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Seven ways sales reps and managers can push past the sales plateau

While many salespeople fear the dreaded slump, another reality could damage a sales career just the same: the sales plateau. In it, you produce results, but fall short of your potential.

In the Journal of Selling & Major Account Management, New Mexico State University professors Robin T. Peterson and Minjoon Jun observe that restructuring and downsizing play a role as companies ask their sales teams to do more with less. And with limited support or prospects for career advancement, a sales pro can become “disengaged with their progress, and less compelled to exert efforts and show concern for their customers. Their descent has been likened to a reversal in the path of the learning curve.” If so, then knowledge represents a potent antidote—and we’ve got it here. Yesware asked sales leaders for their thoughts on how to get beyond the sales plateau.

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1. You are your client’s equal.

As CEO of LevelEleven, Bob Marsh has 18 years sales and sales management experience. His company produces software tools that help sales and other managers keep their teams focused on priorities. With plateaus, it’s a situation where “salespeople tend to feel subservient to their clients,” he says. “To break through to that next level, help your sales reps realize their value and expertise in whatever category or industry they’re selling. A sales rep is the ultimate expert. Remind your salespeople that when they share ideas with prospective customers, they truly do have value to add.”

2. Educate yourself constantly.

“Even a veteran sales person needs to continue to read, educate and train in order to keep skills sharp,” says Grant Cardone, author of Sell or Be Sold and host of the National Geographic TV show Turnaround King. “Given the amount of technology at our fingertips allowing mobility and flexibility—plus quicker, efficient communication—we always see new ways to gain attention, create interest, and provide increased value to the customer. These are things sales professionals should learn about constantly.”

3. Prospect, prospect, prospect.

Experienced reps tend to live off their accounts, a surefire way to hit a plateau, says Connie Kadansky, a sales prospecting trainer and coach based in Phoenix, Ariz. “It is called complacency—a quiet pleasure of security, however being blind to the lurking danger. We see this with financial advisors whose clients are starting to retire, but not replacing them with vibrant young executives.” The remedy? Go back to what built your account base in the first place. “New business is the lifeblood of business, so proactively prospect on a daily and weekly basis. That’s how to get out of the plateau.”

4. Aim high above the plateau.

What’s true in sports also translates to sales: Aim above the target to make sure you hit it, says Colleen Francis, founder and president of Engage Selling Solutions. “Be focused and constant in reinforcing a single concept for a selling period—typically a quarter—so your team knows exactly what they should aim for. Set goals, have a contest and focus on ensuring your team is creating enough opportunities for them to hit the next level.” Ah yes, but how best to do this? Hence our next point…

5. Keep sales contests simple.

Contests represent a powerful, effective way for managers to help a sales team break the plateau. But Marsh’s company espouses an approach that shies from unneeded complexity. Says LevelEleven’s Kristy Erdodi: “If your team has no idea what they need to focus on during a contest, how will they learn from it? They’ll simply go back to doing what they did before … and you’re not likely to see any long-term benefit.” So if you’re whipping up a contest, “Everyone should understand what it takes to actually win. What will the winners get? Make it really clear what the incentive is, and get the team excited to win it.”

6. Fill the pipeline.

A good salesman knows a certain threshold of calls produces a fixed percentage of sales over time. But, as Cardone puts it, a great salesman multiplies those sales—and even prospects that haven’t panned out—into a “full pipeline” of loyal customers and new opportunities. His pipeline theory is based on leveraging relationships: “You need to surround yourself with those who understand that survival is the key motivator that drives you to keep pushing your production graphs higher and higher,” he says.

7. Consider your best customers.

Sometimes, a salesman has to look beyond himself to the customers and prospects he attracts. Francis suggests starting with your ideal customers, and using them to repurpose your prospecting approach to attract more of these same clients. “Focus your efforts on attracting the attention of that kind of customer, because perhaps what holds you back is the quality of your customers,” she says.

What are you doing to get past the sales plateau?