't working for your reps and prospects to tailor your new process to better fit their needs, so more deals are closed and more customers are delighted."
You can analyze your sales process by observing your reps. Ask yourself questions like, "What do their deals look like from beginning to end?" or "How much time elapsed between each step?" Once you've looked at the process, consider what moves prospects from one stage to the next. With a complete understanding of your sales system, you can analyze what's working and what isn't.
4. Strategize for the future.
To prepare for the future, you need to create a sales plan. If you don't already have one, your sales plan should lay out specific sales strategies for your team including objectives, tactics, target audience, and potential obstacles.
For instance, you might consider sales methods your team can use to close more deals. How will your team qualify leads? How does your product compare with competitors? Answer these questions and develop sales tactics and team structure that will set your sales team up for success.
When business is slow, it's a good time to take a look at your sales strategies in order to plan deliberate growth.
5. Avoid burnout.
According to a recent Gallup study of nearly 7,500 full-time employees, 23% of employees reported feeling burned out at work very often or always, and an additional 44% reported feeling burned out sometimes. When employees feel burnout, not only is their performance impacted, but it could affect your workplace culture as well.
Make sure that you're checking in with your employees to ensure reps aren't suffering from burnout. When business is slow, reassess how happy your sales reps are — are they talking with their mentors, do they have the right tools for success, do they have smaller goals, and are they motivated?
If you find that some sales reps are experiencing burnout, work with them to fix the issue. You can create a performance plan, encourage them to take a day off, or offer more training. Being proactive, especially during slow periods of business, will set your sales team up for success.
6. Work on professional development.
When your sales reps have time, it's important to work on professional development. During slow periods of business, have your reps:
Professional development will help your reps grow, develop, and be more active, engaged, and productive in their roles. This can set your team up for long-term success and happiness and increased revenue.
7. Perform a competitive analysis.
When business is slow, you can perform a sales competitive analysis so your salespeople can better position your product during their sales calls. A sales competitive analysis helps your reps learn how your product compares to competitors. A competitive analysis can:
Identify gaps in the market: Look at what products or services competitors offer. Ask yourself questions like, "Are there gaps in their offerings?" and "Do we offer a product or service to fill that need?" These gaps can help your sales team position your product.
Uncover market trends: If you find that a competitor has an offering that you don't, think about why. Is a new trend emerging in your industry? If so, you might want to consider how new trends will fit in your offerings and/or disrupt your sales process.
Sell more effectively: Get a look at how competitors are selling their products or services. Learn about their sales process and use it to inform your own process.
To conduct a competitive analysis, you can answer questions about your competitors like:
What does their sales process look like?
What channels are they selling through?
Why do customers choose not to buy from them?
What is their revenue?
What do their programs or products look like? Do they work with partners?
During periods of slow business, understanding how your product compares to competitors can help you strategize for future success and growth.
8. Brainstorm new products or services.
Sales reps have the best pulse on what's happening with customers. In their conversations, they organically uncover gaps in your services and offerings. During periods of slow business, utilize your sales reps and ask them to brainstorm ideas for your product team. What products or services are missing from your offerings? How can your product team improve your existing products?
By brainstorming with your sales reps, you'll learn more about your customers and how to sell to them. Also, this can help your sales team grow better.
9. Conduct customer interviews.
During periods of slow business, spend time learning about your customers. Conduct customer interviews and re-engage with your audience. This can do two things: help your sales rep understand your buyer persona and help you collect customer stories.
Collecting customer stories is also helpful for creating case studies and testimonials for your sales reps. Your reps can use these stories to earn trust with their prospects and validate your product or service.
To conduct customer interviews, you'll need to reach out to customers first. Find customers who have found success with your product and send them a quick email introducing the idea. If they're open to the idea, you'll need to write interview questions, conduct interviews, and gather their stories in a digestible, distributable format.
Interview questions could include something like, "What were the major pain points of your process prior to using our product?", "How does our product help your team achieve its objectives?" or "How are our companies aligned (mission, strategy, culture, etc.)?"
10. Automate your sales process.
Do your sales reps have enough of their sales process automated? If not, periods of slow business give your reps the opportunity to generate templates and snippets that can save them time during busy periods.
Aja Frost, a HubSpot Sales Blog contributor, says a few processes in your sales cycle that can be automated include:
Adding opportunities or leads to your CRM
A long sales cycle
Working on cold leads that aren't likely to convert
Within your CRM, you should be able to easily automate the rep outreach process, follow-up emails, log prospect activities, organize and track your prospects, and save time on your sales cycle. During periods of slow business, use this time to automate parts of your sales process.
11. Set goals.
Sales reps typically operate on a monthly quota or sales goal. However, these aren't the only goals they should have. During periods of slow business, develop other goals including:
Mentor goals: Meet with a mentor once a week
Activity goals: Asking more "Why?" questions
Win rate goals: Closing a certain amount of deals
Incentivized goals: Implementing bonuses
You can even plan promotions to help your sales team reach their goals. Developing smaller goals, such as a number of phone calls reps should have with a prospect or sending more prospecting emails each week, sets your team up for success. Take the time during slow business periods to develop these goals for your reps.
12. Practice sales strategies.
A simplified version of the stages of a sales cycle includes prospecting, connecting, researching, presenting, and closing.
During slow business, have your sales reps practice their techniques for these stages.
Reps can practice prospecting by using different techniques including social media, warm emails, or personalization through research.
They can also connect by asking more "Why?" questions during the exploratory call. Why questions include, "Why is this problem a priority today?" or "Why haven't you addressed this problem before?" Why questions will give your reps context and see if this prospect is a good fit.
Salespeople can brush up their research skills by using different platforms for their research including LinkedIn, social media, or even press releases. Researching press releases will give your sales reps insight into what is happening in the company and can provide topics of conversation during a rapport-building conversation.
And they can practice presenting by trying out roleplay or public speaking. If your company doesn't provide opportunities for this, connect with colleagues on your own to set something up.
Lastly, reps can practice closing techniques by attempting various ways to close deals including soft closes, assumptive closes, or sharp angle closes. Each deal will require a different closing technique. A soft close is when you lay out the benefits, without making a demand or sudden request to close the deal right away. An assumptive close is when you ask questions like, "Does our product meet your needs?" or "Does this sound like it would solve [pain point]?" Finally, a sharp angle close is when you change direction and catch your prospect by surprise by trying to close the deal.
13. Collaborate with other sales reps.
Collaborating with your team is one of the best ways to grow better. During periods of slow business, you have the time to truly collaborate with your sales reps. Set up film reviews, where reps can provide and receive constructive feedback. Set up a mentorship program between new sales reps and experienced reps. These collaborative opportunities will ultimately help your sales team increase revenue, while also implementing productive work to develop in their roles.
Slow business can actually be a good thing for your sales team. You can use this time to grow better and strategize ways to increase your revenue in the future by creating a sales plan.
Originally published Jun 18, 2020 2:30:00 PM, updated June 15 2021