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What To Do In Sales When Nothing You’re Doing Is Working

Let’s face it: we’ve all been in this position. You’re calling, but nobody picks up. You’re sending emails, but there are no answers. You’re scraping the bottom of the empty barrel that was your pipe, hoping to close one or two deals and hit your number this month. It’s a terrifying situation to be in, and requires a cool head and patience. You can turn it around, and it’s not even that hard. Here are a few things you can do when nothing you’re doing is working.

1. Stop what you’re doing and get some perspective.

Take a break. Go outside and clear your head. Get yourself out of the mindset of negativity. Move your body and increase your energy. The key thing here is to distance yourself from the activity you’re doing. You want to be able to look at it all with a clear head, and be able to approach it with some perspective.

Is this a temporary problem? Is this just a month? Has this been going on for a while? Ask yourself questions like this with a clear mind, and be honest with yourself. You need to know the situation inside-out in order to correct it.

2. Analyze, analyze, analyze.

Once you’ve cleared your head and gained some distance, it’s time to gain some perspective. If you’re spending all day making calls with no answer, perhaps you aren’t making the right ones. If your emails are remaining unopened, perhaps you need to rethink them. The key thing here is to find out why this is happening. Approach your work with a fresh eye and with statistical rigor.

Don’t limit yourself to what you’re doing, though. Take a look at the work of others, and find out if you’re missing anything important. Take a look at the top performers, and see if they’re doing anything different (aside from closing). Chances are they’re not, but it pays to be thorough.

Analyze your patch. Abstract the type of customer that buys, and (if possible) the behavior of that kind of customer. Begin to target those who normally buy (ignoring the prescribed targeting if necessary) and those who exhibit the right kind of behavior.

If you have a product portfolio rather than just one product, do the same kind of analysis for each product. Find out what has sold best in your patch, and attempt to use that to gain more clients. This may not be what your leadership wants, but you’re ultimately the one responsible for your number.

3. Experiment.

Your patch is yours, and that means you also have the liberty to experiment with different approaches. There may be prescribed ways of doing things, but since they’re not working, you’ll need to get creative. I recommend you set aside at least an hour a day to attempt new approaches.

These approaches should not only be around the companies or individuals you target nor how to write a particular email or make a particular call. If your retargeting after the analysis brought little (give it at least a month or two), it’s time to go into brainstorming mode.

The best technique I’ve found to get new ideas is simply to sit down and start coming up with them. Don’t exclude anything in this exercise, even the absolutely bonkers ones that won’t work in a million years. Have fun, enjoy yourself, and get storming. You’ll be surprised at how much useful stuff comes out.

In order to utilize those ideas best, set aside a subset of your weaker prospects as your experiment’s subjects. These are your cute little lab mice and will be the testing ground for anything new you can dream up. Just be careful – they’re not as expendable as all that.

Your goal, obviously, isn’t to alienate them. You’re trying to gain business. Think of new, better ways you can open communications with them. Think of ways you can help them succeed. Your mission is to make these into your top clients.

4. Lend a helping hand.

I’ve spoken about this often, but it bears repeating here: become a helper. Rewire your entire approach toward helping people. You have a significant amount of industry expertise (if you didn’t, you certainly do after the analysis), and you can offer that to your prospects.

Approach your prospects with an offer of help rather than a sales pitch; you’re there to grow their business with them. The key here is to do so genuinely. You’ll need to do a bit more work, sure, but your prospects will become clients for life, and you won’t have to worry about your pipe again. Begin considering what could be useful, and start compiling helpful advice for your prospects immediately. Once you have a minimum, start offering it while crafting more.

5. Bring patience to the party.

None of these approaches work without that most important of sales skills: patience (I wrote about it here). All of these approaches take time to get rolling – some will take weeks, some will take months. Make sure you’re not just in a short-term slump before going for any of these.

Also be aware that some of these approaches may be unpopular until they start bearing fruit. Be prepared to buckle down for a long-term game to prove yourself. You will ultimately succeed, you just need to be patient.

6. Remember to stay positive and focused.

Many of these activities are fun and rewarding, so stay positive and keep your eye on the ball. If you’re having trouble doing that, a potential solution is to adopt some of the stoic principles I wrote about here.

Remind yourself why you’re in sales in the first place. For me, it’s because I adore the kick and really enjoy the communications skills involved. For you it may be entirely different. Just think back to the first few days, and attempt to enjoy it all in that spirit. It’s a fun job, but remember that much of that enjoyment comes from you.

Final Thoughts.

I started setting aside a few weaker accounts early on in my career, and built a few approaches around them. They turned out to be quite successful, much to my relief, since the reverse could just as easily have been the case and I’d have been accused of wasting time. The experiments were interesting, illuminating, and entertaining (at least to me), and ultimately proved fruitful. I’d recommend you do the same, and on a regular basis.

The territory and product analysis I mentioned earlier will require some excel and statistical skills. Since you’re in sales, I’m assuming you have those. If you don’t you may want to cast around for help, or simply learn. It’s not that hard, and is a skill which will only become more useful in your future career.

A final point: if you’re doing what you need to be doing but get no results, it really depends on the manager whether there’s any culpability attached. If there is, make sure they know what you’re up to, and get them involved. In fact, get everyone around you involved, and go for it!

I hope this has been useful to you, and, as ever, I wish you all the best!

Do you agree with what I wrote here? Disagree? Did I miss something? Could I have done something better? Please let me know in the comments!


  1. Chris-
    I am a owner of a new publication in town. (Coffee News) I was recently turned down by a prospect and I actually considered calling him back and asking him, as a new business owner to an experienced business owner, what kept him from buying. Almost in a “asking for help” way. Something like, “what could I have done differently to have you try my advertising publication for six months.” What do you think?
    That is certainly a different approach, but I don’t want to come across as desperate either. I am in a small town so I cannot burn any bridges.
    Thanks for your daily writings, I read them daily and enjoy them very much!
    Alan Dandison

    • Hi Alan,

      First of all, thanks for your continued reading and the positive feedback! It’s inspiring and motivating to read.

      Regarding your question: I’d certainly do it, and precisely how you mentioned above. You’re not begging, after all, but looking to improve yourself. Perhaps they simply aren’t in the right spot right now, or maybe there was something in the approach. It’s valuable feedback to have. I don’t think you’d be coming across as desperate, nor would you be burning a bridge. Instead, you’d be showing that you’re commited to improving your approach and learning more about what moves them.

      Thanks again for your readership, and all the best!

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