Sales Skills

by Jeremy Cassell and Tom Bird

The value of good planning

When I started out in business, I spent a great deal of time researching every detail that might be pertinent to the deal I was interested in making. I still do the same today. People often comment on how quickly I operate, but the reason I can move quickly is that I’ve done the background work first, which no one usually sees. I prepare myself thoroughly, and then when it is time to move ahead, I am ready to sprint.

Donald Trump

Planning is another one of those things we know that we should do and convince ourselves we are doing well enough. In sales, however, a lot of ‘plans’ are actually targets. You might have a sales plan that relates to a revenue or margin figure, for example, but you need to plan the aspects of your sales work to achieve the results you want.

Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.

Alan Lakein

Almost every aspect of your activity could benefit from a plan. With planning, you can be more objective and thoughtful about what you need to do to achieve your goals, ensuring that you do not miss out anything that could make a crucial difference.

Let us look at some specific things you can plan and what you should take account of when you are planning. These are examples rather than a definitive list.

Planning prospecting results

By taking the sales target and dividing it by the average order value, you can arrive at the number of sales you need to make. Using current conversion rates, you can come up with a total number of prospects that you need to contact. You can then factor the time taken to generate a prospect (maybe through your own prospecting activity, such as cold calling) to arrive at the amount of time required. This activity can then be planned into your calendar.

So, if my average order value is £1,000 and my account sales target for the year is £200,000, then I need 200 sales over 12 months to achieve target. If I know that for every three prospects, I convert one into a sale, I need 200 x 3 prospects to make my sales target. Now I can plan how much time it will take to generate 600 prospects, using current or potential prospecting activities.

Planning meetings

Outstanding salespeople make time to plan their meetings so that they maximise the chance of achieving their objectives from them. This planning doesn’t often take a lot of time, but it can make a significant difference. Others do not plan meetings – they turn up and ‘wing it’ when, with a small investment in planning, they could dramatically improve their outcome.

Prospect meetings

  • Research the prospect – using the internet, for example.
  • Set an agenda for the meeting.
  • Plan your key questions.
  • Think about who should be there.
  • Plan your own outcomes – what do you want to achieve?

Presenting solutions

  • Think about what the prospect needs to know.
  • Put yourself in the prospects’ shoes to bring greater empathy.
  • How you will make your points clear and compelling?
  • What questions might come up and how will you address them?
  • If presenting with others, who will do what and how will you manage handovers?

Internal sales meetings

  • Understand what is expected of you in the meeting.
  • Think about issues on the agenda so that you can contribute.
  • Look at, and action, if appropriate, the minutes from the previous meeting.

Planning the efficient use of time

Client/prospect visits

  • Plan your territory and visits so that you maximise efficiency and use of your time.
  • Think about the time needed realistically to cover your meeting agenda.

Customer contact

  • Plan how often you need to contact your clients and prospects and schedule this activity.

Administration

  • Take things with you that you can do if you find yourself with a little time before or after a meeting or while you are travelling.
  • Plan time to do this aspect of your role.
Tip

A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.

You are often planning in a changing environment. You are not likely to have perfect or complete information and you must resist the temptation to get into ‘planning paralysis’. Do not let perfect be the enemy of good. If you do not plan, you will have a scattergun approach that will make it very difficult to review what is working and what you need to do differently. Once you have a plan that is good, it is best to implement it rather than try and improve it from 85 per cent to 90 per cent perfect. The best plans are often the simplest – they are easier to monitor. If you get into the habit of planning the important things, such as meeting agendas, and thinking about the questions a prospect is likely to ask in a presentation, you will be surprised at how little time it adds and how much of a difference it makes!

Planning is best done in advance of the activity concerned. If you start to plan too late, you are under pressure for a result and your planning will be far less effective. It is also difficult to be objective about a situation if you are planning in the middle of it.