Getting your team to create their own personal business, account or territory plan with time-bound actions is the objective of every sales leader. It is the annual ritual of late nights generating enough slides to reach the moon and back, stressful presentations, intense questioning and then finally, at the end of January, it’s all over. Cue sighs of relief from the sales force.
The problem with all of this work, however, is that after the first quarter these plans often end up gathering “e-dust” in a mail folder, not to be seen again until next year. Like buying a toasted sandwich maker, using it twice, and then never using it again, only to find it at the back of a cupboard five years later when you’re moving house.
It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that some may question the point of developing a plan if it only survives the first stage of execution before it needs revising.
Planning is a necessity
What is being overlooked in this point, however, is that it is the act of planning that produces the real value. Planning forces the discipline of forward thinking. It encourages sales professionals to anticipate any issues that might arise that could impact targets over the coming year and provides an incentive to develop solutions to these potential concerns. Collaborative planning also unifies teams and ensures everyone is on the same page and aware of their individual targets and how they will help move everyone closer to achieving wider goals.
Still struggling to see the value of planning? Consider the actions of experienced pilots, then. Before every flight they complete a pre-flight checklist in order to focus their attention on what is happening. By having a pre-prepared list, they can concentrate on instructions from the tower, the other planes on the runway, the weather and anything else that will have an impact on their job, without being distracted by trying to remember if step 21 of 50 was completed before take-off. It reduces risks and enables the pilot to carrying out their job efficiently.
Keeping plans relevant
Assuming each of your team has their plan, how do you ensure it remains in active use and is updated as events impact it? In the first instance, every plan must have actions that are both time bound and owned by one agreed individual. Often actions are decided without determining the dependencies or resources required, which will certainly bring the plan to a halt.
In order to further ensure plans are relevant, it’s advisable to build in a section on risk analysis based on three simple metrics:
- What are the possible threats to the plan at each stage?
- How likely is the threat to occur?
- What is the severity of each threat?
From these metrics a set of contingency actions can be prepared (you can read more on this topic in my earlier insight about the concept of the pre-mortem). If this short section of the plan is kept updated then it will remain relevant and in use. The team and the sales leader are then free to focus on the variables of each customer or transaction.
Finally, the sales leader is the most important element in this process. They need to constantly refer back to plans and actions in order to send a clear message to the sales team that it is a standard operating procedure to follow, review and update these strategies. And remember, sandwich makers produce quite tasty treats, so keep them in use!
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