Monday, March 5, 2012

Plan to Win Key Sales Opportunities

In my earlier post on maximizing your sales leads, I stressed the importance of developing a plan for your best sales opportunities. This post expands on that recommendation:

Identify those sales opportunities that warrant extra consideration. You would think that the need to give special attention to must-win sales opportunities would be obvious. But when other work activities are planned and budgeted, and your best sales efforts are not, which do you think tends to take priority? It's crucial that you single out those sales opportunities that warrant your best efforts.

Manage the sales process like a project. This is my standard advice for any important nonbillable activity. The fact is that most firms manage project time and outcomes much more effectively than they do anything else. So why not apply the same basic approach to other critical functions like sales--especially when we're talking about your most important sales opportunities?

This will involve--for key sales opportunities--assembling a sales team, appointing a team leader, devising an action plan, allocating and managing resources, tracking performance, and holding people accountable for expected results.

Assign an account manager and team. Once a sales lead is designated as worth special attention, it should be treated as a key client account. Appoint an account manager to lead the effort. Usually this will be the individual in your firm who knows the client best. But if that person is not an effective team leader, assign someone who is. Then assemble a team of 3-5 people who have familiarity with the client, the project, or the type of work involved. The value of a team approach is the collective brainpower and joint accountability that typically results.

Prepare a Key Opportunity Plan (KOP). Planning enables more effective management of the sales process. Drawing on the approach outlined by Miller and Heiman in their popular book Strategic Selling, I've created a template that you can use in developing a KOP. This plan includes the following major elements:
  • Review of the client needs driving the sales objective
  • Identification of the decision makers and what's most important to each
  • Evaluation of your firm's positioning for the award
  • Definition of the specific actions needed to advance the sales process

Identify and complete the best next 3-5 actions. The primary value of the KOP is helping you determine the optimum course of action in successfully closing the sale. Because the typical sales process is dynamic, it's best to take an incremental approach: Identifying the next few steps and then reviewing where things stand before choosing your next actions.

Be sure to select an individual to take responsibility for each action, even if others are involved. And set a deadline for completing that action. You'll notice that the template encourages you to establish your entree for any meeting with the client, which is your justifiable reason for taking the client's valuable time.

Update the KOP as appropriate. As noted above, you'll need to periodically update your plan as new information is revealed or the situation evolves. Usually this involves getting the account team together for 20-30 minutes every 2-4 weeks.

Be diligent in your follow-through. In my experience, using a tool like the KOP helps bring better discipline in carrying out sales tasks. Of course, persistence in selling is critical. One study across multiple industries found that 80% of purchases were made after the fifth contact with the buyer. But 90% of salespeople quit before the fifth contact. One the team's most important duties is to push each other to complete the assigned tasks.

Among the many tools and practices I've introduced to my clients over the years, probably none has garnered a more consistently positive response as key opportunity planning. Why? It works, not only in improving sales success but in better allocating effort for various sales opportunities. So give it a try, and let me know if you find it helpful.

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