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Why Salespeople Should Write and Present Individual Business Plans

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by Mike on September 21, 2011

I’ve recently customized individual business plan templates for several client sales teams. It is surprising how few sales organizations ask their people to draft annual sales (business) plans. I am huge of fan of having every member of the sales team write and then present their plans to senior management, or even better, to the entire sales team.

Why Individual Business Plans?

  1. People who write down their goals are significantly more successful than those who don’t. We all know there is a ton of data to support this claim. I won’t even begin to cite sources.
  2. Writing a plan causes the rep to take ownership of his/her business (territory, book, etc.).
  3. The process drives big-picture creative thinking.
  4. Forces the salesperson to examine what has worked and what hasn’t. (Remember the definition of “insanity”?)
  5. Presenting the plan to the team is a powerful way of sharing best practices and allows everyone to learn from each other.
  6. We learn a ton about reps when they present their plans: who can sell, who can think, who brings passion and fresh ideas to the job, who can present well, who “gets it” and who doesn’t (almost always, the best salespeople have the best plans and the weakest have the worst plans).
  7. The business plan serves as a powerful and automatic accountability tool.  The very act of presenting the plan publicly and articulating what you are going to do to achieve your goals creates energy, competition and accountability!
  8. The plans is a gift to the sales manager! How easy it is to grab the rep’s plan before a phone call, coaching meeting or day in the field with them. “Sarah, let’s take a look at your plan together to see if YOU are DOING what YOU SAID YOU NEEDED TO DO in order to be successful.”

There is too much benefit derived from this process not to do it. I like to customize the template with the president or head of sales. We then provide the template to each member of the sales team and ask them to write and prepare to present their own plan to the team (or just to senior management). I’ve found it works well to give the team a few weeks to go through the exercise and to be very specific about how long they will have to present their plans. 20 minutes to present and five or so minutes for Q & A usually works nicely.

Essential Components of the Plan

I think there is a lot of room for flexibility as far as what goes into the template. Every business and sales role is different and that is why each company needs a customized plan. Having said that, there are five categories or sections that I believe are essential:

  • Goals – What are you going to achieve? We always start with the end in mind!  Possible bullets in this section include total revenue or gross margin goals for the year, # of new accounts or new pieces of business acquired, $ from existing accounts and $ from new accounts, specific product-mix goals, and even asking the rep to “name and claim” the monster account or dream client they will nail this year.
  • Strategies – How are you going to do it? Where is it going to come from? In this section I like to ask questions about market focus, target account lists, major cross-sell opportunities, most growable or most at-risk accounts, what new approaches will the rep take to get in front of new prospects, how will they better penetrate current customers, where will they concentrate their efforts and so on.
  • Actions – What are you going to do? In this section I want to hear about activity and metrics. What’s “The Math?” How many calls, initial face-to-face meetings? What type of commitment to time-blocking? To what activity goals will you be accountable?
  • Obstacles – What’s in the way? I don’t believe in excuses. And I do believe that almost every salesperson could tell you on day one what is likely to get in the way of achieving their goals for the year. So I like to ask for a list of known obstacles right up front so we can address and help remove them. Failure is not an option; let’s figure out how to overcome those obstacles or how we need to help that salesperson now! Obstacles take many forms: personal health, distractions, lack of training or knowledge, family issues, travel  budgets, old technology, the anti-sales department. Just ask. Believe, they’ll have a list.
  • Personal Development, Growth & Motivation - How do you want to grow this year? If we are not growing then we are dying. Salespeople need to invest in themselves. Ask how they will do that. Courses, training, peer-mentoring, outside coaching, sales books, blogs?.  Are there certain areas where they need to develop professionally in order to get to the next level? I also like to ask the salesperson to share some of their personal philosophies about sales and what they do to keep themselves motivated throughout the year. You get some really fun answers and can learn a lot about what drives your people.
Sales Leader:  Does your sales team have anything like this in place? If not, what might happen if you tried it?
I’ll just say this: I have never had a bad experience implementing individual business plans in sales organizations. You’d be amazed at the benefits. And thankful for the clarity it produces.
Salesperson: Whether you are asked for a business plan or not from your employer, shouldn’t you write one of these for yourself anyway?

{ 12 comments }

Kelley Robertson September 22, 2011 at 1:23 pm

Awesome advice Mike!

This is so much more effective than “pushing” the corporate goals down to the sales team. When people create their own plan, they will have a difficult time justifying poor results later in the year. It’s too bad that more companies don’t take this approach.

Mike September 24, 2011 at 4:11 pm

I am with you Kelley. I have seen so much lift come from having sales teams do this exercise that it is surprising more companies don’t put it in place.
Mike

Jerry Ferrante September 23, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Excellent piece. We have had this type of program in place for many years. We can articulate our goals and plans to management, which puts in place accountablilty for everyone.
It also will allow management to review with us to see if we are on track or where they can help or where we need to re-focus.

Mike September 24, 2011 at 4:14 pm

Thanks for visiting and sharing your thoughts Jerry. I totally agree that it allow management to confirm that individuals are on the right track. It also provides a great platform for the reps to get great (and some no so great) ideas from each other. Personally, I have learned a ton listening top-performers present their business plans.

Good to have you here-
Mike

Andy Monaghan September 26, 2011 at 4:48 pm

OK – you have hit one of my passion points! We all should be doing this – it just makes so much sense. Organizations should demand it of their reps and reps should WANT to do it… and yet it doesn’t occur nearly enough, and when it does it is often ineffective.

I see these “problems” occuring -
- sales reps think it takes too much time to create a plan
- sales reps think it is just another way for managers to micro manage them
- sales reps go through the motions of planning to please their management
- managers do not help refine plans
- managers do not help their reps execute the plans

All of these problems are solvable.

BTW – earlier this year I put together a series of posts on how to do a territory plan that may be useful to this discussion.
http://unstoppablerep.com/sales-territory-plan/

(Mike – please delete this link if it is not appropriate to link in a comment)

Mike September 26, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Hey Andy,
thanks for reading and contributing. Glad you are as passionate about the topic as I am. I agree with your list of potential silly reasons it is not done. Foolishness. Truth is that the best reps do this anyway.

I respect that you asked about the appropriateness of sharing the link. Happy to pass it along for the value of the readers here.
Best to you and I hope we can connect again,
Mike

Mike Kunkle February 29, 2012 at 11:31 am

Hey Mike, great post!

We were just talking about this around a conference table yesterday. I’ve also always been a big fan of “coaching contracts” between reps and their managers as well as regular “check-ins” / accountability meetings to keep reps on track to their plans. I’ll be sharing your post next with my colleagues. Keep the good stuff coming…

Mike K

Mike June 25, 2012 at 5:09 pm

Steve December 6, 2012 at 5:18 am

Great article, I have been working on and refining a plan for the past 12 months at the request of our general manager and it has been highly effective in the field so much so that I could not imagine working without a plan now, it has improved my sales skills and outlook greatly, you summarized all of the topics very well.

Thanks

Steve

Mike December 6, 2012 at 9:28 am

Thanks for sharing your success Steve, and also for the nice words. I have consistently seen great things happen when salespeople write, present and then follow their individual business plans. The key is to continually pull out the plan and ask yourself: “Am I doing what I said I need to do in order to achieve my goals?” –
Great Selling Steve,
Mike

Terry February 5, 2013 at 12:27 pm

Good framework here Mike. As with most things, the journey can be more valuable than getting to the destination. The finished product is an important document but the real value is the process the salespeople go through in devoting time to thinking about their business and developing the plan. Thanks for posting this.

Terry

Mike February 5, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Terry, good to have you here. The timing of your comment is bizarre. Just got back from lunch with a Director of Business Development at a client of mine and we spent an hour sketching out a template for his plan. I agree with you that the real value comes from taking the time to step back, think big and then commit to strategies and actions. Plan documents definitely evolve over time, but it sure is great to have a road map. Too many salespeople operate in a reactive / Auto-pilot mode and a written business plan helps prevent that.
Mike

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