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The Myth of the
Self-Initiated Motivated Salesperson

Most small to midsize companies I work with don’t have a sales plan. Most mistakenly believe that salespeople are internally motivated and directed where it is unnecessary or over-kill. When a sales organization has 100% commission salespeople, it fails to put together a sales plan because it doesn’t believe it can control or influence an independent sales force.

The biggest reason sales organizations don’t take the time or the effort to do a sales plan is because it is time-consuming on the front end and time-consuming on the back end. It takes real commitment and a disciplined approach to put together an effective plan.

Because of the personal nature of a sales plan, such as aspirations, income targets and lifestyle goals, most managers are not accustomed to or comfortable digging deep into the heads of their salespeople. They don’t realize that emotions are some of the key drivers of salespeople.

Most companies have a loosely knit sales figure to aim for, but generally they don’t go beyond that. A good sales plan is enforceable and holds salespeople accountable. Too many companies fear a defined sales plan because they will have to face the stark reality that they have some non-performing salespeople who are costing them money and they are not willing to act on it.

If they did act on it, they would have to play the enforcer role and they would rather spend the extra money (income, benefits) to let it slide and hope that the salesperson will leave on their own or they will naturally correct themselves through their own devices.

Managing salespeople can be a thankless job. That is why there are few talented sales managers. Companies too often mistakenly take their best salesperson out of the field and make them sales managers. This often falls short because of the lack of experience of the sales manager.

Another major reason that sales plans are not instituted or properly executed is because once you see the writing on the wall for certain underperforming salespeople, you need to start recruiting and hiring again. Companies have an attitude that the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.

Now that you know some of the real reasons companies don’t use sales plans, let’s look at the internal dynamics of what makes up a sales plan.

The three major parts are:

  1. Personal Goal Setting
  2. Formalized Sales Plan
  3. Monthly Reinforcement and Accountability

Accurate forecasting coupled with a well thought-out and detailed sales plan can help companies avoid problems, anticipate problems, plan for growth, identify new markets, and provide direction for its salespeople. It also can help manage staff, production, and cash flow needs more effectively. Although it requires an upfront investment of time and effort, it ultimately will help companies spend more time creating their business rather than reacting and constantly putting out fires.

A good sales plan works to improve shortcomings in the past and capitalize on growth opportunities for the future. It gets your salespeople to focus their attention on growing their major accounts, spend less time on non-productive activity and focus on how they can grow new accounts. Once accomplished, it is easier for management to lead, manage, track and make tough decisions on better data.

STEP 1 Personal Goal Setting of Salespeople

One key characteristic of high performing salespeople is they have written goals which have a goal date, and those are monitored and changed annually. Because salespeople come to work each day for their own reasons and not for management’s reasons, personal goal setting is the hallmark of a successful sales plan. Salespeople are competitive by nature and having them focus on their personal goals and using their career to help them achieve these goals can only help them to be more focused and motivated. Once they home in on all income goals and materialistic goals, they can use this as their own personal benchmark for their professional revenue goals and activity goals.

The following are some of the more obvious areas that should be considered for a complete goal package:

  1. Materialistic Goals: What new possessions do you want?
  2. Vacation Goals: What destinations?
  3. Retirement Goals: When, where and how much?
  4. Professional Goals: What can you do to enhance your profession?
  5. Career Goals: How far, how high and with whom?
  6. Hobby Goals: If you had the time and money, what would you like to do?
  7. Personal Goals: What is important to you to do with your life, spirituality and with your family?
  8. Knowledge Goals: Professionally and personally
  9. Money Goals: How much? What are your 5, 10, 15, and 20-year plans?
  10. Health and Beauty goals: How do you plan to stay healthy?

To make things easy, each goal has a stated mission, a due date and a specific plan. Some goals will have a few objectives and others will have many.

STEP 2 Formalized Sales Plan

Depending on your benchmarks, a sales plan should have an overview for each salesperson and their territory or account base, followed by a specific account analysis.

The overview should include threats, opportunities, present situation, competitive analysis, and trends.

The account analysis should include two major categories: existing accounts and new business. Within each category there should be a breakdown of A/B/C accounts. Information should be exact and to the point. "Less is more" is a good standard.

The following are suggestions for the account analysis:

  1. Last year’s volume
  2. Market share or total opportunity
  3. Sales projection
  4. Key contacts
  5. Number of sales calls made last year to that account
  6. Number of sales calls projected for this year to that account
  7. Type of account (A/B/C)
  8. Goals, strategies and plans for this account

The key for management is to locate where salespeople are wasting their time, spending too much time or too little time, calling too high or too low, existing business/new business ratios, and validity of overall sales strategy.

STEP 3 Monthly Reinforcement and Accountability

It is recommended that you review bi-annually and annually your sales plan with your salespeople. Review the key benchmarks as to where they are, year to date, and what revisions and changes they have to make to be on target with their goals. This should be done on a one-on-one basis.

Most sales organizations, when they do sales meetings, will run them anytime from weekly, monthly, or quarterly meetings. Unfortunately the meetings are bull sessions, product updates or just internal reporting. There is not enough time spent on accountability and helping the salespeople manage their activity, accounts, and goals.

The most important exercise a manager can do with their group is monthly pipeline reviews. This status report has each salesperson detailing their immediate and long-term deals that make up their active pipeline of deals. Effective managers have a defined systematic process to use that is not arbitrary and does not just ask, “Where are you with your goals this month?”

The key elements cover the main revenue benchmarks that the salesperson has committed to. Typically they are monthly or weekly activity (dials, people reached, appointments, quotes, referrals and sales) and an outlined progress report for all the deals they are forecasting in their pipeline.

The progress report or forecast will differ for every company because everyone has different benchmarks or priorities to measure. The following is a description of some of the key elements to track in the sales process:

  1. Motive for change: What are the customer’s problems, what are the costs and what is the tolerance for change?
  2. Investment: Is the customer willing to invest time, resources, and money to address their problem? What is the timing for change?
  3. Decision process: The who, what, where, when, why and how. What are the steps for change and timetable for each step?
  4. Solution: When and what will be the solution?
  5. Closure: What is the timing for a decision?

Some companies might have more steps. The point is to at least include the preceding which will be universal for just about all sales situations. As you take your salespeople through each of these steps, you no longer have to rely on forecasting information like, “They really like me, and I’m their guy. I know they have the money and I’m confident we have this one.” It is not a bad idea to assign a percentage for each step or define the key benchmarks in the sales process.

Management can now be very clear for each account the salesperson is forecasting as to where they are, what they have done right, what they have done improperly, what they need to do next, what is the percentage of closure and what can the salesperson do to repeat or prevent what they have done so far for the future.

Richard Farrell is President of Tangent Knowledge Systems, a national sales development and training firm based in Chicago. He is the author of the upcoming book Selling has Nothing to do with Selling. He trains and speaks around the world and has authored many articles on his unique non-selling sales posture.

Phone: 773-404-7915
EMail: rfarrell@tangentknowledge.com
Web: http://www.tangentknowledge.com