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Is Experience Enough?

By Joane Ramsey

Is Experience Enough?

I love to cook. Most weeks I plan my meals on Thursdays, so Thursday night my order to Peapod goes in. By Friday at 6:00am groceries are delivered and put away. Saturday mornings while my kids are in music class, I can chop away and prepare for the week. By Monday, I know what is for dinner every night that week. When I start cooking I have all my ingredients and I am ready to have dinner on the table by 6:00pm. It is peaceful and I enjoy it. However, there is the occasional week when I don't plan as well, and that is the week we either eat out more often or our dinners are not as healthy. It is also when I am more stressed out about what to have for dinner???? If you cook for a family, or yourself, you know that feeling! It is not a good one either, what are you going to do now? Having the plan takes away that stress.

Part of my job is to have discussions with clients around sales efficiencies. Often I ask the question: “Do your salespeople have a plan?”

This single question often stops people in their tracks. In my 20 years of sales experience, more often than not I come across salespeople who do not plan and solely rely on their “years” of experience. Shocking right?

The question is: Why not? What gets in the way? Often the answer I am given is “I know what I am doing. I have been doing it for 20 years!” Or, “I have a plan.” I then ask, “Ok, let’s look at it.” Well, the “plan” is an outline of tasks without any further thought to it.

The reality is that in order to be a successful salesperson you need to have a plan that is strategic. If you account for the fact that there are only so many productive business days within a calendar year by the time we subtract vacations, holidays, sick days, unexpected situations and personal days you are typically left with only 200 productive business days. You truly only have about 6 months to meet your goal. That is not a lot of days! Planning becomes a critical activity!

How can you improve your sales efficiency today in four steps? Plan the work and work the plan.

1. Have a strategy for the year

Plan your year ahead and have it clear in your mind how you are going to tackle it.
Often I see that salespeople don’t truly understand what strategy means. More often than not, they think their action plan is their strategy.

Alfred Chandler, a professor of business history at Harvard Business School and John Hopkins University, wrote in 1962 that:

"Strategy is the determination of the basic long-term goals of an enterprise, and the adoption of courses of action and the allocation of resources necessary for carrying out these goals. Therefore, one can determine that we are talking about a high level plan to achieve one or more goals under conditions that are usually uncertain."

In thinking of your strategy you need to recognize that there are two processes in place: one of formulation and one of implementation. They are simple and if applied can yield great results.

Formulation: This involves analyzing the environment or situations in which you will be operating under and developing a course of action.

Implementation: This is the process of determining what action plans need to be in place to achieve the goals you have established.

For instance, during the Formulation> process you need to:

  • Analyze your current account base:
    • How is your customer base distributed in terms of industry or market place?
    • What is the mix of products/services sold in each industry and/or market?
    • How has your business grown in each industry/market over the past three years?
  • Analyze your competition:
    • With whom have you competed for business in each area?
    • What were their strengths in each area?
    • What were their weaknesses in each area?
    • What are your vulnerabilities with each competitor?
    • Who is your indirect competition, i.e. what other ways can your clients meet their goals without using your services?
  • What are the recent events that would affect the markets or specific industries?
    • Geo-politics
    • Local economies
    • Macroeconomics
    • Natural disasters
    • Mergers and Acquisitions
  • What is your cost of doing business?
    • What are your revenues (commissions) for the past three years?
    • How many customers are you serving?
    • What are your variable expenses?
    • What is your profit?
  • What actions do you need to take with each client? Each industry/market?
    • Grow
    • Acquire
    • Fire
  • Analyze your measures of success
    • Number of customers
    • Gross Margin per customer
    • Repeat business with each customer (# of times clients buys per year)
    • Time spent with each customer
    • Profit per customer
  • What is your competency, defined as a unique combination of skills, processes, and knowledge that create significant value for clients? Do you have a clear picture of the value you add to your customer and what you are good at it?

Once you are done formulating or analyzing, you will have a clear picture where your business will come from and the competencies that will lead you there. You will be ready to start determining how you need to implement your action plans.

During Implementation, you will need to determine your actions. Here are some questions to help you determine what those may be:

  • What is your desired situation and in what time frame?
  • Based on the above information, where are the opportunities for growth? Markets, industries, clients?
  • Can you realistically achieve the goal you set based on the opportunities for growth?
  • What specific actions do you need to take to capitalize on those opportunities for growth?
  • What skills do you need to develop to further strengthen your competency?
  • What are the threats to your competency in the future?
  • What are the barriers that could possibly stall your progress? (Both personal and professional)
  • What actions can you take to mitigate these threats and barriers?

By answering those questions you will be able to clearly determine what action plans need to be in place for the year and which customers you will need to focus on.

Now that your strategy is in place, you can get to your action items, one of which involves moving towards setting appointments and contacting the people you need to reach in order to achieve your goals. When in sales, reaching customers is always one of your critical actions. Planning is also required to achieve your action items. Here are some simple next steps as you prepare to move forward in setting up meetings with your prospects.

2. Research your contact

As you prepare for a meeting, make sure you know something about the person you will be meeting with as well as who else they may be connected with. LinkedIn has made this task so much easier than in the past. You want to be able to establish some commonality with your contact in order to better relate with them, as well as to understand what other value they may bring to your sales call. Are they a potential referral to another division? Are they connected with someone at a company you have been trying to reach for the past 3 months?

3. Establish a goal for the meeting:

In planning for a sales meeting, much like planning your strategy, it is critical to have clear in your mind the desired outcomes of the meeting.

  • What is your ultimate goal for this meeting?
  • What are some of the critical success factors that need to be in place to make this meeting a success?
  • Where does this meeting fall in the category of importance as it concerns to my pipeline?
  • Is my time being well spent?
  • Am I meeting with the right people? Do I need to ask for referrals?

4. Define what next steps need to be in place

Prior to going into a meeting, clearly establish in your mind what actions and next steps you want to achieve as a result of the time you are spending with your customer, prospect or your peers. It is a lot easier to ask someone to take action when you know what that action is prior to asking. An action may be to ask for another meeting with a higher-level executive, a meeting with procurement or a referral into another division.

In establishing a simple process for your sales plan, you increase your confidence, and the outcome of your sales results. Experience is not a plan but only a benchmark for past performance. Experience provides you the wisdom to create a better plan.

Take control of your future performance by taking the simple steps to creating a consistent sequence of events that allows for a natural interaction with your customer that will yield results.

What is your plan?

Published: April 16, 2015


Joane Ramsey

Senior Performance Improvement Consultant

A native of Brazil, Joane first came to the U.S. as a foreign exchange student with AFS. She returned to Brazil where she successfully ran and sold two different businesses. Returning to the US in 1992, Joane put her business ownership experience to work with a small manufacturing company running the day-to-day operations and facilitating sales with South American companies. She joined SEG in 1999, where her experience has helped her clients get the results they desired. Joane has a B.S. degree in business management from North Central College, where she majored in international business and Spanish.

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