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In Praise Of Templates, Checklists, Complete Sentences, And Writing Things Down!

by David Brock on October 21st, 2013

I can hear the groans already.  Thousands of sales people and some managers are saying, “Here’s Dave talking about writing things down.”  In workshops, I see eyes rolling back in people’s heads, with the very clear body language, “Here he is telling us to write this stuff down, it’s becoming all about paperwork!”

I’m sorry, I’m an unabashed fan of templates, checklists, and complete sentences.  I’m a raving advocate of writing things down.

Writing is thinking!  We tend to fool ourselves as we look at our sales strategies and plans.  We think we’re thinking and analyzing, but we really aren’t.  There’s something about the act of writing something down that forces us to think and analyze.  It’s impossible to construct a sentence–assembling nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives without thinking about what we are trying to do, what we want to accomplish, and how to best communicate.  Stringing a few sentences together to make a rational paragraph takes real thinking.

Which brings me to bullets–we love bullets, more than we love sound bites, and tweets.  But bullets are not complete sentences, so they present a problem.  They may not be complete thoughts.  We write things in bullets, then when we present them, we forget what we wanted to communicate.  Even worse, bullets don’t stand by themselves.  Someone reviewing a presentation with bullets doesn’t know what was intended, they have to guess—and they probably get it wrong.  I love complete sentences and paragraphs.

Templates provide structure things sales people should be writing down.  They increase the discipline of our thinking, they help us remember to cover everything.  We develop deal plans and strategies, call plans, account/territory plans.  There are some fundamental things that we want to include in developing high quality plans and strategies.  Templates prompt us on these things.  We don’t have to waste time remembering all the stuff that needs to be included in a deal, call, account, or territory plan.  The template prompts us, freeing us up to really think about and analyze what we are trying to accomplish and the best ways to achieve these goals.  Writing these down on a template helps us develop higher quality plans.  They are particularly helpful if we are trying to communicate within a team, getting each member of the team to execute their part of the strategy.

But there’s more.  they provide us a road map to our execution.  We don’t have to remember things over the weeks, through the twists and turns that occur in the selling/buying process.  The written plan, leveraging our templates, help keep us focused and purposeful.  They provide a framework to evaluate what we are doing and to adjust our strategies purposefully.  In short, they help us produce results!  Faster, better than if we didn’t have a plan.

Written plans leveraging checklists and templates improve the quality of everything we do.  They free us up of having to remember or think about the standard stuff, letting us focus on the things that really impact our ability to achieve our results.  They free us up to be really engaged, whether it’s diagnosing a problem, working with our teams to build a strategy, or listening to the customer–rather than worrying what our next question is.

It’s interesting, look at high performers, look at leading business executives, all of them believe in writing things down.  Jeff Bezos is famous for his “6 page plans.”  (All leveraging full sentences and complete paragraph’s), Lou Gerstner required “briefs,” which were read before each meeting.  The list goes on.

Too often, sales people whine, “I don’t have time for that!”  To me, they are just saying, “It’s easier for me to wander aimlessly, unfocused, hoping for results, rather than being purposeful and efficient in achieving my goals.”

Sales effectiveness and success is all about purposefulness.  It’s about being focused, not wasting our or our customers’ times.  It’s about thinking about how we achieve the most we can as effectively.  Documenting it, writing it down, so we don’t have to remember, but we can keep using that documentation to execute, adjust, improve is critical.

So leverage these things as much as you can, use templates and checklists, they free you up to innovate and create.  Write it down, use complete sentences.  The quality of the outcomes you produce will improve dramatically!

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  1. Dave,

    I’d love to know the story or event that triggered your post. You address a writing habit that transfers to communications. Short emails with bullets and incomplete sentences irritate me to no end. The majority of sales and marketing emails sent to me are templates with my name dropped in. A small percentage includes a semi-personalized opening in a different font. Unprofessional is being polite. I tried using stronger language but your commenting system blocked my colorful metaphors.

    I wish you would go a little deeper into email and letter templates. Do you advocate them and if you do, how do you recommend salespeople use them? A letter writing seminar for salespeople would benefit most sales organizations.

    You’re an excellent writer Dave and I’d be thrilled if you riffed on this topic a little longer.

    • Thanks Gary, I’ll have to expand on the topic, but I think well constructed email templates are very powerful. But the trouble is they are too often poorly constructed and irrelevant to the recipient. So the trick is segmenting your messages and lists in a way that you consistently deliver relevant messages to each audience. I’m working with a sales person on this very issue right now. He has a campaign he’s developing. The message is very powerful for part of his target audience, mediocre to another part, and arrogant to another. He was going to blindly send the same email out to everyone. Once we reviewed the situations, he understood the problem and is now segmenting his mailing list and developing relevant messages to each of them.

      Hope this is a start, but I’ll continue in a post. Regards, Dave

  2. John Sterrett permalink

    There are so many illiterates out there, for whom I have so little time or patience.


    • John, in recognition of the global audience to the blog, I would rephrase it: Teach people to read, think, analyze, and clearly communicate their thoughts in written and oral form. English is optional 😉

  3. Brian MacIver permalink

    Great Post, Dave!

    You had me at Checklist!

    If its good enough for an Airbus Pilot, its good enough for me!


  4. Dave, I agree with your point, and would take it a step even further: writing on paper can be better for thinking than typing on a screen.

    For one thing, knowing that you can’t just cut and paste or re-type easily forces you to focus your mind and better organize your thoughts. Second, having it on paper makes it seem so much more permanent (and since I write a lot of my ideas in my Moleskine, I know they will be), so you devote a little more care to quality.

  5. Andy Coyle permalink

    Dave- I have been a bullet man for over ten years. I thought of it as “just the facts ma’am” and more people would read and digest my points in my e mail. Your post has given me some food for thought.

    • Andy:

      1. Great to hear from you.
      2. We all tend to use bullets.
      3. Too often we don’t communicate well with them.
      4. Sorry, my humor is getting the best of me.
      5. Couldn’t resist the bullets.
      6. Thanks for the comment.

  6. Kyle Douglas permalink

    Couldn’t agree more! Writing ‘stuff’ down really helps me focus and strategize for important calls and meetings – on paper, not typing. That way I can scribble little notes and arrows to myself!

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