My favorite sales planning guy is Sun Tzu, the noted Chinese warrior who revolutionized the science and art of warfare and created many of today's formal aspects of waging battle. Still taught at West Point, General Tzu's The Art of War, is an insightful treatise on the benefits resulting from careful planning in warfare. By the way, this is also a great book for your sales managers to read as background material as they set out to create their 2011 sales plans.
2,600 years ago Sun Tzu wrote, "The general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat; how many more do no calculations at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose."
Seems so simple, and yet we meet far more generals and warriors, (make that sales managers and salespeople) who do not plan out their upcoming quarter than we meet salespeople who do go through the six basic steps to effectively plan their sales strategies and tactics out more than a week or two.
Sure, everyone knows their key annual and quarterly quota objectives, and everyone has those one or two "other" KPIs for such things as increasing their number of new accounts or increasing their number of qualified calls and so on. But too often, that's all we see in a typical sales plan: a few quota numbers, a couple of objectives, and that's it.
And yet, the math from our five years of research on this is brutally clear on this: Those companies whose salespeople commit to detailed quarterly tactical plans are 30% more productive than companies whose salespeople do what we call "Big Bullet Plans". Big Bullet Plans have lofty goals, no meat, no metrics and superficial comments such as "Follow up regularly every other week"- a totally worthless tactic, which is why there's a much better way to do real-world, tactical-rich sales planning.
1. Keep it Simple
A tactical plan should be brought down to simple, easy-to-use formats that move quickly from segmenting the market down to where the rubber hits the road in detailed robust tactics that are going to move the needle. Five or six steps at the max, but always driving to the lowest common denominator of details that connect the dots and allow a sales warrior to be able to answer the question of "What exactly am I going to do make that 90 day objective?"
2. Simple is not easy
These tactical plans should encompass preferably only one or at the maximum two quarters in time. Too many opportunities change too frequently if you try to extend further out than one quarter at a time, plus you need to keep your focus on the short term of 10 to 12 weeks.
Having said that, these plans do take concentrated time to think through and complete. Specifically, when they get down to the last two steps of the six steps-defining the top three objectives and the top two or three tactics for each objective- they are not supposed to be easy to do. If they were, then they would be in the normal course of what we do every day. Let me give an example with a key account.
So, let's say you've defined a probable key account. The standard day-to-day follow up tactic would be something like: "Need to follow up weekly with my champion". To us that would be within the normal course of being a professional salesperson. However, in a quarterly sales plan like we're describing here, what we would expect would be a robust tactic such as creating a meeting specifically for the purpose of having you and your CEO meet with the senior team at the prospect to deliver a full presentation on the specific values that your company could deliver by the end of 2011.
3. These are your plans
Although these tactical plans may be requested by your boss, they are created for your own use for the purpose of reviewing your performance. There's a fine line here since obviously they are going to be reviewed, but in order for these plans to be of real value, they need to be personal. Your tactics and comments should reflect your own thoughts as to how you're going to execute your own sales during these 90 days.
To put all of this into perspective, click here Better Sales Plans, and you can see and listen to a brainsharked edition of what we're talking about.