A reader wants to know: What would be your first recommendation to a company whose sales are decreasing?
When sales go down, all kinds of hell breaks loose, and all kinds of fingers get pointed. All kinds of blame gets issued, and all kinds of panic sets in. Most people blame it on the economy when, in fact, the economy has little or nothing to do with it.
It’s interesting for me to note that at the point sales go down, more companies are interested in maintaining their “numbers” than they are in maintaining their relationships.
My first recommendation would be to call your existing customers and find out why. But the fact is this is almost NEVER done. When sales are decreasing, there’s a reason. And unless you find out the reason — from the people buying from you — you’re not likely to fix it.
Here are some strategic areas to look at:
1. The quality of your product is declining, especially as relates to the pricing of your product. The easiest place to detect this is reorders. If your customers have slowed their reorders, it may mean your quality or your technology is lagging behind.
2. Your competition is undercutting you and trying to steal some of your customers. This is a bigger problem if your customer perceives little or no differentiation between your products and your competition’s products.
3. Your salespeople are being outsold. The quality of your presentation does not beat the quality of your competition’s presentation.
When sales are declining, one of the first areas “cut” is training. This is the one area that should be expanded. If salespeople are losing because they’re not strong enough either in the market or against their competition — this can only be remedied by enhancing their skill and deepening their belief system.
4. Your sales tool technology has not kept up with the world. Here’s a good rule of thumb to follow: every time you see a new model announced in the technology world (new phone, new computer, new iPod) immediately take a look at your own. Especially as it compares to your competition.
5. Your hours of operation are not in sync with your customer’s needs for your product. Call your business after hours and try to place an order for your product or your service. Or try to talk to someone in your company. See how easy or difficult it is. Then, try to do the same thing with your competition. Customers tend to do business where it is easiest to do business. Visit your competition’s Web site. Now take a look at your own Web site. Tell me which one you would prefer to buy from. Tell me which one is easiest to navigate.
6. It’s not as easy to do business with you as it used to be, as it could be, and as it should be. If you’re losing business to the Internet, it’s because someone else has made it easier to acquire the product or services that you’re selling. If you’re moaning about it you’re going to die. If you invest in it you keep up or even get ahead.
7. You are not available enough, or not responsive enough, to your customers. What I am saying here is you’re being out hustled. This usually happens to people who have “been in the business for 20 years.” They’re the same people that can’t turn on a computer, or complain that they continue to lose a sale for price. They’re also the ones that complain that their product has become a commodity.
7.5 Your market may be in decline and even though there’s business for you to get, there’s just not much of it. Take a look at the history of sales in your marketplace. Since last year, has your market expanded, stayed the same, or declined?
If there’s a downturn that may be one indicator why your sales are falling, but not THE indicator. If there’s less business in the market, it means you have to fight harder to keep your share.
If you’re looking for a place to start, start by stopping. Stop blaming. Stop whining. Stop looking for excuses. Stop cutting. And for heaven’s sake, don’t panic. Stop spending your time and wasting your time, and start investing your time in strategic planning with simultaneous implementation. Intensify training and have daily meetings that encourage rather than threaten.
Call your customers, they have the answers. Once you have assembled as many answers as you can, take action. Continue to get customer feedback until you begin to see the trend reversing. When it does, throw a huge thank you party for your customers to reward them for rewarding you.
GitBit: Wanna know what to ask your customers? Go to www.gitomer.com, register if you’re a first time user, and enter the words POWER QUESTIONS in the GitBit box.
Jeffrey Gitomer, author of “The Sales Bible,” and “Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless,” is president of Charlotte-based Buy Gitomer. He gives seminars, runs annual sales meetings and conducts training programs on selling and customer service. He can be reached at (704) 333-1112 or e-mail