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“Everyone Has A Plan Until They Get Punched In The Face”

by David Brock on March 28th, 2014

I love this quote from Mike Tyson.  Most sales people I speak with claim they have a plan–often I think they thought they had a plan, but really didn’t.  But whether they do or don’t so many sales people get off course in their sales efforts.  They encounter difficulty, are put off their plan, and just play catch up through the rest of the buying process.

Some might respond, “Why plan?”  That’s a losing strategy.  So how do we deal with being “punched in the face.”  It happens to all of us in virtually every sales situation, so we need to figure out how to deal with it.

Here are some thoughts:

We really didn’t have a plan:  I think this underlies most of the set backs that we encounter.  We fooled ourselves into thinking we had a plan.  Maybe our plan was to do the same thing we’ve always done with every customer in the past.  But we haven’t really analyzed this situation or customer developing a specific plan.  So, the customer, or a competitor sets the rules for the process, and we can merely respond.  We lose tremendous advantage here, because we aren’t providing leadership or creating value.

Our plan focused on us, not the customer and their buying process:  This is a natural and common mistake.  We want to sell our products, so we focus on activities we think are critical to convincing the customer to buy our products.  Our meetings are consumed with presentations of product/features/functions/feeds/speeds.  The customer doesn’t care, they are focused on their business and what they want to achieve.  We create a gap in understanding/expectation.  Virtually any customer question or challenge at this point derails our strategies.  Things like, “Why should I care,”  “What’s this mean to me,” all derail us.  We’ve focused on what we are trying to achieve, not what the customer is trying to achieve, so when the customer changes that focus, it derails us.   We’ve not thought about it, we can’t respond?  In some ways, using the boxing analogy, this is the boxer who focuses on his own punching, but never spars and learns how to take a punch.

We developed a bad plan:  We took the time to plan, but our plan wasn’t good enough.  Too often, our planning tends to be done with “rose colored glasses.”  We look at things from our perspective, anticipating everything will fall into place.  We don’t look at things from the customer’s perspective.  We don’t ask the tough questions, “Why would the customer ever consider doing business with us?”  “Why is this important to them?”  “Why would they want to change from their current supplier?”  Or our plan has us dealing with the wrong people–so we aren’t prepared to address their concerns.  Good planning, starts by looking at things from the customer point of view.  It addresses the tough issues that are most important to the customers.  It focuses on identifying the real decision making process.  We haven’t realistically assessed the competition or alternatives, we haven’t thought about what they may be doing, or don’t have strategies for countering them.  A great plan focuses us on facing reality, not what we hope things will be.  Then a good plan helps us develop strategies for dealing with the difficult issues–so we aren’t surprised.  Facing the tough issues up front, thinking of “the question from hell,” and other issues help us prepare for dealing with it.  When we get that punch in the face, it hurts, but we are better prepared to deal with it and recover, because we’ve anticipated it.

We didn’t execute our plan:  This is surprisingly too common.  It’s so easy, we the customer asks a question, we get diverted.  The competition may divert us.  Rather than executing our plan, we fall victim to executing someone else’s plan.  If we’ve developed a good plan, if we must stay focused on executing it.  This doesn’t mean we don’t adjust it based on new information, but we can’t abandon it.  We know we will face changes and challenges to our plan.  Hopefully, we’ve thought of those in our planning process and developed strategies to deal with these, when we are hit with them, we can deal with it.

We will encounter adversity and challenges in every sales situation.  If we haven’t anticipated or prepared for these, we are surprised.  We don’t know how to deal with the challenges, we get beaten when we shouldn’t be.

Being “punched in the face” is part of selling.  If you aren’t prepared or can’t take the punch, it’s impossible to be successful.

(Thanks to David Bradshaw @cloud9tweeting, for reminding me of this great quote)

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  1. Chuck Walden permalink

    Well said Dave. We’ve all been “punched in the face”. Learn from your mistakes and keep moving forward.


  2. As a boxing fan, I love Iron Mike’s quote.
    As a sales manager, I took liberty with Mike’s words because sales people often ignore the strengths and tenacity of their competitors.

    “Everyone has a Plan of Attack. Winners have a Plan of React.”

    This is an enlightening role-playing exercise:
    Have your sales person act as the sales person of a top competitor.
    Objective: Develop a plan to win the business, i.e. Punch yourself in the face.
    In time, this technique becomes ingrained in the sales person and the sales organization.

    • Vince, I love the role playing exercises. We can expand that into other areas like objection handling, dealing with difficult conversations, negotiation and other areas. They help us prepare for those situations. Thanks for the great idea.

  3. Doug Schmdit permalink

    Dave, thank you again for the reminders.
    I may be overstating the observation that an excellent resource is the book A Certain Win – The Strategy of John Boyd applied to business by Chet Richards. It goes into detail about the philosophy of John Boyd and his OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide and Act) –
    Boyd as a fighter pilot who helped design the F15, F16 and F18 who emphasizes agility and quick decision making to win against your opponents. The book goes into detail how companies like Toyota, Southwest, Samsung and others out maneuver and out think their components. My friends in the US Marine Corp. have integrated Boyd’s philosophy into their war-fighting strategy. What would US Marines know about competition and winning?

    • I love John Boyd’s work and the OODA loop. It was ground breaking and has so many applications. Thanks for sharing Doug!

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