Overcoming Sluggish Sales Starts With Investigation

A strategic market analysis may uncover competitive disadvantages or push you in new directions to find greater profitability

Overcoming Sluggish Sales Starts With Investigation

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If you’re struggling with sluggish sales, review two critical areas to address the situation. The first is determining if the slowdown is due to changes in your target market. The second is determining if your sales and promotional approaches are ineffective.

While there may be complicating factors beyond your control, most of the time a sales slowdown can be attributed to one or both of these issues. This type of analysis reviews your demographics, competitors and the effectiveness of your marketing messages to provide a comprehensive evaluation of the demand potential for your business. When combined with a marketing audit, you have a powerful opportunity to turn things around.

Conduct a demographic analysis

A demographic assessment is the foundation of determining if your products or services remain feasible. Understanding your target market demographics provides insight regarding the impact of any changes in market volume. A demographic review helps determine if you are in a short-term sales slump or if a more significant market decline is expected over a longer time horizon. All too often, the cause for a revenue decline is evident in the demographic data. The key is to allow the data to show you, objectively, what is going on in your market.

A well-executed demographic analysis evaluates shifts in the variables of your consumer’s age, gender, income and other economic variables impacting the market you sell to, and it identifies potential market risks impacting your business survival. Business client demographics include company age, revenue, number of employees or number of locations.

Be careful in defining your market area boundaries. Too many businesses use wider geographic areas for their market than they realistically serve. Overly optimistic boundaries will overstate your market potential. Think of your customer demographics in the same way that a doctor thinks about vital signs. Demographics will help identify new opportunities. Or they will confirm your market has shrunk to a level where you should reconsider your offerings.

Conduct market interviews

Some companies conduct probing interviews of customers, employees, key community leaders, industry associations and vendors to gain insight on what is changing within their marketplace. Interviews provide you with insights into what makes your competitors tick, or they help you understand what your key target audiences really think. Interviews can help you understand what is going on and provide you with insight to refine your marketing messages to improve sales.

Study your competitors

While the internet has made it easier to gather basic information on competitors, competitive intelligence involves deeper methods. Look at what products and services they promote. Evaluate how they position those products and services to meet customer needs. You can network with industry experts, customers, suppliers, key referral sources and even competitors to better understand your market environment. Combine this information with research sources such as news media or subscription databases to help gain additional insight. Researching your competitors will provide you with a deeper awareness of opportunities or the need to revamp your offerings.

Secret shop your team, the competition

Secret shopping allows you to better understand how effective your salespeople are at sharing your brand message with your target audience. You can assess their conversation approaches, closing techniques and positioning efforts when responding to contacts from a prospective customer. You can combine this approach with secret shopping your key competitors. Secret shopping your team and competitors will give you greater insight into identifying opportunities for improvement and enhancing sales effectiveness.

Complete a marketing audit

Effective marketing strategies balance the elements of the marketing mix with your strategic plan to reach identified target markets and generate desired sales results. A marketing audit evaluates the effectiveness of your marketing and promotional tactics to identify what you should maintain or improve to support your strategic vision and plan. This would include a review of your website and sales approaches (phone, drop-in, internet, etc.). Review all of your marketing collateral materials to assess improvements to enhance consumer decision-making. Carefully evaluate how you use your social media channels to identify more effective tactics for sharing your marketing message and engaging with your prospects.

Provide sales coaching to your team

Sometimes your team needs outside support to review sales approaches to improve overall performance. It is not uncommon for novice salespeople to be given little training with the expectation that they will intuitively figure out how to sell. Closing deals, whether to a consumer or a commercial client, can be a much more complicated effort. Sales may not resolve in a single interaction; they often involve multiple discussions before the final decision to buy. Developing better skills and questions for probing prospects can help move the sale forward.


Engaging in a strategic market analysis may uncover the reasons for your revenue slowdown. The goal is to determine if your marketing approaches or your lack of a viable market is the cause of your situation. If it is your marketing, you can adjust your sales and marketing messages to better align with your customers. If it is the market, you can review pricing strategy and geographic service boundaries.

Sifting through the data will help you reassess your market trends, growth factors and competitive dynamics. You gain an understanding of the implications of this information relative to your business and can assess how well you are positioned for long-term success.  


 Jill Johnson is a speaker, author and president and founder of Johnson Consulting Services. Reach her at www.jcs-usa.com.


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