The easiest way to results is to plan your work, then to work your plan. Incidentally, I am huge palindrome nerd and PLAN is in one of my favorite palindromes. “A man, a plan, a canal, Panama“. Yeah, I know, that’s dorky.

Back to the subject at hand. Planning is too often only interpreted as long term planning, or strategy.  Equally if not more important is short term planning, or the tactics we should be using to accomplish the strategy we have chosen.  In the world of sales, the terminology changes to results and activity.

When you hire in a new salesperson, or start a new project with existing sales people, it is crucial important to get these two things nailed down very early, and very specifically.  You need to differentiate between the results and the activity you expect to get those results.  In essence, you end up with two types of goals:

  • Targets, in terms of results (as in revenue dollars or contracts signed).
  • Activity levels, even down to daily activity numbers.

Almost every sales organization has a sense of why result goals are important. If you don’t know where you are going, how can you get there? Often overlooked, however, are the activity goals.

Too often, management’s default setting is to tell the sales reps, “This is what I want!”

More important though, is telling the sales reps, “This is what I want you to do!”

Even better, really running with the activity model, is telling the sales reps, “This is what I want you to do today, this week, and on a daily basis.”  The more specific we get with activity goals, the better focused our sales people are on the activities that generate results. Without an activity baseline, it is very easy for call avoidance to appear in the form of “busy” work. In the information age, the one I most often see involves updating the database. “I spent four hours updating my accounts in the CRM system”, or “I compiled a database of every possible prospect in the entire city” become mental excuses for not doing what will eventually generate results. Pre-call planning is important, and it also becomes a call avoidance toll, because it is no substitute for making calls.

The added effect is also important on an emotional or psychological level.  Keeping your sales force out of “desperation mode” is crucial to not becoming handicapped by price negotiations and stall tactics that prospects often use.  If your entire sales force is locked into trying to get the results, versus just focusing on doing the activity, desperation will quickly kick in.

If you are an entrepreneur or small business owner, this becomes even more crucial, because there are a myriad of tasks that need to be done, but that will suck all the hours out of your day if you let those tasks manage you.  Making calls, warm or cold, to generate new clients has to be part of your day, or you will quickly run out of clients, and hence out of money.

Spending all your time making sales calls, however, at the expense of completing maintenance tasks like updating your website, fulfilling your orders, keeping you books, paying your taxes will also run you out of business.  It is a question of balance!

The trick is to measure out or break down you overall sales effort into daily minimum required bite size chunks, and then fastidiously apply strict deadlines to completing them.  You the switch your day and week planning to build your calendar around that sales activity.

A CEO once asked me to help his small software company rescue a sales initiative that had not succeeded in landing a single customer in six months. This was for a newly developed product. The sales reps, focused on hitting required regular monthly numbers for the core product, had heard and even understood management’s request of “We want 4 accounts per rep to buy this new product”. But management had left it at that. In the constant pressure of delivering RESULTS, the sales reps saw this additional initiative as a distraction and as additional pressure. The urgency was there, and when asked, most reps confirmed that they liked the product, and thought their customers and prospects would too. Management had given them the Results goal, but not the Activity goal.

The fix was to break it down into bit size activity chunks, then focus on assembling them together. The steps we set up for the sales reps at the Monday sales meeting were:

  1. Today, out of your existing accounts, identify 2 that this product would be a good fit for. Also identify 2 companies that you have not managed to do business with, but that this product is a good fit for and could serve as a way to break the ice.
  2. Turn that prospect list in to the sales manager by the end of the day.
  3. This week, work on getting an appointment with these 4 companies. If possible a management representative will accompany you on these calls. By the end of the week, turn in the list of appointments set with these companies.
  4. Repeat the following week.

The whole concept was to break the result goal down into easy small tasks, that the reps could get done and check off their list.  The results were notable.  One of the reps even started complaining that he wanted to call on more than 2 existing and 2 new a week for this product line, because of the success he was seeing in leveraging that product to improve his account penetration.  By focusing on daily/weekly activities, the results starting showing up.

So imagine that your goal is to have 50 new accounts in the next 6 months (result), your focus should be on initiating contact with 10 companies every day, setting 4-5 appointments every week, so that you can sign 2 new customers a week. Focus on the 10 and 4-5, and the 2 will come from that.  Focus on the 50, and you are likely to become discouraged or desperate.

Plan the work, then work the plan.