How to sustain your performance as you conquer the sales peak
When a newbie gets their first sales assignment, their naïveté and enthusiasm can often be a critical advantage. If they embrace their new challenge with vim and vigor, the world is theirs to conquer as the volume of work they do often overcomes the skills gap. Down the road, the issue for newbies and seasoned veterans alike is more often than not, how to sustain high performance levels.
I set off on my first career sales opportunity in 1982 in Mississauga, Ontario for a small copier dealer, called Copeco. I had a copier sales trainer that explained the foundation of sales success was built off of a numbers game: if I did 20 cold calls a day (door-to-door) I should do 2 demos a day and if I could do 10 demos a week, it should yield 3 copier sales a week. Simple math 5 days a week, 100 cold calls, 10 demos and 3 sales. Maintaining the math, not so simple.
Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time." - Thomas Edison
The bitter reality is naïveté rarely turns the numbers inside out. 100 cold calls a week and 3 sales is 97% rejection, yikes, what did I sign up for? Do that for months, years… whew… that’s tough. It's a pile of no's between yes's, but do that for months, years… yahoo… that is how one sustains success! The reality is that true sales professionals know that it takes a commitment to balancing your input constantly to achieve your desired level of output. It also takes a high degree of discipline if you want to sustain a high level of performance (add a "D" to the ABC's of Success.)
While at Copeco, I practiced, I honed my skills, increased my activity levels and realized that the cold calling math formula for 20:2 is not necessarily linear. Doing 30 cold calls wouldn’t guarantee a yield of 3 demos, nor would 15 demos get me 4 or 5 sales per week. I tried, I pushed out 30 to 40 cold calls and it overwhelmed me. I fell off my game, burned out, froze up and didn't know what to do next. I became disillusioned and disorganized and realized I needed a system.
"Practice isn't the thing you do once you're good. It's the thing you do that makes you good." Malcolm Gladwell
Back in 1982 there was no CRM that I was aware of. I needed a system to get organized as the number one customer/prospect complaint I heard on the street was that no one ever followed up on their future needs and interests, everything was in the moment. So I took to using index cards, a shoebox and the dividers for the months of the year and 1-31 days of the month. As I went through the streets of Mississauga looking for prospects, I’d make note of those who had pending lease expiries on their current copiers. I’d note personal preferences of those I connected with and file it weeks or months ahead for call back. I built a system, a sales process.
Sure enough, with my shoebox CRM system, I became more efficient than ever, busier than ever too. My sales outstripped the others in the office. My system drove me. I had effective scheduling and follow-up. My system forced me to plan my work and work my plan. My system yielded greater output than I could have imagined as I generated my 20:2 and 30:3 from cold calls, and I generated even more from scheduling follow-up time on the phone daily from the shoebox notes. It was a grind, but it was rewarding and fun!
When you look back over the years, you see a consistent pattern as professionals progress in their roles. The 97% rejection wears on them, so they make fewer prospecting calls, they fail to follow-up and cut corners because they believe their experience overcomes the need to grind it out and do the menial tasks. They become more reliant on their current client list and installed base. They fool themselves into believing that their “experience” replaces the need for maintaining their activity levels and honing their skills.
“Success is never final. Failure is never fatal. It is courage that counts.” - Winston Churchill
You may read this and think, what is he talking about the cold call is dead. For some industries and markets, perhaps that's true. I am not a believer that cold calling is dead as in B2B prospecting is as vital to business growth as food is to our lives. You can't rely on harvesting your existing accounts and inbound leads. You always need new foster the acquisition of new customers and if you aren't prospecting and bringing in new customers you cannot sustain success. With the omni-channel experience, the cold call may take many different forms: face-to-face, telephone, social, email, voicemail and more, the cold call still has relevance.
A successful sales rep must plan their work and work their plan. As the old adage goes, fail to plan and plan on failure. It's vital to hone your skills, schedule your time for prospecting, follow-up, customer meetings, partner meetings, administrative needs, email, social media and being a student of the business. You can't let one supersede the need for another. You need to maintain balance and you cannot cut any corners!
"You just can't beat the person who never gives up." - Babe Ruth
Consider this, how would you feel about your next commercial air flight, or better yet, your next surgical procedure, knowing that your experienced pilot or surgeon was going to cut corners. Taking a shortcut on flight safety or skipping a surgical procedure to get it done faster would no doubt be a recipe for disaster.
Cutting corners in sales, is just slicing income off of your paycheck. The basic things you did that helped you find success are the very activities and processes that will keep you on top of your game. The reality is that we need to set goals for our activity levels- balanced goals. We need to measure ourselves against those goals such that we hold ourselves accountable for meeting or exceeding them, regardless of how successful we might become in the short term. This is vital if you want to sustain a high or higher level of performance over the long run.