How to Bust Through a Plateau

By Heather Baldwin

Almost all sales managers have walked that flat, frustrating stretch of ground called a plateau. It might be your team’s results or your own performance that has stalled. Whatever the case, you can break through the plateau and start climbing again by following the 60-20-20 Rule, say James Benson and Paul Karasik, authors of 22 Keys to Sales Success: How to Make It Big in Financial Services (Bloomberg Press, 2004). Sales managers in any industry can use the rule to discover and initiate new techniques to boost sales. The rule involves breaking your use of time into three chunks.

1. Spend 60% of your time implementing your current sales and marketing systems. These are the activities you look at regularly, including prospecting strategies, scripts, closing techniques and so on.

2. Spend 20% of your time on pure research, learning about things that may or may not have a practical application. Study new technical information, target markets, product applications, selling techniques, new business models and so on. To conduct your research effectively, it is critical that you maintain an attitude of openness and curiosity. “Ignore your inner voice of judgment while you explore new ideas so you avoid discarding an idea before giving yourself a chance to fully investigate its potential,” say Benson and Karasik. As you conduct your research, make sure you use these four resources: books that are narrowly focused on the topic you are researching, the Internet, interviews with people who have experience with the topic you are researching and professional and trade associations. Even if an association can’t provide you with the information you’re looking for, they often can point you in the right direction.

3. Spend 20% of your time applying the research results that makes sense. Test your research in real-life scenarios. Does it jumpstart your sales process? Is there a clear benefit to these new ideas? If so, roll it into the activities that consume 60% of your time. At the same time, make sure you’re evaluating your 60% segment and dropping anything that is not working as well as it once did.

“By continuing to do what has generally worked well, researching new ideas, implementing the ones with potential and refining your process,” say the authors, “you will get off the treadmill and enter the cycle of growth.”