How to revive a complacent sales team


I recently read a research paper from the US market that stated more and more sales teams are relying on renewals in revenue from their existing accounts which is giving them about 70% of their annual sales revenues.

On one hand, this sounds like good news. Sales teams understand the importance of retaining existing business with their clients. You’ve got to ask yourself though, what does ‘retaining existing business’ really mean? Are the salespeople just holding onto what they currently have, keeping existing deals going, happy with that alone? Or are they really looking for new business opportunities in existing client accounts? And beyond that, do they work on replenishing their lapsed client portfolio with newbusiness from new prospects?

This issue is what the CSO Insights team reported in their recently released its annual report Selling in a World of Ceaseless Change. It showed an average win rate of 47%, however, most of this was off the back of current business already re-won with existing clients, not new business opportunities in existing or new accounts.

Finding and winning new customers, as well as expanding existing relationships with new opportunities in existing clients, is critical to keeping a healthy sales revenue and profit pipeline of opportunities. Otherwise, changes in market conditions and clients can quickly lead to ‘empty baskets’ and nothing to replace lost business.

Complacency can easily creep into sales teams that manage and service regular client accounts if they do not remain vigilant to changes on every level.

We, unfortunately, see a lot of time wasted by sales teams ‘managing’ client accounts, without actually working these accounts to explore better opportunities, or adding value to both the clients’ and their own organisation.

We call salespeople who fall into this trap ‘professional visitors’, as they cease to be professional salespeople.

Professional visitors

Professional visitors risk missing many new business opportunities because they do not take control of their territory plans, account plans, the prospecting pipeline or the client conversation — instead, they leave all of this to chance.

They’re all in for a ‘chat’, or at best, an on-site customer service visit, but they are not proactively initiating a viable new business conversation.

12 signs you’re becoming a professional visitor

Have a look at this profile and double check if you or your sales team might be prone to becoming professional visitors:

  1. Continual rounds of visits to clients you are comfortable ‘doing business’ with.
  2. Lengthy amounts of time spent establishing ‘rapport’ and ‘chatting’.
  3. Difficulty zeroing in on real customer problems and opportunities, instead focusing on the symptoms or ‘taking an order’.
  4. Inability to effectively negotiate the way around the ‘price’ question.
  5. Sticking to ‘safe’ but irrelevant topics.
  6. Hesitating to get into the fray with customers as you may not feel comfortable being assertive, or challenging ideas.
  7. Walking away with no advancement or agreement to do anything else of value.
  8. Selling the same old products or services, rather than understanding the full suite of solutions you can offer clients.
  9. Customers end up continually asking for more discounts because they do not see any value beyond product and price being demonstrated.
  10. The customer controls the sales process and, as the salesperson, you feel you have become their ‘employee’ rather than working for the company you represent.
  11. Failure to see opportunities with customers beyond the obvious current deals.
  12. Longer than necessary decision cycles.

These are just some of the issues we see on a regular basis when businesses have teams slip into the realms of professional visitation rather than remain professional sales teams. And it’s not often the salesperson’s fault as management can unintentionally let this type of culture fester where it becomes business as usual before you know it.

For example, if your goal as a salesperson is to ‘see your clients every X weeks’ with no further agenda or objective, then, of course, salespeople will ‘visit’ their clients regularly.

However, all is not lost. Many of these teams of professional visitors can be transformed back into teams of professional, highly skilful, salespeople who deliver better results across existing and new clients over the long term. We have seen this happen over and over again when the right strategies, systems, frameworks, resources and training are set in place and proactively lead, worked and managed. Just like a good sports team, they work to stay sales fit.

The conditions required for a sales transformation

  1. Design and execute an effective sales strategy that delivers clarity and purpose.
  2. Have a compelling value proposition beyond product and price.
  3. Pick the right market or sales segments to sell to.
  4. Ensure your sales team is the right size with the right team structure and clearly articulated sales processes.
  5. Deliver the right level of sales training and coaching to lift their capabilities to become consultative in their sales approach where they can properly explore opportunities and develop viable solutions clients want and need.
  6. Coach the sales team on a very regular basis to build skill and mastery.
  7. Deal with under-performers quickly — they not only affect results but the whole team.
  8. If relevant, put in place a key accounts management plan and teams.
  9. Manage and report on the relevant sales financials, sales conversions including quality and quantity metrics so people can make adjustments, control their destiny and perform better.
  10. Liaise and link with other departments across the value chain to ensure a seamless customer experience.