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Staying Positive During Sales Slumps

FROM BULLETPROOF SELLING:

Sales slumps are a tough part of the sales industry, and no matter how good we are, how many great scripts we have, there will be times when results aren’t appearing as fast as we’d prefer. Salespeople who hope things turn around will keep plodding along, hoping the phone starts ringing or the email inquiries come in. 
 
Bulletproof salespeople, on the other hand, take action when their existing processes and systems aren’t working as effectively as they did in the past. Our world is constantly changing and that means the world of our prospects are changing. If we’re using what worked last month, last year or last decade, we’re operating with an outdated model of selling no matter how well the processes used to work. 
To take an honest look at what’s working and what’s not, we need to use the same process the highest-performing teams use to constantly examine and improve their processes and systems. 
From Chapter 18:
Lessons Learned System
Trigger: Conducted at each weekly sales meeting, new lessons are entered by sales leaders or salespeople as needed.
Bulletproof Impact: A Lessons Learned program is the engine that fuels innovation and continuous improvement across all pipeline movement, campaigns, outreach cadence, call scripts, sales meetings, negotiations, delivery, service, and referral generation. It’s an online database where challenges and discoveries can be recorded and replicated across any size team so that every salesperson can benefit from what other salespeople learn. Lessons Learned are a way to measurably scale performance improvement across a sales team, regardless of experience, competition, or economic conditions. Ultimately, it ensures no sale is lost for the same reason twice.
While it is possible to invest thousands of dollars into a continuous improvement database, it is also possible to do it for free. My own company – along with many of our clients – has been making use of Google Sheets for almost a decade for this purpose. As you prepare to stand up your own Lessons Learned program for your sales team and incorporate it into your weekly sales huddles, ensure your database meets the following criteria:
Shareable Between Team Members
It is imperative that your Lessons Learned database is accessible for each member of your team, and that means it needs to live online. Salespeople need to be able to access the database from home, on the road, in a prospect’s lobby, and of course at the home office.
Sortable and Searchable
The Lessons Learned program makes use of pre-defined columns, which allows for ease of input and means that terms can be searched and quickly found by salespeople in the future.
Regularly Revisited
In our clients’ companies, the Lessons Learned program is an active part of sales huddles and thus becomes an active part of the lives of salespeople. Not merely a record of what was discussed at a previous sales huddle, a Lessons Learned database also serves as a living record of what salespeople are learning as they adapt and pivot in the ever-changing environment of sales. Standing up a Lessons Learned database for any size team can be done in as little as two minutes and only requires an internet connection, but having a Lessons Learned program languish from misuse can occur in seconds. For this reason, it’s imperative that sales managers use it themselves and hold their people accountable for entering data and meeting its accountabilities.
Because Lessons Learned may be a foreign concept, let’s walk through a Lessons Learned example so you’ll understand how the system works. Then we’ll apply it to taking lessons our salespeople bring back from prospecting, outreach and sales meetings for the benefit of the entire company.
First, State the Situation
(As stated by the salesperson)
Bob, a new salesperson, worked for weeks to schedule a meeting with the executive director of the Widget Manufacturers. Forty minutes into the presentation, Bob discovered that the person he was meeting with would need to consult their CFO and board of directors before investing in Bob’s service line. Bob left the meeting with the promise of a follow-up meeting when all parties could be gathered.
Second, What Was the Lesson Learned?
We need to ensure we ask in our discovery calls if the person we’re speaking to will need to involve anyone else in the decision-making process. We also need to ensure those additional parties are available to be at the sales meeting before we invest time and money in sending salespeople to a prospect’s site.
Third, Who’s Responsible for Making the Change?
(What single person in the sales organization is owning the system creation or update that results from what we learned here?)
Charles, the sales manager
Fourth, When Will This Change Take Effect?
(As agreed to by the person owning the change)
October 1, 2021
Fifth, What’s Changing?
To justify a meeting with a prospect, especially on-site, salespeople must confirm in account notes that they have asked about the decision-making process to ensure all required parties are present at scheduled sales meetings.
The above scenario may seem like a simple problem that every salesperson encounters at some point in their careers. As a result, many sales leaders treat this as a lesson that each salesperson must learn on their own and hopefully remember. What this tells us is that salespeople are having to re-learn the same lessons their predecessors figured out through delayed or lost sales. The result of this is an untold amount of lost revenue.
I understand that if I’m asking business leaders to pull their team out of the field once a week and away from prospect-facing activity to stop forcing salespeople to learn lessons the hard way, I’d better be able to justify it with potential sales and performance growth. I’d been using Lessons Learned in my own company for more than half a decade and seen the results it generated in recaptured time and revenue but needed to express it in a way other sales leader could understand as well.
To make this math simple, let’s assume every lesson our team brings back that we implement across our pipeline, campaigns, templates, and/or sales conversations gets them 1% better and you or your salespeople capture 5 lessons, challenges, or ways to improve your sales systems this week. Those 5 lessons create improvements in how you sell that are shared and implemented across your sales team. That represents a 5% improvement in performance across all the salespeople you manage or in your own sales, beginning this week.
Next week, 5 more lessons are captured, and their changes are implemented across your team’s systems. Instead of being just 5% better than when you started, in two weeks you’re now 10% better (two weeks of a 5% weekly improvement). As you and your team increase performance each week in measurable, trackable ways with your Lessons Learned program, you not only reap the rewards of this week’s improvements, but also the gains of previous weeks’ lessons.
A few things are worth noting about the impact of a sustained Lessons Learned program in a sales team. First, improvement is consistent. Each week, problems are addressed, solutions presented, and folks held accountable for implementing changes. This sets a tone on any sales team that everyone’s improvement is important. Winston Churchill, a man responsible for selling ideas to an entire nation, is famous for saying, “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another without loss of enthusiasm.” Knowing that failures are welcome and that tools will be provided for improvement allows salespeople to remain enthusiastic even when their next sales meeting doesn’t generate a sale. Using lost sales as Lesson Learned means it can generate a way to improve their chances with the next prospect.
Second, these improvements go beyond the salespeople that discover them. They’re built into campaigns, scripts, systems, and onboarding training for the entire sales department, no matter how geographically separated they may be.
Third, it closes the loop on recurring sales challenges. If someone on the team struggles with an issue solved by a Lesson Learned update again, sales managers will have a clear path for retraining.
Fourth, the compounding effect of a 5% improvement each week really kicks in during the final quarter of the year – more than 1/3 of performance gains occur there. While you’ll experience freed-up time and increased performance in the first 6 months of rolling out a Lessons Learned program, the second six months will speed you ahead of competition. With major and recurring challenges knocked out, Q4 will be almost entirely dedicated to innovating while competitors will still be putting out fires on their team that you extinguished months ago.
The Lessons Learned program is the engine of a Bulletproof team, whether on the battlefield or in sales, because it is a living document that handles systemic issues that prevent most teams from having the bandwidth to innovate. It’s the formula for weaning a team from relying on hope as their strategy.
Because Lessons Learned can generate changes to email templates, call scripts, briefing templates, debriefing checklists, or administrative processes, they’re easily updated for every salesperson using a shared CRM. While it should be the business of every salesperson to keep themselves up to date on what’s working and what isn’t in their industry, the Lessons Learned program feeds them the situations they and other members of their team encountered, what was learned from an encounter or exchange, and what the system-wide update will be to ensure success is replicated or a mistake is avoided.
A side benefit of a robust Lessons Learned program is that it provides a way sales managers can standardize performance across an entire sales team by not just tracking compliance with new systems, but giving your team systems they can comply with.
Keep in mind that your Lessons Learned program isn’t just a complaint-fest of sales meetings that didn’t generate sales. These are ‘lessons,’ not ‘post-mortems.’ A post-mortem, by definition, is an examination of something that has died. While your Lessons Learned database will be able to capture situations that resulted in lost sales and prevent them from being lost for the same reason in the future, it is also a place for your salespeople to bring their ‘lucky breaks’ – the innovations that occur during almost every sale. These are times when the salesperson used their intelligence and professional experience to try something that worked in their favor.
As we dive into systemizing this for your team, let’s review the basic layout of the Lessons Learned template as we did with our weekly sales huddle agenda. Next, we’ll dive into each section so sales managers understand the meaning of each field and how to enter information.
Once we review each portion of the Lesson Learned flow, we’ll walk through an example gathered from a sales meeting debrief and use it to create lasting and permanent change for that sales team. Then we’ll go over how to systemize it to update outreach methods, improve conversations, and close more sales.
Systemizing Success with Lessons Learned
This is the format of a Lesson Learned, and the same column headers can be found on our online database, as well as that of our clients’:
Situation:
What did we learn?
Who’s responsible for the update?
When will the update be made?
What’s the change we’re making?
 
Column 1: Situation
The situation section comes first because it is often all the information a salesperson knows when they’re entering information. This is the ‘from the front line’ report they’ve gathered from sales meetings, initial conversations with prospects, or even administrative issues. If you set a minimum number of lessons for each of your salespeople to bring to sales huddle meetings each week, the ‘situation’ could be as simple as a software problem they struggled to resolve or something that happened with a particular account. Whatever the situation is, this section needs to be clear enough so that if another salesperson or sales manager has nothing to go off of except what’s entered in that one field, they’ll have a clear idea of what happened, who it happened to, what account it affected, and when the event occurred and was entered.
The biggest challenge with capturing a complete situation for the first entry in a new Lesson Learned is that salespeople and sales managers usually don’t enter enough data. With incomplete data, incomplete improvements inevitably result. Here are the basic areas we suggest clients enter in the ‘situation’ field to ensure everyone has a clear understanding of the lesson, and anyone revisiting the lesson can understand it:
1.     Date of entry
2.     Prospect account name (if a prospect account was involved)
3.     Salesperson involved
4.     Date of the situation
5.     What happened
As an example, Jim Cooper, one of your salespeople, brings forward an item captured on his sales meeting debrief checklist that states he didn’t ask a prospect about other divisions in their company that could also purchase your product or service. Out of that would come the following entry in the ‘Situation’ field of your Lessons Learned capture:
Entry: 9/24/2021. Widget Manufacturer’s Account, Bob Smith, CEO. Salesperson: Jim Cooper. On 9/20/2021, Jim conducted a sales call via phone, qualified Bob as a buyer, and issued a proposal for one of their divisions. Jim realized after the call that he forgot to ask about any other divisions in Bob’s company that could use our service so only priced the proposal for one division. Bob’s company definitely meets the size and revenue requirements for follow-on business.
A general rule of thumb in determining how much detail to include in this field is: “If all I had to go off of was what appeared in the ‘situation’ section, do I have enough information to present a solution that could close the loop on this problem for all my salespeople?”
Column 2: What did we learn?
Basically, this column’s entry is the answer to the question:
“If we had to do it over again, what would we do differently with this and all future accounts we encounter this problem in?”
In the case of our example scenario, the entry in this column may look like:
When speaking with a decision maker who manages multiple divisions, we need to ask about additional opportunities before we end a sales meeting or issue a proposal.
Column 3: Who’s responsible for making the change?
One of the most important aspects to Lessons Learned entries is they are all assigned a ‘Single Point of Accountability’ or SPA. Some organizations capture their problems but fewer than 1% go so far as to assign accountability for each problem to single individuals.
In the case of our scenario, this column’s entry could be as simple as:
Sally Ross, Training Manager
But why a ‘single point of accountability,’ when Sally may have a dozen people across other departments that are responsible for implementing this change for her salespeople?
Sales managers and business leaders don’t have time to track down a dozen different people to follow up with. That’s why it’s imperative that no more than one name appears as the single point of accountability on each Lessons Learned entry. A lot is riding on the name entered in this cell, as they’re the person responsible for ensuring whatever change that leadership or the sales team decides upon becomes a change that eliminates or mitigates that problem in the future. The benefit to a sales manager, of course, is that they only have to query one individual if they need to check on any aspect of the change this lesson creates.
Column 4: When will the update be made?
If we only take a lesson as far as stating a problem, its details, what we learned, and who’s responsible for changing something, we’ll have done more than most sales teams – and even most organizations – but I can guarantee whatever action is decided will have a small chance of going into effect without a deadline. While this entry is as simple as a calendar date, it also provides a timeline for whichever SPA owns the lesson to create change.
In the hundreds of times I saw this system used to save lives on battlefields, simply capturing a lesson only benefitted the team involved. If we are creating a Bulletproof sales organization, then we want to ensure that whatever team A learns can also benefit the sales systems of teams B, C, and D. That doesn’t happen without a timeline. We’ll go over exactly how to take what’s on a Lessons Learned sheet and make changes to the Bulletproof sales systems it applies to. If we apply a timeline to our sample scenario, this column’s entry may look like:
October 1, 2021
Ensure a specific date is in this column. Not ‘Q4’ or ‘October.’ Why? People’s minds, and especially salespeople’s minds, tend to deal with issues as they become urgent and important. If we have a deadline of ‘Q4’ for something that isn’t setting our hair on fire, then the likelihood of that task being completed before December 31 is slim. Salespeople’s hair will always be on fire about something, usually because they’re the ones holding the matchbook!
For this reason, list a specific date. If an SPA discovers an update will take longer than the original deadline, the date can always be pushed forward on that entry in the Lessons Learned database.
This leads us to the final column in each Lesson Learned Entry:
Column 5: What’s the change we’re making?
This is where we ask: “What do we do about it?”
Many sales teams fall flat in creating lasting change at this point. The challenge is not that change doesn’t occur, it’s that the change is temporary or only stays with the team that discovered it! This is the definition of using hope as a sales strategy, and after all you’ve learned thus far, hope shouldn’t be your first option.
In the case of our scenario with Jim who forgot to ask about other divisions that might need your product or service, this final cell’s Lessons Learned entry might look like:
Update the sales script to include questions about other opportunities within the organization for our product or service. Update the sales call debrief checklist to include an item about ‘Did we ask about other divisions or areas in this company that could also use our product or service?’
If we express the flow of this particular lesson as it appears on one row in your Lessons Learned database, this chain would unfold:
Ø  Situation:
9/24/2021. Widget Manufacturer’s Account, Bob Smith, CEO. Salesperson: Jim Cooper, territory 3 salesperson.
On 9/20/2021, Jim conducted a sales call via phone, qualified Bob as a buyer, and issued a proposal for one of their divisions. Realized after the call that he forgot to ask about any other divisions in Bob’s company that could use our service so was only able to price the proposal for one division. Bob’s company definitely meets the size and revenue requirements that would mean they have need for us outside of just the one division.
Ø  What did we learn?
When speaking with a decision maker who sits over multiple divisions, we need to ask about additional opportunity before we end a sales meeting or issue a proposal.
Ø  Who’s responsible for making the change?
Sally Ross, Training Manager
Ø  When will the update be made?
October 1, 2021
Ø  What’s the change we’re making?
Update the sales script to include questions about other opportunities within the organization for our product or service. Update the sales call debrief checklist to include an item about ‘Did we ask about other divisions or areas in this company that could also use our product or service?’
Now we can see that a single lost opportunity by one of our salespeople generated the lesson that we should be inquiring about additional opportunities in discovery questions across accounts and in all sales meetings. Sally Ross, who oversees training for the sales team will update sales scripts and debrief checklists and is responsible for completing the update by October 1, 2021.
If this was your team running this Lesson Learned, understand what just happened:
·       One of your salespeople admitted to not doing as well as they could have and was willing to bring it to the group because they’re required to bring a certain number of lessons each week to the sales huddle and because you have a continuous improvement culture where lessons are welcome.
·       Your sales team brainstormed ways to ensure that everyone inquired about additional opportunities across accounts during sales calls, incorporating input from senior and junior team members on the best ways to do it.
·       A single person has accountability for updating a system by a specific date.
·       A change was proposed that will update across every salesperson’s discovery questions and sales meeting debrief checklists to ensure they don’t miss inquiring about additional opportunities across every account.
If your salespeople use the updated system, which has more to do with their ability to use the systems you’ve established than hoping they’ll remember something said at a meeting, what amount of revenue could they recapture? Imagine what it would mean to you as a sales manager to know that each of your salespeople was ensuring they asked about additional opportunities within each of their accounts?
Now imagine walking through at least 5 of these types of updates each week with your team that solved recurring issues that may have existed for decades?
As we’ve expressed in the performance improvement graph, the accumulated performance gain from Lessons Learned is staggering over the course of a year. Keep it going longer than that, and your sales team won’t have competition in their market.
Ensure You Don’t Just Address Problems
The value of a Lessons Learned system goes far beyond simply fixing problems or shoring up gaps in your salespeople’s skills. It can also be used to amplify and systemize successes. It’s tough for a performance-driven sales team to pause after wins and systemize their success. It’s even tougher for a sales manager to hold their team back from happy hour after a massive win to do so. But it’s just as necessary to capture Lessons Learned from successes as it is from mistakes.
One of the more famous Bulletproof teams I was able to study in the military didn’t do their work on battlefields, but rather football fields, parade grounds, and in parks. They’re the Silent Drill team, and they’re what every marching band, color guard, and baton twirler around the world uses as their standard to measure excellence. What most folks don’t know when watching these Marines spin their rifles in perfect timing is that they are witnessing a Lessons Learned program in action.
To watch these Marines is akin to watching a well-choreographed dance. It’s hard to believe a few dozen humans can operate in so coordinated a fashion. Harder to believe is that none of the Marines on the Silent Drill Team have been spinning those rifles for longer than 2 years. After a twenty-four-month assignment with the team, each Marine is sent back to the Fleet Marine Force.
I asked their platoon commander how this team was able to conduct flawless performances again and again. He chuckled a bit and said, “Shawn, the Silent Drill Team has been performing for over 70 years, and in all that time, we’ve never had a perfect performance.”
That statement changed the way I viewed my own standard of excellence, and it’s changed the way thousands of businesspeople look at their own systems across the clients we’ve shared it with.
Think back to your last celebration-worthy sale. Maybe it was worth celebrating because of the size of the deal, repute of the client, or the complicated negotiations required. Those are the types of successes salespeople strive to emulate across their careers, but what if such successes were merely the baseline everyone on the team strived for?
What if everything in a sale went right: great pre-call research, identifying and engaging the decision maker with discovery questions, excellent matching of value to desired future state, and the prospect bought the most expensive option? Most salespeople chalk those successes up to their own skill and brilliance. But what if you and your team, as part of your Lessons Learned system, still took the time to ask:
Why did that sale work out so well? If we were going to replicate it, how could we make it even better? How do we systemize those things into every sale from this day forward?
There are lessons that can be drawn out of every successful sale that will benefit your entire team in their future sales. Successes should be solicited from team members along with challenges.

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We are a leader in systemizing sales processes and solutions for salespeople, teams and organizations. We systemize selling processes so salespeople can replace hope with certainty, close more deals and provide more value to their clients.

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