Without a Plan, You’re Destined for Mediocrity

By Heather Baldwin

When you get right down to it, the only difference between successful and unsuccessful salespeople is that the successful ones have a plan. Successful reps have a clearly defined focus, direction and sense of purpose for their lives, careers and business. "They know exactly what it is they want to achieve and when they will achieve it, and they have clearly defined the specific steps they will take to achieve these goals," says Warren Greshes, a motivational speaker and author of The Best Damn Sales Book Ever: 16 Rock-Solid Rules for Achieving Sales Success (John Wiley, 2006). To lift the performance of your mid-level performers, sit down with them and go through these plan-development steps:

Step 1: Write down your goals. Ask your reps to write down every goal they want to achieve. The sky’s the limit here – if they truly want to achieve it, they should write it down. The goals need to be specific – for instance, "I want to earn $100,000 this year" versus "I want to make a lot of money." And they need to be written rather than stated aloud or merely thought about for three reasons: First, writing down a goal ensures it won’t be forgotten. Second, writing down a goal is the first commitment to actually going out and accomplishing it. And third, writing it down makes you accountable to the only person you can’t fool: you.

Step 2. Pick the top three. Once your reps have created their goal list, ask them to pick the top three goals they want to achieve now and prioritize them, from one to three.

Step 3: Create an action plan. For each goal, reps must create an action plan for achieving it. Action plans are all about breaking the goal down into specific, measurable, doable steps. For instance, say one of your reps wants to earn that $100,000 this year. Start by looking at her commission. Say it’s $1,000 for each sale. That means she needs to close 100 sales a year, or two per week. Now say she closes one out of every three presentations she gives. That means she needs to give six presentations a week to close those two sales. And say she keeps 75 percent of her appointments; that means she needs eight appointments per week.

You can continue breaking it down: Say one of every five decision makers she speaks to gives her an appointment. Now you know she needs to talk to 40 decision makers a week to get those eight appointments. Factoring in the gatekeepers and other dead-end calls, if one of three calls gets to a decision maker, she needs to make 120 calls a week to get to 40 decision makers a week. Divide the 120 calls by five days a week and your rep will need to make 24 calls a day to earn $100,000 a year. No problem!

"Now how motivated do you think that salesperson is going to be to make the calls?" asks Greshes. "You’re right: She’s going to be a lunatic because she knows that every day she comes to work and makes 24 calls she’s getting that much closer to what she wants. That’s continuous action."

Step 4: Post the plan. Once each rep has laid out his/her goals and action plans for achieving them, have each one copy the plans and post them where they’ll be seen every day. Then make sure the action plan is begun within 24 hours. "You don’t have to do everything, but within 24 hours you need to take at least one action step, if for no other reason than to keep the excitement going," says Greshes. And reps don’t need to escalate their performance instantly. If the rep who needs to make 24 calls a week is only making five now, have her bump up her performance incrementally – seven calls next week, then 10, then 13 and so on. Soon she’ll reach her goal and be ready to tackle the next one.