||First Steps to Effective Sales Planning
Dave Kahle is a consultant and trainer who helps his clients with sales and sales productivity. He is the author of more than 500 articles, a monthly e-zine and six books. “Ten Secrets of Time Management for Salespeople” was recently released by Career Press. To sign up for his “Thinking About Sales” electronic newsletter, visit www.davekahle.com/mailinglist.htm
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| While talking with a customer is the backbone of sales, many salespeople don’t plan ahead for the conversation. Collecting, organizing and reviewing information about customers ahead of time can help increase conversation and sales. |
For most salespeople, it’s the face-to-face interaction with customers that defines the value they typically bring to the company. Yet, most studies indicate that the average outside salesperson only spends about 25 to 30 percent of the working week talking in person with customers.
In the light of that, it makes sense to spend some time planning and preparing to make sure that 25 to 30 percent of the week is quality time spent.
If you’re going to be an effective professional salesperson, you must collect, store and use good information. You can’t make effective plans if the information you have is wrong or incomplete.
If you were going to build a home, for example, you’d want to know about the ground the home was to be built on, the weather conditions the home would endure, what the building codes were, what materials were available, the cost and what construction workers were required. You wouldn’t be able to build a good home if you didn’t have the information to base plans and decisions on.
It’s the same with sales. In both cases, good planning requires good information. If you’re going to work with good information, you must collect it yourself, and you must create a system to collect, store and update the information that will be most helpful to you.
1. Start by listing the kinds of information you think will be most useful to you. A basic list might include information about your customers and prospects, information about your competitors and information about the products, programs and services you sell.
2. Work with one category at a time and brainstorm. Once you’ve categorized the kind of information you’d like, then think about what information you need in each category.
Start at the top and work down. Look at customers and prospects first. What would you like to know about them? Some typical pieces of information include information about the account’s total volume of the products you sell, the dates of contracts coming up, the
people who they are currently buying from and so forth. All of that seems pretty basic.
Remember to ask each customer for all of the information, and to store the information in a system.
3. Develop a system and some tools. The single most effective tool is an account profile form.
An account profile form is a paper or electronic form that includes questions about each of your accounts. If you’re using contact-management software on a laptop computer or PDA, then the account profile form can include several screens for each account. A well-designed, systematically executed account profile form can be one of your most powerful tools for acquiring a competitive edge. First, it provides you a way to collect quantitative information that will allow you to know your customers better than your competition. All those pieces of information you listed earlier as important to you can be collected and stored in an account profile form.
To build an account profile, create a one-page form with blanks in it for each piece of information you want. Create another version of the form to create personal profiles for each key individual decision maker within those accounts, and apply the same concept to the task of collecting personal information about the key decision-makers within your accounts. You may end up with one document for the company and 10 to 15 personal profiles for all the key people within that account.
4. Store your information efficiently. You may have done a great job of collecting information, but if you’ve stored it on coffee-stained notes and the backs of old business cards, it’s probably not going to do you much good. Either store the information on the computer or in paper files.
5. Use all this information regularly. Before every sales call, review the information you have stored. That review will help you make good decisions about each aspect of the sales call. Likewise, review the information as you create your annual goals and sales plans, when you create account strategies, and when you organize and plan your territories.
With the forms, you’ll know more about your competitors, including how much potential each of their accounts has, how many pieces of production equipment each customer has, and the manufacturer and year of purchase for each. If you collect good quantitative marketing information, you’ll be better equipped to make strategic sales decisions and create effective plans. For example, you’ll know exactly who to talk to when the new piece of equipment from ABC manufacturer is finally introduced. And, you’ll know who is ripe for some new cost-saving product that’s coming, or the new program your company is putting together.
Imagine getting ready for the next sales call on that customer and reviewing things he likes to talk about. Imagine being able to refresh your memory on the name of his spouse, and the names and schools of each of the kids. As you plan your presentation, you review the primary buying motivation for each of those key people. You’ll be better prepared to have an enjoyable, relationship-building conversation with that customer and you’ll increase your likelihood of delivering a powerful and persuasive presentation.
The forms allow you to store important information, rather than trying to remember it on cue. When you want to have a relaxed conversation with one of your customers about his interests, you can’t always remember that he plays golf and was a starting halfback on his college football team. Being able to review the information ahead of time put it uppermost in your mind.
The difference between the run-of-the-mill salesperson and the exceptional salesperson is the commitment to collecting information and planning ahead. As you can tell, an account profile form is a master tool that holds all of this together.