Creating a Powerful Sales Plan

Sales Plan

By Dave Kahle

Field sales people have a unique aspect to their jobs – they have the ability to decide what to do every moment of every day.  The need to make this decision – where to go, who to see, who to call, what to do – distinguishes the sales profession from most others.

I’ve often thought that the quality of this decision, more than any other single thing, dictates the quality of the sales person’s results.  Consistently make effective decisions, and your results will improve.  Make thoughtless, habitual or reactive decisions, and your results will be sub-par.

One of the ways to ensure that you make good decisions about your selling time is to create a comprehensive sales plan.

What’s a sales plan?  A written, thoughtful set of decisions about the most effective things you can do.  A sales plan should be the result of some good thinking, wherein you analyze and prioritize a number of different aspects of your job.

A good sales plan addresses different time durations and different aspects of your job.

Annual planning retreat

Every sales person should discipline himself/herself to an annual planning retreat.  Set a day or two aside, every year, to engage in some serious planning.  Turn off the phone, shut down the email, and immerse yourself into deep thought about the coming year.  Begin by specifying a series of annual sales goals.  What, specifically, do you want to accomplish this year in your job?  I recommend no more than five specific sales goals.  Typically, one of these goals describes the total volume of sales dollars you want to create; another may describe the number of new customers you want to acquire; yet another may relate to the number of high potential customers with whom you want to increase your business.  Regardless of what your goals are, an annual, written, specific set of goals is the beginning of a sales plan.

Next, give some thought, and express that thought on paper, as to your basic strategy to accomplish those goals.  If you are going to acquire 20 new customers, for example, exactly what are you going to do in order to accomplish that annual goal?

Classify all your accounts by their potential.  Rank them in order, identify the highest potential, and then plan to spend more time with the highest potential.

Re-organize your filing system; throw out the obsolete hard copies and delete the unnecessary electronic files.

To do this well, you will need to devote a full day or two.  This annual exercise is the first part of a good sales plan.

Monthly plan

Next, you should develop a more detailed plan every month.  Produce a one or two page document which contains your specific commitments to the most effective actions.  Once again, you are required to analyze and prioritize your efforts in regards to a number of issues.

First, your monthly objectives:  What do you want to accomplish relative to the annual goals that you set?  If you said you wanted to sell $2,000,000 worth of your goods this year, how much do you have to sell this month?  Each of your annual goals should have a monthly component.

Next, you should address your prospects and customers.  In order of priority, in which prospects and customers should you invest your time?  That priority often takes the form of a methodical and objective ranking into categories – typically A, B, and C – based on potential.  The sales plan then describes your plan for coverage of the A’s and B’s.

You should address the CTM opportunities, regardless of where they occur.  CTM stands for Closest to the Money.  Analyze and prioritize your efforts related to those opportunities within your territory that are closest to the money.  What are you going to do to bring each of them to fruition?  Specify each, the dollar amount of the opportunity, and what your actions should be.

Your company may have certain key product or product lines that it wants to emphasize.  If so, you’ll need to analyze and prioritize your efforts in regards to those product lines.  What will you do this month to increase sales of those product lines?  What specific actions will you take, in which specific accounts?

Finally, what will you do this month to improve yourself?  What classes or seminars will you attend?  What books will you read?  To which CDs will you listen?

Note that all of this addresses not every action you will take, but rather the most effective actions.  You can note these things on a page or two.

Don’t think that you can keep all this in your head, and skip the discipline of writing it down.  Writing each specific action and strategy down, whether it’s on a yellow pad or a computer document, forces precise thinking.  The written word also commits you to a degree much deeper than if you keep the idea locked in your head.

After you have completed this monthly sales plan, it’s time to schedule your time.  Lay out a plan for each day for the next 30 days.  Where will you plan to be, and who will you plan to see?  Reflect first your priorities from your monthly plan.  Then fill in the non-priority calls.

You and I both know that your days will rarely go according to plan.  However, without a plan, you will have totally given up the ability to control and manage your time.

By having a plan you have something to fall back on, something to refer to, some benchmark by which to measure the constant and urgent demands on your time. So, there is an annual component to your sales plan, as well as a monthly discipline.  But you are not finished yet.

Weekly plans

You need to reorganize and recommit to your monthly time and territory plan each week.  Adjust your plan based on what actually happened the previous week.  For example, if you didn’t get to see an A account that you had planned on seeing, can you see them this week instead?  Make your adjustments each week.  Each week, at the end of the week, spend some time planning and preparing for the upcoming week.

Daily plans

Finally, you need to plan each sales call.  What do you want to accomplish in each call?  What do you need to prepare in order to accomplish it?  Again, you’ll be more focused and more committed if you write down a specific outcome that you would like to achieve in each sales call.  Keep in mind that sales is a process, consisting of a series of steps that the buyer and seller take to come to a good decision.  Your planned outcomes should be narrow and specific.  Something like:  “Acquire the information I need in order to structure a proposal,” instead of “Sell this account.”

The creation of a sales plan, as you can see, is not a simple, one time event.  Rather it is a discipline that involves a commitment of time and thoughtfulness at specific intervals in the year.

It is also not just an administrative requirement, but a powerful tool that enables a professional sales person to consistently make good decisions about the most important question he/she faces:  Where to go and what to do?

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We have a number of resources to help you do this.  Consider our Kahle Way® Selling System, and read the book, 11 Secrets of Time Management for Sales People. If you are a member of The Sales Resource Center ™, consider Cluster CL-88: Planning, or Pod-38: Strategic Planning for Sales People.

Question and Answer #47- Overcoming Negative Perception

This is a Sales Question and Answer article from guest poster Dave Kahle, author and leading sales educator.

Overcoming negative perception

Q.  How do I overcome a customer’s negative perception of my company because of some earlier mishaps in the account?

A.  Wouldn’t life be so much easier if we didn’t have to deal with these kinds of situations?  But, of course, these problems are, in one sense, job security for us.  If there were no problems, and all the customers were easy, they wouldn’t need us.

First, let’s keep this problem in perspective.  Believe it or not, this is one of the most common problems that sales people present to me.  That says to me that you are not alone.  Almost every company messes up at some point.  So, while the customer may make you feel like your company is totally incompetent, chances are he has had similar problems with other suppliers.  So, unless it was a mistake of huge proportions, or a pattern of repetitive problems, it’s probably not as big an issue as the customer is leading you to believe.

Customers have been known to try to parlay a mishap on your part into concessions from you on price, delivery, or some other aspect of the transaction.  Over-inflating their reaction to your mishap can be an intentional strategy.  So, guard against the tendency to overreact.

Regardless, you now have to deal with it.  Let’s assume that the customer’s negative attitude is real, and not just a negotiating strategy.

Start by putting the issue on the table.  If you haven’t yet apologized for the “mishaps”, make sure that you do.  Be careful not to blame anyone, but do explain, with specific detail, what changes your company has made that are designed to prevent the mishaps from occurring again.  Give him a reason to believe that the “mishaps” were an exception, not the rule.

Having done that, you can not expect that the customer will automatically believe you and restore his confidence in you.  It is more reasonable to expect just the opposite.

Doing business with you, from the customer’s point of view, has become a greater risk for him.  What price does he pay if he trusts you again, and you again mess up?  Looking at it from his perspective, he risks more by doing business with you than he does with your competitor.  You must, therefore, methodically work at decreasing the customer’s perception of his risk.

I’d recommend that, once you’ve apologized, you don’t bring the topic up again.  You’ll just cause the customer to harden his attitude.

Take a longer term perspective.  Look for small decisions he can make.  Small volume items and things that are purchased only occasionally — the bits and pieces of his business that no one particularly wants.  Try to get the customer to take a chance with you on those items that are of low risk.  And then do it again.  One small risk, followed by another small risk, and another, will begin to incrementally change the customer’s perception.

Slowly, over time, you re-establish your reputation as a quality supplier and pick away at the customer’s negative perspective, not by what you say, but rather by what you do.  Wait to make an offer on a substantial piece of business until you feel that the customer trusts you and your company more than he does now.  At some point, if you follow this strategy, he will.

Be smart, understand the issue of risk, see it from the customer’s point of view, and dig in for the long run.  If it was easy, your company wouldn’t need you.

Copyright MMX by Dave Kahle

All Rights Reserved

About the author:

Dave Kahle is one of the world’s leading sales authorities. He’s written twelve books, presented in 47 states and ten countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of sales people and transform hundreds of sales organizations.

Struggle – On Purpose

This is a Sales Tip of the Week from guest poster Shulman & Associates.

Which is more important? Selling your image or selling product.

The STORY:

Greg walked into the office of Able Manufacturing, sat down across from Harold Covill, the President, and smiled.

“Greg,” said Harold, “I know that grin.  For the past five years you’ve been selling us the lubrication oil and whenever you have that grin, you have something else to sell us.”

“I don’t know how to tell you this.  You may be upset,” responded Greg, as his grin disappeared and was replaced with a look of pain.

“What, nothing to sell me?”

“Worse.”  Looking at his left hand, Greg loosened his tie with his right.

“Worse?  You’re leaving the Linden Oil?”

“This isn’t easy for me…I wanted to put off telling you…”  Greg took a deep breath and looked up at Harold.  “They are changing the formulation of the lube oil.  In six months, all of your equipment will have to go through a three month change-over.  Or you can switch to the competition.  I’d understand.”

Greg averted his eyes and stared at the company pictures on the wall behind Harold.

“Is this new formulation any good?”

“Probably.  You know what they say…”

“Yeah, newer and better than before.”

About a minute of absolute silence ensued.  Greg fiddled with his tie, his sleeve cuff.  Then finally looked back to Harold and saw he was grinning.

“Never thought you’d be grinning about this.”

“Well,” began Harold, “I guess I shouldn’t let you keep squirming.  I appreciate that you didn’t try to sell me, but you are going to anyway.”

“Our competition has the old formulation.”

“Don’t care.  I’ve been thinking about upgrading all of the equipment, and with the new lube coming, I think I will.  I’ll get you the specs for the new units by tomorrow.”

Harold got up from behind the desk, “Stop looking pathetic, Greg.  You’ve solved my problem without even knowing what it was.”

The RESULT:

Greg made this sale because he made it “safe” for the prospect to talk. The prospect came up with the reason to buy, not Greg. Since it was the prospect’s reason, the need to buy became very important and had to be acted on as soon as possible.

DISCUSSION:

Greg has made the long journey that many salespeople never make.  When he started out in sales, he knew nothing and still made sales which he attributed to beginner’s luck.

He then journeyed on to educating himself in-depth about products.  He knew everything.  His sales went up.  Then, deciding that product knowledge was obviously the key, he spent untold hours learning every nut and bolt.  His sales then started dramatically going up, and just as dramatically, going down.  Up and down like a yo-yo.

Something wasn’t right.

So he found himself struggling to make sales and discovered a wonderful result.  Watching him struggle on purpose, the prospects told him what they needed.  His sales were higher than ever but more importantly, they were consistently higher, month in, month out.

Greg has journeyed to become a professional salesperson.

APPROACH:

The biggest difficulty a salesperson will have in trying out this approach is one of self-image.  The stereotypical salesperson is in a three-piece suit, perfectly groomed, well-spoken, has an answer for any objection that a prospect will ever voice and knows every closing line ever invented.

So you have to ask yourself, which is more important, selling your image of a salesperson or selling your product?  Don’t answer this too quickly.  Think about it.

Allowing the prospect to see you struggling, which you know you are doing on purpose, allows him to relax and open up.  He wants to help you make the sale if your product works for him.

You “struggle” by asking questions, not giving answers.  You may already know the answer, but ask the question anyway.  The prospect may surprise you.  You may find an answer you never considered.  And that new answer, which the prospect gave you, may be the one to make the sale.

Consider this for a moment, if you already know all the answers, why bother with a meeting?  Just call the prospect up, rattle off the answers and take the order.

But we know it doesn’t work that way.

THOUGHT:

It should not be the goal of the salesperson to sell his image. Selling your image doesn’t put money in the bank. Selling product does.

About the author:

Shulman & Associates is a professional development firm specializing in sales and management training and sales force evaluation. Visit their website to register for a FREE Sales Training Workshop. Learn how to increase sales, improve margins, and accelerate new business development. Breakfast is included in this workshop.

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SALES TIP OF THE WEEK

Question and Answer #56 – How to get a timely decision?

This is a Sales Question and Answer article from guest poster Dave Kahle, author and leading sales educator.

Sales frustration with trying to get a decision

Q. In a situation where I have made contact with the decision maker, I have provided samples and prices but it needs to go to the prospects’ quality control department. Assuming that I have not been able to pre-schedule an in-person appointment or specific call back date for results, I end up wasting a tremendous amount of time to get one of three answers:

a. No thanks.
b. QC still not done.
c. Yes, I’d like to plan an order.

I repeatedly call back and leave voice mail requests for an answer with no response. Any ideas of how I can be more effective in this scenario? Many sales people simply keep returning physically to the customer to try to get an answer, but I don’t think this is any more effective than phone calls.

A. Let’s look at the situation from the customer’s point of view. He probably has more important things to do than test your product. Your project has become a low on the to-do list item. He’ll get to it when he gets to it.

Why isn’t it any big deal to him? Because you haven’t made it one. In your proposal to him, you haven’t hit any sufficiently sensitive and intense hot buttons to motivate him to push the project out of the mode of standard operating procedures and attach some urgency to it.

Let’s say you’ve shown him that you can save him 3% on one component of his product. Yawn. That’s nice, but you aren’t going to unleash any torrents of energy devoted to pushing your deal through. And, really, from his perspective, does it make any difference if he decides to buy it today, or he decides to buy it next month? Probably not. As a result, your deal continually gets pushed down the ever-growing and changing list of things he has to do.

So, the problem is that your customer isn’t motivated to push your project ahead of other things he has to do. And the reason he isn’t motivated is because you haven’t given him a reason to be motivated.

The place to address this issue is not after you have made the proposal, it is before. Do two things. First, in your information collecting, concentrate on finding the prospect’s hot button. Find some things that the prospect is already passionate about. Then when you make your proposal, show how your product helps him reach those goals and helps him achieve the things about which he is already passionate.

The issue is motivation, and you don’t interject motivation, you discover it. Discover what he’s already motivated about, and link your product to it.

Second, give him some reason to act by a certain date. Maybe you have a special price promotion, or some service that he would value, etc. There should be something the customer gains by acting by some date. So your proposal should be “X” if he orders before some date, and “Y” if he orders after. That gives him a reason to push your project up the to-do list. Then, when you call and get voice mail and leave a message, you can remind him of what is at stake if he makes the decision by that date.

If you are able to put either or both of these pieces into play, you’ll find that most of the frustration with projects that linger forever is eliminated by preventing it on the front end of the sales process.

Good luck.

Copyright MMX by Dave Kahle

All Rights Reserved

About the author:

Dave Kahle is one of the world’s leading sales authorities. He’s written twelve books, presented in 47 states and ten countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of sales people and transform hundreds of sales organizations.