Don't Let Sales Growth Fool You

Paul Reilly discusses the deceiving nature of sales increases and the importance of staying hungry for growth even if business is already good.

In Greek mythology, the Sirens were mystical creatures. They would lure sailors to their island with their enchanting song. Sailors were captivated and deceived with the siren song. Siren song would cause sailors to change course and crash into the surrounding coral, sink, and die. The Sirens deceived and misled the sailors. Salespeople also fall victim to the song of the Sirens.

Sales Sirens don’t take the shape of mystical creatures. Sales Sirens take their shape in record sales numbers and quota-busting performance. Record sales deceit organizations the same way Sirens deceived sailors. A sales increase is not the same as growth. You can still grow even if business is already good.

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During times of peak performance, salespeople overlook leveraging opportunities. We assume that we are getting most or all of our customer’s business. However, our success could be a result of luck and a good economy. To use another analogy…the pie is getting bigger, not your slice. Growing your slice is the only way to grow in the long-term. Never assume you’re getting all the business. Assume there is always more.

If your sales organization is hearing the Sirens’ song, it is time to change course. The quickest way to change course is to leverage your current opportunities. Marketing Metrics claims that you are 70% likely to sell something to an existing customer and only 20% likely to sell something to a new prospect. Creating more value and selling more to your existing customer is the easiest, fastest, and most profitable way to grow your business. Here are some suggestions to help you leverage your existing opportunities.


Our internal research found that fewer than 25% of salespeople have a detailed plan of attack for their largest opportunities. The first step in leveraging your current opportunities is to create a plan. Develop your leveraging plan by asking these questions:

  • How can I create more value for this customer?
  • What are my opportunity areas in this account?
  • Who are the key decision makers involved?
  • What other departments would benefit from our solution?
  • What other locations would benefit from our solution?
  • What actions will I take this week to fully realize these opportunities?

Set multi-dimensional targets

It is not enough to set revenue targets for your top accounts. Revenue targets are easy and clear cut, but they are one dimensional. Revenue targets are achievable through luck and a good economy. Instead, focus on growth metrics and behavioral targets. Behavioral targets are focused on changing the behavior which ultimately leads to better results. Here are some sample growth metrics and behavioral targets.

  • Growth metrics – sell additional product lines, sell to different locations/departments, increase margin, or more new product sales.
  • Behavioral targets – meet more contacts, gather competitive information, schedule product demonstrations, schedule product trials, gain more referrals, meet high-level decision makers.

Involve your customer

Your customers are part of the leveraging process. Ask for their feedback. Ask how you can create more value for their company. Ask for referrals and introductions. A value-added customer wants to help you succeed. Equity is a foundational principle of Value-Added Selling. An equitable customer relationship means you want the customer to succeed as much as they want you to succeed. Many top-achieving salespeople tell us their customers go out of their way to make them successful.

Talk to everyone

As a rookie salesperson, I had the opportunity to shadow several great sales mentors. One thing these mentors have in common is the depth and breadth of their customer relationships. When these top achievers visit key accounts, they meet with everyone. They talk to end-users, engineers, operators, managers, accounts payable/receivable, safety managers, gate-keepers, and even salespeople. They are fully immersed in their customer’s business. They build a web of relationships.

Re-create value for the customer

Selling more to customers is the byproduct of creating more value for your customer. Your goal is not to sell more; it is to serve more. Creating maximum value for the customer positions you as a partner. Creating maximum value is about proactively looking for ways to enhance your solution and exceed customer expectations.

Make joint calls

People view opportunities differently. Joint calls with your manager or other salespeople is a great way to get fresh eyes on your opportunities. Sometimes our greatest opportunities hide in plain sight. Our customer’s needs exist beyond our individual capabilities. That’s why we have a team.

If your business is growing only because of the economic rebound, there is no net gain. You are being lured by the siren. Many sales organizations are experiencing growth. Although you are experiencing growth, I would urge you to fully leverage your current opportunities. Now is not the time to celebrate success. As Walt Disney said, “In this volatile business of ours, we can ill afford to rest on our laurels, even to pause in retrospect. Times and conditions change so rapidly that we must keep our aim constantly focused on the future.”


Paul Reilly is president of Reilly Sales Training, a St. Louis-based, privately owned company that specializes in training sales professionals, sales managers, and service professionals. Reilly Sales Training offers public seminars, in-house sales training programs, and hiring and training assessments.

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