“I may make you feel but I can’t make you think” (Gerald Bostock IA)
This post was originally prepared for a site catering to sales professionals that I occasionally contribute to. They were looking for pieces on predictions for big things in sales in 2016. I thought it would be a big thing if sales people started executing and selling, and having real forecasts rather than just predications. They decided not to run the piece, and to quote: “The premise being that predictions aren’t a super useful exercise would cast a bad light on the rest of the posts on our blog that are predictions”. Well far be it for me to cloud the issue with facts, contrast the other pundits. But having written the piece, and being convinced that there is still room for realism in predicting, I will share it here, and wait for your verdict.
Have at it, and enjoy!
This time of year brings a unique blend of traditions and rituals, mixed with a sense of urgency for ending the year right, and wide eyed anticipation for the possibilities the new year brings. Wild ass unrealistic, and never to be validated or reviewed predictions is one silly and repeated ritual; after all the pundits get busy and caught up in the season, and what’s easier when you’re behind deadline for a post or article, than to make predictions for the coming year. After all, no one ever checks to see how they turned out 12 months from now, especially if you make them “feel good” predictions with just a hint of sugar-plums scent. The challenge with predictions in sales is they lack accountability, and as a result are usually more aspirational than material.
On the other hand, predictions can be used to drive sales results by taking the aspirational, and using them to create concrete goals and action plans. Many already partially do this in the form of stretch goals. Stretch goals are used and defined in a number of ways. Here are two to help focus the discussion:
Business Dictionary: Goals “That cannot be achieved by incremental or small improvements but require extending oneself to the limit to be actualized. Expressed in the saying, “You cannot cross a chasm in two steps.””
From THE PARADOX OF STRETCH GOALS: ORGANIZATIONS IN PURSUIT OF THE SEEMINGLY IMPOSSIBLE: “An organizational goal with an objective probability of attainment that may be unknown but is seemingly impossible given current capabilities (i.e., current practices, skills, and knowledge).”
As the authors of the above suggest “stretch goals could influence organizational learning and performance”, and while they go on to explore potential paradoxes, done right, predictions can lead to positive sales results.
Predictions by nature tend to reach beyond what most would accept as normal or easily accomplished. In the sales context, they also can be used as targets, which in turn require an action plan. The fact that they may be a bit outlandish, will force reps to develop equally eccentric action plans. If what we are doing today is allowing us to get to X, then what will we need to change to achieve X plus? This will impact reps’ individual plans for their territories and accounts, as well as their execution.
Having reps reexamine their current plans against “predictions” you make as their leader, will force them to explore how they need to extend their thinking (and activities), often forcing them to develop completely new plans, or even who they may target as prospects or upsell opportunities, to maximize their selling time in order to hit the prediction.
This also serves as a great coaching opportunity. As they revise or develop new plans, it will require them to do things differently than before, to do that they will need input, guidance, and encouragement, giving you the chance to establish a culture of learning and growing through planning and execution.
So while I predict that next year will bring a slew of predictable predictions, how you action them can also bring more sales and means of selling better.