Challenge your team to do more than just set lofty goals; guide them on how they can develop actionable strategies that boost their incomes -- and your organization's bottom line.
What's the most effective approach?
The key is to ask questions that get your team focused on setting clear-cut goals, spurring creative strategies to reach those goals, and defining very specific action items that your people can begin implementing immediately.
The success of your strategic planning session hinges on effective communication -- the questions you ask and the sequence in which you ask them -- to keep everyone on point and arrive at the desired destination.
What I have found effective in leading sales organizations through the strategic planning process is following an agenda that covers these four points:
- Performance Recap
- Sales Targets
- Strategies & Tactics
- Action Items
In this post, I'll unpack each of these four points, outlining a sequence of questions, and the Why behind them, so you see the big picture of how to make the meeting as productive as possible.
The questions that I've included in this post are not exhaustive. So feel free to adapt and add to them to best fit your organization's needs and situation.
Use this post as guide or template that you can customize to lead a strategic planning session that fires up your team and reaps smart ideas for generating new revenue, with less time and effort, for higher profit.
So, let's get started!
I. Performance Recap
What is your sales performance to-date?
Think in terms of number of units sold (or subscriptions or consulting engagements or projects secured) and income (or commission) earned.
What is your average income per unit sold?
Divide income by number of units sold. This metric will help you determine how many more units you need to sell to hit your sales goals.
What is your average sales cycle (in days), from initial contact to customer purchase?
This is important as you think through strategies to shorten that cycle -- and accelerate income.
What is the average time it takes from proposal submission to customer decision, either to approve or decline the offer?
The longer a proposal sits with the customer without a decision, the longer your odds of closing that business. In my experience, proposal decisions taking over 7 days are more likely to result in either a lost sale or, worse, complete silence.
(For ideas on boosting sales proposal conversion ratios, see How to Motivate a Response to Your Sales Proposal.)
What are your current conversion ratios throughout the sales cycle?
Calculate ratios for each stage:
- Stage 1: Initial Contact to Permission-to-Market (PTM): What percentage of initial contacts (through cold calls, in-coming calls, networking events, etc.) are giving you permission-to-market to them?
- Stage 2: PTMs to Appointment: What percentage of prospects who have given permission-to-market lead to appointments for product demo/ service presentation?
- Stage 3: Appointments to Quote/Proposal: What percentage of appointments end with a request for quote?
- Stage 4: Quotes/Proposals to Sale: What percentage of proposals convert into new business?
- Total Cycle: Initial Contacts to Sale: How many initial contacts/calls does it currently take to achieve one sale?
(See The Law of the Harvest: A Strategic Framework for Creating Content that "Sows" Trust, Grows Sales for tips on how to maximize effectiveness at each stage of the sales cycle.)
II. Sales Targets
What are your sales objectives over next 3, 6, and 12 months?
Start with your income goal and then translate it in terms of sales volume (such as units/projects/contracts sold).
What's the gap between your target and current sales performance?
Moving forward, this will help you chart progress to your goal.
III. Strategies & Tactics
What's your plan to bridge the gap and reach your sales target?
Consider these three strategies, with corresponding tactics, when brainstorming ideas.
Strategy #1: Expand and Streamline Your Prospecting System
Target Prospect Profile
This is the most crucial starting point because it gives you the insight you need to hone your message and your methods to effectively engage your customers and influence their purchase decisions.
Create a detailed high-value prospect (HVP) profile with these questions in mind:
- Who are your highest value customers? (Think of your existing customers? Which ones are your most profitable accounts?)
- What's their profile? (e.g. company size, industry, job title, etc.)
- Where can you find more of these types of customers? In what associations do they belong? In what directories are they listed?
- What are this customer's most pressing pain points? (See The Power of Pain in Persuasion.)
- What are this customer's aspirations? (e.g. job security, cost savings, getting a promotion, making their job easier, etc.)
- How does your product or service solve the customer's pain points and support the customer's aspirations?
Where can you find your ideal customers? Try these sources.
- Existing Clients (Take them to lunch, ask for feedback, listen for opportunities for repeat business and referrals.)
- Friends and Family
- Business Organizations (Chamber membership, trade associations, trade shows)
- Referral Networking Organizations
- Social Media (such as LinkedIn Groups)
Direct Prospecting Methods
How can you open the door to high-value prospects (HVPs)? Consider these tools:
- Personal Introduction (from Customer or Friend)
- Email Introduction (See How to Write a Cold-Call Script that Elicits Warm Receptions, which includes an email template I wrote and has proven to be my most effective way to connect with prospects when I don't have a personal introduction)
- Direct Mail/ Sales Letter
- Cold Call/ Stop-By
Indirect Prospecting Methods
With these opportunities, you don't directly pitch your product or service. Instead, they're intended to position you as an expert in the minds of customers, so that they trust you as an advisor -- and will eventually entrust you with their business.
- Trade Association/ Chamber Committee Leadership Involvement
- Speaking Engagements (See Speak Out to Boost Your Business.)
- Writing Article for Publication (See 9 Reasons Why Consultants Should Write Articles for Trade Publications.)
- Social Media
Growing and Cultivating Your Prospect Pipeline
Once you've built a list of high-value prospects (HVPs) who have granted you "permission-to-market" to them, how do you move them closer to buying from you?
Some ideas may include:
- "Touch-Base" Emails
- FYI Emails (send articles of interest)
- In-Person Visits -- Bring Breakfast, etc.
Strategy #2: Accelerate Your Sales Cycle
Examine your entire sales cycle -- from prospecting, to product demo, to proposal development, to production (closing the sale), to proliferation (generating repeat business). Any areas for improvement?
Here are high leverage tasks that can make a huge impact on accelerating your sales cycle:
- Qualifying the prospect early in the sales process
- Focusing time on high-value prospects (HVPs) -- those who are ready, willing and able to buy
- Nailing the presentation/ product demo
- Crafting a clear, concise, and compelling proposal
- Asking for the business in an artful, highly-effective manner
- Making it easy for the customer to do business with you
- Invoices (include messaging about other products/ services/ special offers that may interest the recipient)
- Customer loyalty program (program introduction letter, loyalty redemption card, coupons, etc.)
- Follow-up system (thank you letter, 90-day follow-up letter, one-year anniversary letter)
- Referral request (letter that tactfully and effectively asks recipient for introductions to qualified referrals)
(See 9 Tools for Building Customer Loyalty for more ideas.)
IV. Action Items
Ok. You've generated a whole slew of great ideas, but they're worth nothing unless you act. So, keep this three-prong strategy in mind: Simplify. Focus. Execute. This means ... Narrow down your action items, focus on the highest priority tasks, and take the first step -- NOW!
Here are questions to get the ball rolling today:
What's the single highest-impact idea you can begin implementing immediately to sell more, in less time, at higher commission?
Sort through all the great stuff you've brainstormed and identify your top three ideas. Then pick one that you think offers the most leverage toward achieving your goal.
What's your step-by-step plan for acting on this idea?
Map out your plan. How many new prospects do you need to see? What kind of training do you need? What improvements should you make to your proposals?
What's you first step?
Write it down -- and get started today!
Image courtesy of pakorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
About the Author: Sean M. Lyden is CEO of Lyden Communications LLC (www.lydencommunications.com), a business communication consulting firm that advises companies on honing their message and their methods to more effectively influence their markets -- whether customers, partners, investors or employees. Practice areas include content strategy, sales strategy & coaching, and executive communication consulting. A feature writer for several automotive and trucking trade publications, Sean is also co-author of “How to Succeed and Make Money on Your First Rental House” (John Wiley & Sons) and contributor to "The Ultimate Small Business Marketing Guide” and “The Great Big Book of Business Lists,” both books published by Entrepreneur Press.
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