Our earlier blog posts covered one of sales’ crucial skills – planning. More specifically, we looked at a simple account planning process that focuses on ways to make sure your strategic goal is strived for and met.
However, just knowing where you want to get to and how you know when you arrive is only the first stage. The next is considering the journey itself – the sales call.
The major difference between the account plan and the sales call plan is that the latter needs to focus on what can be achieved during the the call. Setting a realistic objective is the first stage. There is no point setting yourself an objective that is clearly achievable in the hour long face to face, or telephone, meeting. So make sure your goal is SMART.
This is a familiar acronym to many, but as a quick recap, your goal needs to be Specific, easily Measurable (i.e. will you know when you’ve achieved it), Achievable (in the call itself), Relevant (to achieving your account objective) and Time-bound (i.e. it can be achieved in the time set aside for the call).
Having set your objective, ensure you have a pre-planned agenda. Ideally this should be sent to the customer in advance of your meeting. Whether this is a formal list of topics to be covered in sequence, or a more informal list of items for discussion will depend on your business, the approach of your customer and the culture in which you operate. We have often found that salespeople in some parts of the world, and in some industries, find this a difficult concept to buy into because of local practices. However, when they start to use an agenda, the initial surprise of their customer turns into recognition of their professionalism and becomes an expected way of operating in future calls. Of course, in some parts of the world this is already second nature.
Truly effective salespeople are proven to not only have an objective and a clear agenda. They also consider in advance what it is they would like their customer to commit to doing at the end of the meeting. By planning these ahead of the meeting they are able to steer the conversation to make sure that it is not only the sales person that leaves with a list of actions. Getting the customer to commit to doing something as well helps to demonstrate that they are truly engaged in the sales process. These actions need to be tangible and measurable. They should be things that the customer has to do once the salesperson has left and that keeps the sale in their mind. The skill of the salesperson is in weaving these actions seamlessly into the call. Planning these in advance helps to increase the chances that they will be achieved.
Taking time to ensure that for each and every sales call these three elements are well planned, prepared and executed will ensure that the call is productive and leads towards the end goal.
We have worked with many organisations to help embed similar standard sales practices and disciplines. If you think we might be able to help you then please leave us a comment or contact us.
Having accepted that a crucial sales skill is planning, the next stage is to identify exactly what planning is going to help achieve the strategic goal in the long term and the quality of the sales call outcomes in the short term.
The first step is to make sure you are clear about the difference between account planning and call planning. The first is often referred to as an Account Development Plan and represents the desired outcomes in the long term. Whilst these are most often related to increased sales, they could just as easily relate to the development of a joint venture or business partnership. These account plans can have variable timescales ranging from a few months to a few years. The call plan is very different – this is the planning done prior to every sales call to ensure that the objective of the meeting, or telephone call, is met. More about call plans in the next blog post, but for now back to the account plan.
The Account Plan is often made up of two distinct parts – the Account Profile (which contains detailed information about the account, their business, contact details and sales records to date) and the Account Development Plan (ADP) itself. The ADP is the road map for the account. It lays out the final goal (or destination) and the stops on the way. Without it you won’t know if you are on the right road and you certainly won’t know when you arrive!
Practically, the Account Development Plan consists of 4 elements:
1. A strategic goal which defines what you want the relationship between your companies to be like in the long term.
2. Account objectives are the mid-term destinations. Primarily these are rated to sales and revenue targets but they can just as easily include non-financial objectives e.g. Numbers of sign-ups to a loyalty programme or commitments to joint marketing activities.
3. The milestones represent the points on the way that will keep you on track. The revenue targets can be broken down into quarterly targets for example, remembering to take into account any market and seasonal variables that mean that the target is rarely a clean break into four!
4. Finally comes your list of activities. These are the things you are going to do to help achieve the milestones, and ultimately the objectives and goals. These can include the meetings you will plan to have, the contacts you will develop and the marketing you will undertake.
Planning in this way – and in this order – will help ensure that your day to day activities are closely linked to achievement of the account goals rather than a somewhat random list of activities that will hopefully achieve the goals …… if you keep your fingers crossed!
The final piece of advice is to make sure that the ADP is a living document. It’s not something to be created once and never looked at again for 12 months. It needs continual review and updating. By doing this you’ll stay closer to your track and will also get a far better sense of achievement as your hard work starts to pay off. This shouldn’t be an onerous piece of planning. It’s a basic common sense approach to being more productive and ultimately getting better results.
If you would like to talk to us about anything in this article then please leave us a comment, or contact us and we’d be delighted to help. In the meantime come back soon for part three of this series of blog posts which will focus on call planning.
I came across a recent article on CBSnews.com which explores 8 crucial skills for sales people (opens in a new tab). Take a read of the article and see if you agree.
My experiences of working with many salesforces across the world indicate that this is a pretty good check list. For me though, the most important one is the need for thorough planning. All of the other skills are underpinned by this. It is often the case that, even when a good sales process exists, salespeople see account and call planning as, at best, a necessary evil or, at worst, a total waste of time. Many know that it should be done. Many know it delivers better call outcomes. Yet they still resist. So why is this?
There are many reasons why this might be the case.
1. Managers don’t see it as a valuable activity. It is perceived that time spent planning is ‘office time’ and detracts from time spent face to face with the potential customer.
2. Sales processes are so complex that the planning process really is time-consuming and adds little value.
3. The CRM system (assuming there is one) does not reflect the sales process. Salespeople feel that they are going through an admin exercise of box filling and ticking.
4. Individual salespeople feel that they don’t need to plan. They’ve been in the industry for so long that they can ‘wing it’.
5. Because they have never planned effectively, salespeople have never seen the difference in the result they get when they do.
During our training programmes we have heard every reason under the sun for not spending time planning. However, most of these all come back to the first point above. Managers don’t see the value. In businesses where sales call planning is a natural way of life, managers are actively involved in the planning. They review it, and use it, as part of their metrics.
When combined with regular sales call coaching, the other crucial skills mentioned in the CBS article will all start to be a natural part of the sales call.
Our sales courses all contain sessions on account and sales call planning. Contact us for more details.