What’s The Plan?

By Lee B. Salz

If you don’t have a destination, how can you develop a map to get there? This may sound like a question for a driver, but it is also a question for sales people.

The other day I was working out in the gym when a guy asked me to spot him on the bench press. For those of you not familiar with the term “spot,” it means to watch and assist the lifter if they need help. Of course, I agreed to do this. As is customary when spotting, I asked him how many reps (number of times lifting the weight) he planned to do. He looked at me very puzzled and said he didn’t know. Humorously, I followed that with asking if he expected to do it once or a hundred times. He laughed and said it would be more than one, but not sure how many he would do beyond that.

He began the lift and performed three reps. I asked him if he felt it was a good set. Was he happy with his performance? Did he achieve what he set out to do? He said, “Yeah, I guess so.” I went back to my workout wondering how he could determine if he had met his goal. If you don’t have a goal, how can you determine if you achieved it?

This experience reminded me of a time when I went to Chicago on a call with one of my sales reps. Prior to the meeting, the sales rep, his manager and I met at a coffee shop. Over coffee, I asked the sales rep to imagine that it was now an hour and a half later. The meeting was over and we were back sitting at the same coffee shop debriefing on the meeting. I asked what I thought was a fair question of the rep. I asked him, “This was a great meeting if what happened?” (By the way, this is one of my favorite questions to ask of sales reps.) I received a blank look and finally a request for help. Mind you, we were fifteen minutes away from being in front of a prospect and clearly there was no game plan.

We talked for a few minutes and developed our success metrics for this meeting. With those identified, we developed our game plan to achieve our success metrics. Many of you are thinking that a successful meeting is defined as being awarded the business. You would be right if it was that type of meeting. However, this was a second call in a business environment where the buying process is typically twelve to eighteen months. In this environment, other success metrics are needed for each step of the process.

Defining success metrics allows you to formulate a game plan for your meeting. If you know what you need to accomplish, the roadmap becomes very clear for what you need to achieve. If your success metric is defined as your having a comprehensive picture of their challenges with their current provider, you can prepare questions that will expose their challenges. If your success metric is to gather all of the data needed to put together a pricing proposal, the game plan is to ask all questions needed to craft a solution for this prospect.

From a prospect’s point of view, they have no time or tolerance for sales people who show up on their doorstep and ask pointless questions for an hour. They are busy and very sensitive about their time. If they accept a meeting with a sales person, they expect that sales person to arrive having done their homework on their company and with a laser focus approach to the meeting. Remember, sales is a profession. They expect a professional experience.

Another common time when sales people lose their way is when they are notified that they are a finalist for an opportunity and are invited to come in to deliver a presentation. In essence, they are told that they are one of a handful of providers that are being considered for the business. The typical response is to say “Great!” almost like Tony the Tiger. They hang up the phone, do the happy dance, and send an email to their manager telling them that they made the finalist list. There is nothing wrong about being excited to hear the news. You’ve probably worked hard to get to this point. However, you can’t cash that commission check just yet. How can you develop a game plan for this meeting if you don’t know who will be in the room, what is important to them, or even why you made the finalist list?

Recently, a colleague shared with me a story about her experience as a finalist. The RFP questions that the prospect had provided lacked focus. It was not clear what they were hoping to accomplish by selecting a new provider. She called the Procurement Agent and began asking a series of questions about their objectives and goals. The Procurement Agent told her she was the only sales person to contact them and ask these questions. The Agent agreed that the RFP lacked focus and could not fathom how the other selected finalists could prepare. Needless to say, this sales person won the business.

Ask any successful person how they became successful. They will tell you that they had a vision and developed a game plan to achieve that vision. Sales is no different. Know your success metrics and develop your game plan to achieve them.

Read other articles and learn more about Lee B. Salz.

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