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What’s Next?

by David Brock on April 28th, 2021

We spend our day in meetings. We talk to prospects/customers. We meet with managers or our people. We meet with colleagues working deals with us. We meet with partners.

In these meetings, sometimes we talk about important things. What the customer is trying to achieve, or what they might achieve. Goals, problems they may have. Changes they may want to make. Where they are in their problem solving and buying journeys.

Internally, our meetings may be about a lot of things. Looking at our deal strategies, talking about how we might more effectively position ourselves. We have meetings on deal, pipeline, prospecting, account, and territory reviews. We have one on ones. We have discussions about performance.

Sometimes we are just sharing information. But usually, we are trying to figure out what to do, how to win, how to move forward, what’s next. We have discussions about possibilities or ideas.

And usually, that’s about as much as we accomplish. We leave the meetings, somehow satisfied that we talked about a lot of interesting things. And then we go to the next meeting–often forgetting what we did in the previous meeting. And then we go to the next and the next.

At the end of a day, at the end of the week, we look at how many meetings we were in, how busy we have been. We, somehow, wear our activity and busyness as a badge of honor. We think, somehow, if we fill our days with activities and are very busy, we make progress.

And then in the following week we do the same things. Week after week, filled with meetings–sometimes quite fascinating and informative.

But are we making progress, or are we just busy with interesting conversations?

As we look at much of the data, some of it indirect, one could conclude that despite all our meetings, we aren’t making commensurate progress.

The majority of our meetings are, in some way, problem solving meetings, or meetings to figure out what’s next. We talk about it, but seldom actually, in a disciplined way, agree on what’s next.

There are a couple of simple things, followed rigorously, enable us to make huge progress. They are mind-numbingly simple, yet we don’t do them, as a result we don’t accomplish what we could/should.

They are simple, they take very little time.

Here they are:

  1. At the end of each meeting identify the 3 (no more than this) most important things we need to do on the issues to move forward. If we are meeting with customers, it could be agreeing on actions and next steps they, we, or together we might make in moving them through their buying cycle. In other meetings, it will be the most important next steps in moving forward on the issue we are discussing. Some hints
    1. Sometimes we make long laundry lists of tasks, we are just setting ourselves up for failure. Keep it to no more than three.
    2. Focusing on the “three” helps us, collaboratively, make some purposeful choices. We are forced to identify what’s most important/impactful. We are forced to align our views about what’s most important. We have to prioritize.
  2. Once we have identified the action item or next step, write it down. Science tells us the very act of writing something down increases our understanding, retention, and personal ownership.
    1. But write it in a very specific format: What are we going to do, for what purpose/outcome; who we are going to do the activity with; and by what date it will be completed. For example, we might write, “Meet with the buying team–Shari, Jeff, Bill, Amy, Alice, and Lori–to finalize and define their goals for the XYZ project, by May 14, 2021. It is very unambigous. By May 14, we will clearly know that we have or haven’t accomplished it.
    2. In writing it down, leverage your systems and tools to help you remember and track these activities. In your CRM system, it might be an event or task. In your email/calendaring systems, you have similar tools. In the least, it can be a email you share with your colleagues and the project team.
    3. As a manager/coach, we end each meeting with the person writing down the action items we have agreed upon. I have them write it down, to increase their personal ownership.
  3. Track your accomplishment. For example, if you are a manager, and one of your sales people have made a commitment, follow up with them: “How did it go, what did you agree on, what happened?”
    1. If you are part of a project team (perhaps helping your customer buy), consolidate the critical activities an publish what you have accomplished and what’s delinquent weekly. It helps celebrate progress and gently remind the team on things that have been missed.
    2. If these are tasks you are scheduling for yourself only, keep a scorecard, be honest with yourself. Celebrate how you are moving forward, figure out why you aren’t accomplishing those that you are missing.
    3. As a manager, during reviews, the sales person always writes down the next step. If they have done it as a task in CRM, it’s easy for the manager to follow up, seeking to understand what happened. This follow up is critical to creating disciplined execution of our plans.
  4. Finally, when you complete one of your three, take a moment, by yourself or with the team, what is the next task, what is the next most important thing we must do to keep moving forward.
    1. For example, I outlined a task above, it was to meet with the buying team to agree on their goals for a project. We completed it on May 14. We might end that meeting with, “We have agreed on these three goals. What are the three most important things we must do to move forward in achieving those goals?”

Yeah, it’s that simple and that obvious. We read it in all the books on habit formation. We know it as a classic part of project management. Even our sales training teaches us about the importance of these things.

Yet we don’t do them!

Imagine the progress we make in helping our customers, people, and colleagues if we always did these few specific things.

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