As you may be aware, last year my article “How to shorten your Sales Cycle”, (look to the left) was finalist for article of the year over at Top 10 Sales Articles. In it I put a great deal of focus on the importance of having a Next Step to ensure you are dealing with real prospects, who are actively involved in moving through the sales process with you.
I continue to get some interesting feedback to this, much of it similar to the type of feedback (pushback) we receive during our Funnel Management Program. Primarily it is around the question of what really is a next step. Our definition is simple: a mutually agreed on scheduled event, where both you and the prospect are working to move the sales process forward; simple and clear. But many see it as rigid; in fact about three yeas ago one rep called it as being “a fascist view of sales”.
For me like for many others in sales, the only indication of interest is action, and without an agreement between you and the prospect to take action to move the process forward in a defined time frame, you lack a clear indication of interest. Anything short of this is a plan, not a next step; it may be a good plan, the prospect may be aware of the plan, he may even like the plan, but if they do not agree to act on it, it is still just a plan, not forward progress. It’s like looking at a holiday guide and thinking about where you may go, versus enjoying a cold Beck’s beer on a beach in the Caymans.
What’s interesting is the same sales people that insist that “a plan” is indeed a next step, usually sounds like “my next step is…”, as though it was state secret that could not possibly be shared with their prospect; these same people are sometimes reluctant to prepare either an account plan, and almost never see the need for having a call plan for their sales meetings, even with key meetings in big opportunities.
Of course it is not really a surprise that there isn’t always a next step when reps go into a meeting without a clear plan for what they want to accomplish during the meeting, how they want to accomplish it, and what would constitute a successful conclusion for the meeting, specifically a real next step.
I did some work with a consulting firm in Boston. During the meeting we began the process of deconstructing their sale. They volunteered their “best rep”, the one whose skills and knowledge they wanted to transfer to the rest. He described his typical sale as taking three moths, four meetings and a couple of phones calls between the respective support teams. I then asked Mr. “Best Rep” what his expectation for the first meeting is, and how he would define a successful first meeting. His answer was not uncommon: “I want to understand their “needs” and close ‘em”. OK, admirable, but if he could close them in the first meeting, why go back the other three meetings, good coffee? No it was the lack of a plan, a lack of a next step strategy, leaving him to meander till he ran into a close.
Once we worked through it, it became clear that a number of things had to happen between the initial meeting and the close. Some had to happen in a certain sequence, others did not. But, it became clear that there would be no deal unless specific things happened in a given time frame, and for things to happen in that time frame, you need to focus on securing real next steps, ones that the prospect knows about and has bought into. To achieve this, you will need both a plan and a next step.
The reality is that if you do not take a few minutes to define and lay out your plan, you greatly diminish the odds of actually attaining your plan. Without a plan, all you are taking with you into your meeting is hope, yes and skill and experience, but even those need a focus. You know what they say: Hope is not a plan. And sadly a plan is not a next step.
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You May Have Noticed
If you look to the top of the column to the right, you will see that I have been nominated for one of the Top 50 Influential People In Sales Lead Management 2010. Please take a minute to vote, you can vote for up to three people, so in addition to me, you select two others. Thank you in advance.