Momentum in sales and sports is a strange phenomenon. Most ‘players’ don’t realize it exists until it slows, stutters and grinds to a halt. Then everyone gets excited, but they don’t seem to recognize momentum has a life of its own. They don’t appreciate that there are things that both enhance momentum and kill it. In this article we’re going to discuss momentum killers for salespeople and organizations.
In sports, all sorts of issues are blamed when teams suddenly stop winning. Winning pitchers who can’t throw a strike or super basketball players who can’t shoot are common when they lose their mojo (another word for momentum). For salespeople and sales managers, few understand the Prime Directive of Sales Management: Enhance Sales Momentum (Never Interrupt It).
Sales momentum isn’t about sales skills. It’s measured as a product of its mass and velocity of your sales efforts. The greater the velocity, the more likely your momentum will continue, unless the sales effort runs into major obstacles. The obstacles can be external to the company or most likely a result of interior decisions and mistakes.
Why it Matters:
“Sales momentum isn’t about sales skills. It’s the mass and velocity of your sales efforts. The greater the velocity, the more likely your momentum will continue, unless the sales effort runs into major obstacles.”
Obviously, you can see I have a liberal arts degree and did not take physics in college. I have however, managed many sales organizations. In each, I was acutely aware of the effects that a lack of sales momentum has on an organization. In fact, as I approached each assignment I first quietly looked for symptoms that would kill sales momentum.
Let’s assume your organization’s sales have recently slowed and everyone is pointing fingers at everyone else. Salespeople only know that forecasted deals have been delayed, customers aren’t returning calls, and new prospects are slow in coming, or at least it appears that way. But then, someone outside the organization asks questions about things that could have had an influence on the organization’s forward momentum a few months before the slump. For instance:
- Leadership Changes. Changes in direct senior management (mainly the president and/or the sales manager) often lead to momentum killers. These changes are often unwelcome and may cause a disruption and slowing as salespeople determine the consequences of change. In some instances, the change may be welcome, and momentum may increase. This usually produces a temporary blip in sales as the changes are digested. If coupled with some of the following items, however, it can be serious.
- Compensation Adjustments. Changes in compensation, especially done mid-year, often lead to disruption. Salespeople immediately assume management is “screwing with my comp,” and assume it’s not to their advantage. Doors slam, calculators hum, cursing is heard and recruiters are called. If you must make changes, do it at the start of the year when there may be off-setting positive things to discuss.
- Quota Changes. This is a fact of life for salespeople, and as they become more experienced, they can expect a change in quotas from year to year. But, the changes need to be realistic. New quotas are immediately factored into forecasts, but the numbers may take 3-6 months to materialize, if at all. Irresponsibly changing quotas can dramatically disturb the “mass” effort of your salespeople.
- Territory Adjustments. Salespeople expect there may be territory adjustments at the beginning of a year. Yet, when done across the board in many territories, especially mid-year, you can expect a major hiccup in sales momentum as salespeople judge the consequences, adjust their schedules, meet new accounts and prospects, etc. There are several types of territory changes:
- Changes at mid-year, taking on part of a neighboring area, are difficult to implement. It can be a temporary time suck for the entire territory, disrupting sales for 3-6 months.
- Complete changes of territory (territory swapping) can create a 6-12-month ramp-up with no guarantee of success. An example is transferring one rep to fill another open or new territory. Expect a downturn.
- A reduction in territory size can also lead to a disruption, especially if coupled with increasing quota requirements. See item 5. This is more of a mental issue requiring salespeople to focus on all the opportunities in their area and not just the low-hanging fruit.
- Product Additions, Without Product Deletions. It isn’t unusual for management to come up with a new product, add a quota for that product (which adds sales time), but then fail to adjust other product quotas. You’ve probably heard management say, “Hey they’re in the account anyway, why not add something else for them to talk about and sell?” It seldom works that way. Adding a new product takes time away from another product. If you’re lucky, you’re trading dollars, but not usually without a slowdown in revenue and momentum. This slowdown shows up in 60 days as some sales drop in older existing products, while new product sales have yet to rise.
- Sales Lead Brownout. A sales lead brown out (a substantial reduction in sales leads) is usually a result of a reduction in marketing spending on lead generation. A brown out effects the velocity of your sales efforts. The reduced velocity starts to show up within three months of the “brownout,” as salespeople scramble to find new prospects without the help of marketing. Even when lead flow is repaired, it takes 6-9 months for this error to be fixed and sales to resume on a predictable ramp.
- Industry Competition, Changes and Regulations.
- Changes in technology can slow the sale of current and now newly-obsolete products.
- Government regulations and laws can disrupt sales—think sequestration budgets for the U.S. federal budget in 2013 (still an issue for many), and the new email GDPR in the European Union in May of 2018.
- New competitive products, either from new competitors or with new and better technology from existing competitors, can disrupt momentum. This usually has a long-term effect.
These are a few of the momentum killers for any company. May I suggest that before you make substantial changes in company operations, you consider the momentum consequences for your sales organization. If sales are down, look back a few months and you’ll probably see what triggered the problem.
The Prime Directive of Sales Management: Enhance Sales Momentum, Never Interrupt It. Nothing else matters for a successful company.