As I work with my clients, I see a lot of “seat of the pants” selling – salespeople reacting to the current situation, figuring out how to respond on the fly, and generally counting on their gut feel for success. A long time ago a very smart sales manager told me something that snapped me out of this approach in my own selling:
“You are always working somebody’s plan. So if it isn’t your plan, whose plan is it?”
I thought – what are the options here? Seems to me there are three potential plans you could be working.
- You are working your customer’s plan. That leads to a situation where you eventually get confronted with a list of features that the customer thinks are important – and that probably don’t highlight what you think your primary differentiators and advantages are.
- You are working a consultant’s plan: Your customer has hired a consultant to build the list of features and evaluate the vendors. If you don’t know the consultant, you’re very likely to see the same kind of list you’d see from the customer.
- You are working your competitor’s plan: Your competitor has control of the buying process and you may not even get to see a feature list – you just lose the business. It’s worth noting that your customer’s plan or a consultant’s plan may actually be your competitor’s plan as well.
I think that the chance of winning a deal in any of these three scenarios is vanishingly small – you don’t get the opportunity to explore the customer’s problem or understand their business so you can make a compelling case for your solution. And in today’s world if you can’t do that, you lose.
So you must be working your own plan. And there are several levels of plan you need to execute:
- Your Territory Plan: At the very top level of your planning, you need to understand your territory – who your “sweet spot” prospects are, how you are going to approach them, how you are going to leverage Marketing’s lead generation and branding, who the contacts are that you need to talk with, and what the specific value proposition is in each case. Without this overall plan, you will be spinning your wheels as you compete with other salespeople who are much more efficient and effective than you are.
- Your Opportunity Plan: This is the planning level where you lay out how you are going to work through your sales process on this opportunity. Without this plan you will have no idea whether you are progressing toward an order or not – and you won’t know when your efforts are getting off track, which is key to understanding that someone else’s plan is being executed.
- Your Sales Call Plan: Every sales call needs a plan – comprised of your goal, your objectives, a statement of what’s in it for your prospect, the questions you are going to ask (and the questions you expect to be asked), and the actions you expect from your prospect and from yourself when the call is successful.
I discovered when I started working all three planning levels that my win percentages rose exponentially. My “seat of the pants” selling was based on hope, and we all know hope is not a strategy.
The moral of the story:
Put in the planning work and let the other guy worry about whose plan he is working.