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Why Aren't Your Sales People Selling?

Tony Cole

Tony Cole

Tony Cole, Founder and CEO of Anthony Cole Training Group


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The One Thing I've Been Right About In Selling


I heard an expression once that went something like this:

Every boxer walks into the ring with confidence until he get punched in the face the first time.

Boxing Match

And so it is with the new year when sales teams, led by courageous sales leaders like you, submit sales plans, business plans, financial budgets or revenue projections.  Everyone starts the year exuding confidence that is either real or feigned.  We have to or we wouldn't stay in the fight.  It's our natural instinct, as sales leaders leading sales people or sales people leading themselves, to believe that this year will be different. This is the breakout year.  

For those that experienced success, it will be a continuation of success. For those long into their careers with established revenue flow, it's a matter of "you can count on me to do my part."  For those that struggled and worked hard but failed to succeed, you know that you've turned the corner just as the page of the calendar has been turned.  Regardless of the state of mind exiting the previous year, the new year brings an air of revitalization, re-commitment and certainty that success will be achieved.

The 1 thing I've been right about in regards to selling is that business plans, success formulas, budgets, revenue projections sales plans NEVER EVER work out as planned.  

Beth Mooney, CEO and President of Key Bank, in a sales conference several years ago said something like she has never had a business plan work out exactly the way it is written; BUT, regardless of what happens, we will strive to meet the business plans objectives. Neither have I,  neither have you, neither have your sales people.

Business plans, sales plans, success formulas are guesses.  Somewhat educated guesses at times, but other times more like novels.  They have no chance of being accurate because of two items:

  1. There isn't enough evidence (historical performance data) to support the projections, the ratios, the averages being assumed to generate the sales or revenue projections
  2. There isn't an activity plan or what I call a work plan submitted to support the business plan.
  3. There isn't EVER any follow-up to the plan relative to inspecting what is expected or projected.
Time and again, organizations go through the motions of submitting these plans and budgets only to have them collect dust in a folder or on a shelf, not to be seen again or used again until planning for the next fiscal year.
I realize I might be exaggerating a little and I am painting all companies with the same brush, but for over 20 years I've seen this happen too many times.  I've had sales people complain that the process would be more meaningful if ONLY the sales leader would take the time throughout the year to review the plan, provide insight to the data they've been collecting and provide some coaching and mentoring to make in-the-moment adjustments to the plan.
The guess work that is done in November or December to put the plan together MUST be evaluated and validated throughout the year.  If you have 8 steps to your sales process and you've made projections based on converting activity from one step to the next, then it only takes 3 steps to be off target for a sales plan to miss by as much as 25%!  You as the sales leader, you as a sales professional, should be aware of the miss within the first 90 days of your new year.
The punch in the face happens when you find out in March that less than 20% of your sales team is actually on target to meet target.  When this happens, the re-forecasting begins, the PIPs (professional improvement plans) start to be executed, and high pressure coaching and sales management begins.
The end result is that little, if anything, changes.  It's already too late or the approach to fixing the problem is the wrong approach.  (That will be another blog post).  The point here is to:
  1. Build plans based on what you know - historical data that supports your projections.  If you don't have the data, make the best educated guesses you can make and then.
  2. Inspect what you expect.  Implement huddles so that you can collect real time data, gain insight from that data, and then provide real time coaching to change activity and or improve skills
  3. Review the actual performance of leading indicators (sales activities) against the activity projections used to build the plan.  Look at the conversion ratios and critical numbers to see where the choke points are for each sales person you have.
The business plans being executed need to be living, breathing documents that you constantly review with those that are generating the revenue. Let them know that you are paying attention. Let them know that the exercise wasn't just an exercise to check off the list of things to do but rather an integral part of their development as a sales professional and important to their success.  
Doing this helps you build confidence to take the punch, helps you to see the punch coming, and helps you develop a counter punch strategy so that you finish the fight standing with hands raised in victory.

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