Sales people are great at “reacting.” The customer puts a hurdle in front of us, we know how to respond. The competitor does something, we know what to do. Our management asks us to do something, we immediately (well OK–almost immediately) jump on it.
I guess I have the problem with the “re” part of reacting. If we are reacting, it means someone else is acting–demanding our response. It means someone else is setting the rules, defining the playing field, possibly defining the outcome. Reacting always diverts us, it sets us down a different path than the one we were originally on. Reacting slows us down.
Somehow, that makes me uncomfortable, I want to be driving the strategy, I want to be setting the rules. I’d much rather have competition be forced to react to what I’ve done than to be forced to respond to them.
How do we get out of reacting? This is where that ugly four letter word–starting with P—comes in. It’s the word no sales person likes, it just wastes time.
To stop reacting, we have to develop a Plan, yes that’s it, a Plan. In fact before we even act, we need to have a plan in place.
When I start talking to sales people about planning–whether it is an opportunity plan, an account plan, a territory plan, or a sales call plan, there eyes roll back. I know what they are thinking, “Here’s a guy that doesn’t understand the time pressure I’m under, he doesn’t understand how hard it is to get things done. He doesn’t know how nimble I am, how I can handle anything that comes up. He’s just going to slow me down!”
It gets worse, I ask them to write the plan down — they can barely suppress the groans.
Well, I’m sorry, I’m not very sympathetic. I get it, I get the pressures everyone is under–I see it every day, I have similar pressures. But if we want to control our destiny–if we want to manage sales opportunities to have the shortest sales cycles and highest probabilities of winning, if we want to make sure we are maximizing our impact in the territory or account, if we want to make best use of our time and the customer’s, we have to have a plan.
Planning is nothing more than a disciplined way of thinking about how you are going to achieve your goal. It is simply the process of laying out exactly what you need to do to reach the endpoint as efficiently and effectively as possible.
Planning makes our actions purposeful, not random. It gets us out of react mode — it causes others to have to react to us. Good planning accommodates shifts in course. The plan is living, not just something we do at the beginning of a sales opportunity, or once a year when we are asked for a territory or account plan. We update our plans, based on changes that occur as we have executed them. I guess if you are nit picking, you might call this a reaction, but in reality, it isn’t. When we react, we simply respond to the action of a customer, competitor, or someone else. In adjusting our plans, we take stock of where we are, what has changed, and what we must do to most effectively achieve our goals. It is always forward looking and goal oriented. It keeps us focused on being effective and efficient.
Are you acting purporsefully, with a plan; or are you reacting? You will more likely get to your goals if you have a plan of how to do it and thoughtfully execute that plan.