Question and Answer #55 – My sales are down. What can I do?

This is a Sales Question and Answer article from guest poster Dave Kahle, author and leading sales educator.

Q. Every one of my customers is buying less this year than last year. My sales are down. What can I do?

A. You really have two choices. The first, which, unfortunately, is the solution to which most companies and sales people currently subscribe is this: Do nothing differently, complain a lot, and hope that things change. Maybe the government will fix everything.

The second, which is my recommendation, is this: Move outside of your comfort zones, become a whole lot more strategic, thoughtful, and better at what you do, and do some things differently.

Begin by analyzing your market to identify where your opportunity lies. Unless you have 80 – 90 percent of the total market in your area, you have opportunity.

Typically, you’ll find that there is market opportunity within your current customers, as well as opportunity in prospects who do not currently buy from you. Collect information about both groups so that you can make good decisions about where your time is best invested. Then, prioritize those prospects and customers based on their potential. Visit for lots of resources to help you do this.

Then, strategically develop plans to gain more market share from each of these two sources.

Proactively create the agenda for the conversations between you and your customers. For example, if one of your customers is buying half of their purchases from you and half from someone else, identify specifically what they are buying from your competition, and develop plans to gain that business. Ask yourself, “What would it take for them to buy it from me?”

Don’t settle for the simple answer “lower price.” Think more deeply, uncover deeper motivations in the customer and answer that question, product by product, category by category, for everything they are buying from someone else. Here’s a great question to ask, “What has to change for us to do more business here?”

Listen to their answer, and respond appropriately. Put together specific, persuasive offers to each customer and methodically present them to each customer. Show them, specifically, why they should do more business with you.

You are not done yet. Understand the fundamental sales equation: Relationships = opportunities = projects = money. In other words, the quantity and quality of your relationships equals the quantity and quality of your opportunities, and those opportunities develop into projects (purchasing cycles) and those projects turn into sales.

Dave Kahle's fundamental sales equation

If you want to sell more, you must develop more and bigger projects, which develop from more and bigger opportunities, which emerge from more and higher quality relationships.

If your sales are down, either you aren’t very competent, (in other words, you are not very good at turning relationships into money) or you need to increase the quantity and quality of your relationships.

Work on two parallel paths: If all the key decision makers and influencers in your current accounts don’t know you, then work hard to create those relationships. At the same time, look outside your group of current customers, and create relationships with prospects. In other words, work diligently, methodically and systematically at creating new relationships and thereby, new customers.

I realize that for a percentage of sales people, this sounds pretty basic. If that’s the case with you, there is power in refocusing your efforts on these fundamentals and work at doing each of them better. For you, the issue isn’t doing things differently, it is doing them better.

There is another group of sales people for whom all of this sounds too different and too far outside of your comfort zones and skill set. This is not how you are accustomed to doing your job. Remember where we started, “Move outside of your comfort zones, become a whole lot more strategic, thoughtful and better at what you do, and do some things differently.” If this is new and uncomfortable for you, then the next year or so will be one of the most challenging of your life. You’ll need to diligently work at developing these practices.

The world is full of people who will tell you that success in this environment is a matter of “secrets” or simplistic solutions. I wish that were the case. Unfortunately, sales success is the result of years of hard work, constant improvement, and thoughtful and diligent efforts. If you are serious about wanting to change your circumstances, you’ll need to begin to change yourself.

Copyright MMX by Dave Kahle

All Rights Reserved

About the author:

Dave Kahle is one of the world’s leading sales authorities. He’s written twelve books, presented in 47 states and ten countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of sales people and transform hundreds of sales organizations.

Dealing with Your Customers’ Time Constraints

If you can't spend quality time in front of the customer, your days as a successful sales person are numbered. - Dave Kahle

By Dave Kahle

My customers don’t have as much time to spend with me as they used to.”  That’s a comment I’m hearing more frequently in my sales seminars.  It’s a growing phenomenon.  Your customers used to be able to spend more time with you.  But lately, it seems as though they are on tighter schedules and are harder to see.  You just can’t spend as much time with them as you’d like, because they’re pressuring you to move on.

This is a real Information Age issue.  You know how confused and pressured you feel these days.  Your customers feel the same way.  As pressures brought on by rapid change, growing competition and the need for every organization to become more streamlined and efficient have hit your customers, many of them have reacted by trying to make everyone more productive.  As a result, your customers have too much to do and not enough time in which to do it, just like you.  Time, more than money, is the precious commodity of the Information Age.

It’s not that your customers don’t like you, (although they may not) nor that they are not interested in your products and services.  It’s just that they have too much to do, and simply don’t have as much time to spend with you as you’d like.


This development is truly ominous because the implications strike to the heart of your ability to perform for your company.  Let’s think for a minute about the value you bring your company.  Why do they employ you?  What do they really need you and other sales people to do?  If you were to boil it down to its most fundamental level, you’d probably say that your company needs you to create relationships and spend face-to-face time with your customers.

Here’s another way of looking at it.  Suppose you were to make a list of all the things you do in the course of a week.  Then look at the list, and ask yourself this question, “How many of those things can be done better or cheaper by someone else within my company?”  If you answer honestly, most items on the list can probably be handled more effectively or efficiently by someone else.

But, the one thing that you do that no one else can do as effectively as you is interact with your customers.  It’s the face-to-face, person-to-person interaction with your customer that is the heart of your job, the core of the value you bring your company.

That’s what makes this challenge ominous.  If you can’t spend quality time in front of the customer, your days as a successful sales person are numbered.

Here’s how to attack this challenge…

First, remember to respect your customers’ time constraints.  If you try to overstay your welcome, you’ll only succeed in making him/her more irritated with you.  Do unto him as you would have him do unto you, if you were in his place.  Protect the relationship.

Then, focus on making the time that you do have with him more productive for both of you.  Think of the issue being quality time, not quantity time.  Here are three strategies that will work for you.

1. Focus on the quality of the time you have with your customer.

If you’re not going to have as much time in front of the customer as you’d like, then you must concentrate on making the time that you do have as valuable and productive as possible.  That requires you to spend more time planning and preparing for each sales call.

Gone are the days when you could just “stop in.”  Rather, make sure that you have at least three things prepared for every sales call:

* a specific objective — what do you want to accomplish in this call?

* an outline of how you’re going to accomplish that objective, and

* all the necessary tools you’ll need to do it.

That way, the actual time that you spend with your customers will be more productive.  Your customer will appreciate your organization and your respect of his time, too.

2.  Set an agenda — talk in terms of your customer’s needs.

Begin every sales call with an agenda.  Tell your customer what you want to cover and how you’re going to proceed.  Mention the needs and objectives in which he is interested, and explain how you’re going to address them.  This will relieve him of the worry that you’re going to appropriate his time unnecessarily, and will allow him to focus on you.

For example, at the beginning of your sales call, you could say something like this:

“John I know you’re interested in the cost payback of a possible investment in a new telephone system.  I’d like to share with you some of the numbers that others have used to investigate this kind of purchase.  After we go through these, I’ll address any other questions you may have, and then we’ll talk about the next step in this process.  Does that sound reasonable?”

3.  Always have something of value to discuss.

This a longer-range strategy.  As you consistently hold to this principle, over time you’ll build up a certain expectation in the customer’s mind.  Don’t expect an immediate payback from this strategy, but, nonetheless, stick to it for the long haul.

Think of the time that your customer does spend with you as an investment by the customer.  Put yourself in his shoes, and see the situation from his perspective.  Is he gaining something of value from you in exchange for his investment of time?  You want the answer to that question to be “Yes.”

In order to generate that perception in your customer’s mind, make sure that every time you see him, you have something of value to share or to discuss with him.  That means something in which the customer is interested.  If you have nothing that the customer will think is of value, don’t take his time.  Wait to see him until you do have something.

After a few such calls, your customer will come to respect you and look forward to your calls, knowing that you’re not there just to work some agenda of yours, but rather he’ll come to expect to gain something from your sales calls.

You’ll find it easier to make appointments and get time with your customers when you’ve built in them the expectation that the time spent with you will be well worth the cost of it.

Your Meter’s Always Running

This is a Sales Tip of the Week from guest poster Shulman & Associates.

If you give it away for free, then don't expect to ever get paid for it - ever.


Jim was on a roll.  In the past five months, he had come from the bottom of the sales chart to the top.  Everyone at the office was impressed.  He was determined to stay number one.  With this in mind, he decided that every client was going to receive additional attention at no charge.  Stop in and visit them, see what “no-charge” help was needed and provide it.  Let his clients know that he was available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

And for the next three months, Jim’s clients thought of him as the best salesperson they had ever known.  One client in particular was flabbergasted when Jim drove two hundred miles to get and then deliver a needed spare part on Saturday afternoon.

Another client even called Jim’s manager to tell her just how impressed she was with Jim’s sudden appearance late one Friday when he sat down and helped them get an order out the door.  “He pitched right in,” she said.

But then a strange thing happened that no one, not even Jim could figure out.  He started slipping down from number one in sales to number two, then to number three and then a sudden free-fall to second from the bottom.

Something’s wrong, thought Jim.  Every client loves me, but I don’t have any more orders.  Don’t they appreciate what I do for them?

The Result:

Jim’s clients love him because they get extra services for free. If, and when, they have a need for more of Jim’s product, they might buy from him. But a curious thing happens when people get something for free; they are less likely to buy in the future. After all, why should they? They get so much for free without asking.


There is nothing wrong with going beyond the call of duty for a customer.  But here’s a question – you take a New York City cab to your destination, get out and tell the driver to wait for an hour while you run inside to a meeting – do you think, assuming he even waits, that he’s going to wait for free or is the meter always running?

Let’s assume for the sake of argument, that this same taxi cab driver doesn’t charge you for waiting and neither of you discussed it.  Every other taxi cab driver you know charges for waiting, and this one doesn’t.

Suppose you get in his cab again two days later.  Aha, you think, the fellow who doesn’t charge for waiting.  So you attend a three-hour meeting, get down to the cab and find out the meter has been running for three hours.  How do you feel?  Like you have been robbed?  Like you’ve been cheated?

Do you have any right to these feelings?


Customers, if given free services will be trained to expect more and more free services.  Their expectations of what is free will escalate in direct proportion to the amount of free service provided.  And like your experience with the cab driver, if you stop providing these free services the customer will feel robbed and cheated.

Does the customer have any right to feel robbed and cheated?  Probably not, but that still does not make the customer feel better.  So what does the customer do then?  Goes somewhere else.

The best approach to free service is to never give it.  Ever.


If you give it away for free, then don’t expect to ever get paid for it – ever.

About the author:

Shulman & Associates is a professional development firm specializing in sales and management training and sales force evaluation. Visit their website to register for a FREE Sales Training Workshop. Learn how to increase sales, improve margins, and accelerate new business development. Breakfast is included in this workshop.

To view the latest Sales Tip of the Week please click on the link below:


Sales Question and Answer #51 – How to Stay Upbeat

This is a Sales Question and Answer article from guest poster Dave Kahle, author and leading sales educator.

Q.  I find it difficult to stay upbeat and positive all the time.  I have a tendency to get down on myself when something goes poorly and then find it hard to look forward to the next sales call.  I can’t be the only sales person who struggles with this. Can you help?

how to overcome sales slump depression.

A.  Thanks for asking a question that the vast majority of sales people don’t have the courage to ask.  Yep, the situation you described is an occupational hazard.  Most sales people have times when they are hesitant to make the next call or take the next step because they’ve just be rejected in the last.

I think that sales people, in particular, are sensitive to this.  Two reasons – first, we face rejection more times in the course of a week than almost any other job title.  Second, since we spend so much time alone, we often mentally dwell on our shortcomings and failures much more than the person who works in an office or in proximity to other people.

So much for the problem.  Are there any solutions?  Of course.

For now, let me focus on just one.  About ten years ago, Martin Seligman, PhD., authored a book called Learned Optimism.  I expect that it is out of print, but if you can find a copy, I’d recommend that you do so.  Learned Optimism provides a solid answer to your challenge.

In it, Seligman describes his lifework.  As a research psychologist, Dr. Seligman began by studying helplessness in dogs.  In an early experiment, he put dogs into a cage from which they could not escape, and subjected them to mild shocks.  After some effort at escape, the dogs would give up trying and lay down.  Later, he put them into a cage from which they could easily escape, and subjected them to the same mild shocks.  The dogs would just lie down and give up.  Surprisingly, they did not attempt to remove themselves from the irritant.  They had learned helplessness and hopelessness.

In subsequent experiments, Dr. Seligman found a similar behavior in human beings.  Put into a room and subjected to irritating noises from which they could not escape, they soon learned to give up.  When put into a room with a mechanism that would turn off the noise, they still didn’t try.  They had learned helplessness and hopelessness.

From this beginning, Dr. Seligman continued to formulate a thesis he calls “learned optimism.”  It says, basically, that human beings learn to have either a pessimistic or an optimistic outlook.  Dr. Seligman’s book contains a self-assessment to measure the degree of pessimism or optimism of the reader.

Dr. Seligman’s thesis arises from the way people explain negative events to themselves.  When something negative happens, as it eventually will, the way you explain it to yourself determines your pessimistic/optimistic attitude.  There are three components of this “explanatory style.”

The first component is the degree to which you believe the event to will be permanent.  Pessimists believe negative events will be permanent, while optimists believe that they will be temporary.

The second component is pervasiveness.  Pessimists believe the causes of negative events are universal, affecting everything they do.  Optimists believe them to be specific, and limited to the individual circumstance.

The third component is personal.  Pessimists believe that negative events are caused by themselves.  Optimists believe that the world is at fault.

Here’s how this behavioral perspective works in the everyday life of a sales person.

Let’s say you visit one of your large accounts, and your main contact announces that the vice-president for operations has signed a prime vendor agreement with your largest competitor, and that all of your business will be moved to that competitor within the next 30 days.  That’s a negative event.

As you drive away from the account, you think to yourself, “I blew it here.  I should have seen it coming.  I’m never going to learn this job.  I’ll blow the next one too.  I mismanage them all.”

Now, that’s a pessimistic explanation of the event.  Notice that you have explained it in a way that is personal, “I blew it.”  Your explanation is also permanent, “I’m never going to learn to do this job,” and pervasive, “I mismanage them all.”

Now stop a minute, and analyze how you feel as a result of this explanation.  Probably, you feel defeated, dejected, depressed, and passive.  These are not the kinds of feelings you need to energize yourself to make your next sales call.

Let’s revisit the situation, this time offering optimistic explanations.  The same event occurs — you receive bad news from your best account.  As you drive away, you think to yourself, “They really made a bad mistake this time.  It’s a good thing the contract is only for a year.  That gives me time to work to get it back.  I’m glad it was only this account and no others.”

That’s an optimistic explanation because your explanations were not personal, permanent, or pervasive.  How do you feel about your future as a result of this explanation?  Probably, you feel energized and hopeful.

See the difference?  The event was the same.  The only difference was the way you explained it to yourself.  One set of explanations was optimistic, leading to energy and hope, while the other was pessimistic, leading to dejection and passivity.

Dr. Seligman has isolated optimistic behavior as one of the characteristics of successful people.  Using various techniques he’s developed, he predicted elections by analyzing each candidate’s explanatory style.  The most optimistic candidates often win elections.

The implications for you are awesome.  If you can improve your explanatory style, and make it more optimistic, you’ll create more positive energy and hope for yourself, no matter how difficult or negative the circumstances with which you must deal.

Learned optimism can be one of your most powerful self-management techniques. It’s based on this powerful principle:

Your thoughts influence your feelings and your actions, and you can choose your thoughts.  Here’s how he suggests that you do that.

Step One.  Analyze your explanatory habits.

Wait until you must deal with some negative event or some adversity in your life.  Then, stop and observe what you are telling yourself about the event.  What do you believe about yourself and the reason why bad things happen?  Ask to what degree your explanations are personal, permanent or pervasive?

Step Two.  Note the consequences of your explanatory style.

Pessimistic explanations always lead to passivity and dejection.  Optimistic explanations always lead to energy and hope.  Which is more likely to propel you to future success?

Step Three.  If you’re pessimistic, you must change the way you think.

Your future success depends on your ability to rise up and meet adversity with renewed energy and optimism.  You can do this by choosing to think differently.  Dr. Seligman makes the following suggestions.

Distract your thoughts.  In other words, when you find yourself thinking negative and pessimistic thoughts, tell yourself to “Stop!”  You can even say it out loud, or shout it to yourself.  Just “STOP” thinking those things.

Then, shift your thoughts to something else.  I’d suggest you think about something that brings you pleasure or satisfaction, or something at which you’re good.

Dispute your explanations.  This is a longer-lasting approach.  Argue with yourself.  Reason your way out of your negative thoughts.  Look at the evidence, or suggest alternatives.  Reason from the implications or usefulness of what you’re thinking.

Back to our example.  On the way out to your car after your miserable call, you are thinking to yourself “I blew it here.  I should have seen it coming.  I’m never going to learn this job.  I’ll blow the next one, too.  I mismanage them all.”

When you catch yourself thinking defeating thoughts, argue with yourself.  Think, “Wait a minute.  While it’s true I may have been able to do something if I had seen this coming, the truth is that the VP would never see me.  The other company must have had some special “in”.  That doesn’t mean that this will work anywhere else.  It’s just this account.  There certainly isn’t any evidence of this possibility happening anywhere else.  And, the truth is that the entire purchasing department is not happy about this course of events.  If I stay close to the account, they may find lots of reasons to continue to do business with me. ”

What you’ve done is argue with yourself in order to change your thought processes.  As a result of thinking differently, you have more energy, more hope and, therefore, more likelihood of success in the future.

You can change your thoughts.  You can choose to think differently.  You can choose to believe differently.

And that fundamental decision about how you think can, more than any other single decision, affect your future success.

Dr. Seligman has discovered, through his scientific research, a truth that has been known for thousands of years.  The Apostle Paul, writing in the book of Romans, counseled new Christians to, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  And Solomon said that, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”

Your choice of what to think about, and how to think about what happens to you, is one of the most important choices you’ll ever make.

So, when you find yourself feeling depressed, dejected and with little energy, recognize how you are thinking, and think differently.

About the author:

Dave Kahle is one of the world’s leading sales authorities. He’s written twelve books, presented in 47 states and ten countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of sales people and transform hundreds of sales organizations. Sign up for his free weekly Ezine, His book, How to Sell Anything to Anyone Anytime, has been recognized by three international entities as “one of the five best English language business books.” Check out his latest book, The Heart of a Christian Sales Person.”

I must believe in a product in order to sell it

Beliefs that limit a salesperson’s performance: I must believe in a product in order to sell it.

man in suit

By Dave Kahle

As a sales trainer, I often confront a difficult obstacle that stands in the way of developing more effective sales people. Too often sales people are hindered by limiting beliefs that prevent them from implementing the best practices, principles and processes that can multiply their results.  They remain bound by internal barriers of their own conception.

Here’s an example.  A Customer Service Representative wants to move to outside sales.  He was good at his job of reacting to whoever was on the other end of the phone line and responding effectively to the request of all the customers.  As a result, he forms the belief that success is a matter of responding effectively to everyone.  He’s moved into outside sales, where he naturally brings along that belief.  In that new position, he continues to operate on the basis of that belief, responding effectively to everyone who has a request for him.  As a result, he finds himself spending inordinate amounts of time with small and needy customers, and very little time with larger, more sophisticated and higher potential customers.  And as a result of that, his sales are mediocre, although he feels fulfilled.

It’s not that he doesn’t have the ability to do better; it is just that his belief limits his effectiveness.

This example illustrates just one of many beliefs that limit the productivity of sales people.  Many of these self-limiting beliefs are so subtle that they operate beneath the level of consciousness, supporting some behaviors and preventing others without the sales person’s conscious awareness.  In order to unleash the sales person to higher levels of productivity, these beliefs must be recognized, challenged and changed.

“I must believe in a product in order to sell it.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this.  I hear it frequently from new sales people, and occasionally from more experienced reps.  It is often pronounced with a bit of a smug, self-righteous attitude and projects the air that this is the last word on the subject – “That’s my position.  Period.  End of conversation.”

That’s too bad.  Because, as long as the sales person holds this belief, he will never achieve his potential.

It’s detrimental because it holds that the product, or more specifically, the sales person’s opinion of the product, is the ultimate influencer of sales behavior.  The sales person’s opinion becomes more important than the needs and situation of the customer.

Here’s an example.  At one point in my life, I sold men’s suits and sport coats in a relatively expensive men’s clothing store.  At a time when the average price of a man’s suit was around $100, we had one line of suits that sold for an average of $350 — three and a half times the price of the average.

I personally thought that it was a waste of money.  Why pay that much, when you could get a perfectly good suit for a third of the price?  I would never buy one of those.  I just didn’t believe in it.

Now, if I had been ruled by the belief, “I must believe in the product in order to sell it,” I would never have shown those suits, never had suggested them, and never had sold them.  However, my personal opinion didn’t matter to those people who wanted the extra details and more expensive look of that line of suits, and who could afford them.

I would have allowed my personal opinion to stand in the way of the sale made to someone who did not share my opinion.  In so doing, I would have limited my sales and hindered my ability to fulfill the customer’s needs.

Now, you can say that the example isn’t a good one.  We all have limits on what we can spend.  You’ve missed the point.  It could have just as well been a product line (and, in fact, it was) that was extremely cheap.  I didn’t believe in that line, either.  I didn’t think that line was worth the money.  But, I didn’t let that opinion stand in the way of the customer who could afford nothing more.

You see, the point is that my (or any sales person’s) opinion should not take precedence over the customer’s needs.  It puts the wrong issue at the heart of the sales process.  When you hold this belief, the sale is not about the customers’ situations, opinions and needs; it’s about your opinion of the product.

This article (S-45) is available in an expanded version. Check it out here.

Who gave you such omnipotent insight?  Where did you acquire such absolute judgment?  Where did you gain such arrogance as to think your opinion was so important?

In my career, I have sold countless things in which I did not believe.  Given the choice, I personally would not have purchased them.  I don’t see that as a flaw in my character; I see it as a strength.  It says that I was never so arrogant as to think that my opinions over-ruled the customers’.  It says that I tried to always hold the customer’s situation and the customer’s opinion as a higher value than my own.

Thus, it did not matter what I thought of the product, it only mattered what the customer thought.

That’s why this belief is so limiting.  It removes possibilities from your ability to understand your customer, and it removes options from your menu of solutions.

No wonder that sales people who hold this belief only achieve a fraction of their potential.

If this belief is one of the fundamental tenants of your opinion as to what constitutes a professional sales person, it’s time to rid yourself of it.  Instead of focusing on your opinion of the product, focus on the customer’s situation, and the customer’s needs.  Your job is not to impose your opinions on the customer’s behavior; it is to meet the customer’s needs with solutions that fit the customer’s situation.  In so doing, you’ll break through the barriers that limit your effectiveness, and move to a higher realization of your own potential.

By the way, you’ll find this kind of insight into dozens of sales issues in our Sales Resource Center®. It houses 435 training programs to help every one live more successfully and sell better.  All delivered over the internet, 24/7, for one low monthly fee.