Yesterday in our Random Walk Up Sales Street – 7, post we wrote about how there is a lot being written by many across various mediums about the “new economy”, and things we need to do differently based on the “new rules”. We suggested that you don’t get distracted by the shiny twinkling noise, but instead focus on how you can productive in some fairly predictable times.
At its roots, being productive in sales as in most things, comes down to a choice of either doing more of something or doing it better, a variation on the old work smarter not harder. If you are like me, when it comes to work, I would rather do it better, and not have to do more. Depending on the motivation, I do at times figure out how to do it better, and then do a bit more for greater impact. One of the best ways to do things better is to actually step back, stop doing things and plan things out.
When we work with sales people, we always focus on how they allocate their time before we get down to how to improve the activities they allocate time to. (See Allocate Time – Manage Activities and Get It Done – Chunking – Blocking) We identify key activities that must be completed to succeed and then what is the optimal amount of time they should allocate to each activity, what is their individual mix. This is not based on an average work day, but rather a complete sales cycle or a quarter of a year. You get the usual things like prospecting, account management, admin, fire fighting, etc., usually all adding up 100%. I say usually because on a regular basis you have someone who is so eager, so wanting to impress their boss that they exceed 100%, like the hockey player going into overtime saying to the commentator “Well I’m going to go out there and give it 110%.
While every sales person can rhyme of the old saying “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”, few if any do serious planning. There is a lot of incidental planning, whether it is an ad hock plan on the way to a meeting, or the thinking some do before a pipeline review. I have worked with many organizations that had their reps create a territory plan or account plan at the beginning of the year, review it quarterly or then dust it off occasionally when a director or executive would come to town. At the other extreme, I have seen organizations have reps prepare very detailed plans for each customer, that would outline not only the number of calls on a client, but when they would take place, and what would be discussed in great detail, allowing little room for the day to day realities of selling, and completely ignoring the client side of the equation, as it focused strictly on their need to sell product in certain volumes across a preconceived demographic.
The planning we see as working best needs to take place weekly at minimum, at time more regularly. It needs to look at and address the overall territory, followed by specific events that will impact sales. The planning should be strategic and tactical at the same time. One way to avoid winging it or doing things by rote is to plan. Look at the best way to move specific opportunities forward, based on the overall plan for an account or territory, what do you need to do now, and what based on new input and circumstances can be moved around and/or done later.
This approach to planning ensures a couple of things. By doing it frequently it becomes a simple exercise that does not consume a lot of time, but has immediate pay-off. Nothing turns people away from planning than spending a lot of time on things that will not impact them for some time. While long range planning is important, the reason these plans sit on shelves, is that once they done, the reps go back to dealing with the here and now. To avoid this do short term ongoing planning that support the long plan but allows you to tweak it based on realities on the ground. In turn this becomes a great learning mechanism, or coaching in the hands of the manager. By reviewing your plan at least weekly, see what works and what doesn’t, you are better equipped each time for the next round with all your opportunities and tasks.
Once you get in to the habit of planning, right down to the meeting level, including agendas, written down questions, primary, secondary and tertiary objectives with specific next steps, you’ll be more confident and better able to ignore the unimportant interruptions and noise of day to day selling. You will gain the confidence that comes from successfully executing and accomplishing those things you set out to do in the way you had planned. You can do all this in less than 5% of your time, and in the process free up a much higher percentage of time through focus and success.
What’s in Your Pipeline?
I also invite you to visit Sales and Sales Management Blog, where you’ll find Paul McCord’s on going series titled “Boost Your Sales”, where today I am the guest contributor of a piece called “Managing in a Changing Sales Environment” Enjoy the whole series. TS