lab-217043_640I recently spoke with a client about an issue his sales team was having with C-suite meetings. Apparently, the sales reps were leaving the meetings without advancing the sale. Another client told me outbound sales were lagging. And a third client shared that conversions were down.

What do all of these situations have in common? We honestly don’t know why these things are happening. As a result, we don’t know how to fix them.

For example, in the case of the results-starved C-suite meetings, a lack of listening skills may be to blame. But, it’s just as likely that the reps feel intimidated and, as a result, are timid about asking for the next step to advance the sale.

If you find yourself in one of these never-never-land situations, how should you proceed?

1) Brainstorm every possible culprit. Selling is tricky. Often many factors are intertwined to produce success. Does the marketing message resonate with the prospect? Has an event just occurred that triggered the need for your product or service now? Are sale reps adept at helping the prospect sell his or herself on the solution? Is there an objection that is an absolute show-stopper? Have prospects been properly qualified?

2) Form a hypothesis. A hypothesis is just a fancy word for educated guess. Since you have to start somewhere, take a look at your list and make an educated guess as to what could be causing the problem. This will give you a place to dig in and investigate. Whenever possible, look for evidence that supports your hypothesis. For example, is Sales constantly pinging Marketing for additional data, case studies, numbers, and comparison charts to help overcome objections? If so, objection handling might be a good place to start your investigation.

3) Investigate. You need to roll up your proverbial sleeves to see what is going on at this point. As you investigate, be aware of the halo effect. In other words, people’s behavior improves when you observe them. Try to find ways to get the data without directly observing the performance. For example, are there reports, email messages, or notes you can review? Are there call recordings you can listen to?

More often than not, your hypothesis will be right, but it won’t be the whole story. For example, poor objection handling skills might be to blame. But, a weak value proposition that fails to weigh favorably against the very tangible price of your offering might also come into play. So, look for “yes-and” scenarios.

In addition, keep an eye out for best practices. So, if certain individuals are not experiencing the same problem as the rest of the Sales team, what are they doing differently?

One final word about investigation, avoid the temptation to get trapped in analysis paralysis. As soon as you identify a likely cause, start experimenting. When sales are off, you can’t wait till you have perfect information before you act. Besides, you’ll learn even more once your experiment is underway.

4) Design an experiment. Once you think you know what might be going on, it’s time to design an experiment. Your experiment could be to try a best practice you uncovered in the course of your investigation or it could be to create something new.

At this point, do not get too fancy. Create the absolute minimum materials needed to conduct your experiment.

5) Experiment. Give your experiment a whirl. Collect data to see what is working and what is not.

It’s more than likely that you’ll uncover new information during the course of your experiment. For example, you might have thought you were just dealing with objection handling problems only to discover that prospects haven’t been properly qualified.

Tweak your experiment to incorporate what you learn until you feel confident that you have a viable solution. This can take some time. Selling is complicated. It is a finely tuned brew of ingredients that gets results.