Tips for Better Sales Planning, with Bridget Gleason [Episode 338]

Welcome to another Front Line Friday with my special guest, Bridget Gleason. On this week’s episode, Bridget and I discuss, among other topics: how to approach developing your sales plan for 2017 (for individuals and managers); the ideal timeframe for sales planning; sales manager planning and how to convert your plan into action.

Key Takeaways

  • What sales managers and sales reps need to do to improve the value of their sales plans.
  • What did Bridget propose when she consulted with a large company about their huge ‘planning exercise’?
  • From the Board, CEO, and VP, yearly sales mandates roll downhill. How sales managers should plan to meet these mandates.
  • How sales managers should break top down goals into actionable quarterly goals strategies.
  • How to hold yourself, or your team, accountable to achieve specific outcomes.
  • With a roadmap, when you take a detour, you can find your way back to the objective.
  • What is the purpose of calculating a rep’s lead deficit?
  • How to deal with morale issues when reps keep missing their numbers.
  • If you don’t like the details of your goals, can you change the variables in some way, to meet the same goals?
  • Why it can make sense to write quarterly plans instead of an annual sales plan.
  • Why a sales plan that just sits on the shelf doesn’t help you to hit your numbers.
  • Where and when does action take over from planning?

Episode Transcript

ANDY PAUL: It’s time to accelerate. Hi, I’m your host, Andy Paul. Join me as I host conversations with the leading experts in sales, marketing, sales automation, sales process, leadership management, training, coaching, and any other resource that I believe will help you accelerate the growth of your sales, your business and most importantly, you. Hello and welcome to Accelerate This is another edition of Frontline Friday with my very special guest, Bridget Gleason. Just like last week, we actually happened to be in the same place at the same time, so we have this unusual event of recording the episode seeing each other face to face.

BRIDGET GLEASON: It’s so much better to do it face to face. I get all your facial expressions. For those of you that don’t know, he moves his hands.

AP:  It’s a performance.

BG: I like it. It’s a beautiful day. Great to be here. No complaints. But we’re going to talk about sales.

AP: Well, today we’re talking about sales planning. As you listen to this, we’re in the month of December, and it’s a big planning month. That’s the time to start thinking about what are we going to do next year, and not just what we’re going to do next year, but what do we do differently next year? If we do the same thing, we’re going to get the same results. So as you look at a sales plan, let’s talk about two different sales paths. The manager needs to put together a sales plan, then an individual needs to put together a plan. What should be in that plan? What should they be thinking about? These are documents that you use. These become your operational planning documents that you execute.

BG: Andy, when I was consulting, there was a large multinational company that had a planning exercise every year in the fourth quarter. The result was this huge binder, hundreds of pages around what they were going to do to succeed in their regions and territory mapping. I said, “What happens to that planning document?” Nothing. So there are hours and hours and hours and then they sit on a shelf, right? We created a one page actionable document based on what’s in that binder. What are you going to do differently? What are you going to do daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly? Let’s look at things that are actionable. How do you know that you’re on track? It’s hard to do. In some ways, it’s easier to just spew out a bunch of stuff that you’re never going to look at.

AP: Alright, so my take on the sales planning thing at the beginning of the year is that the window of the planning horizon is 90 days. As far as sales is concerned, I don’t think you can put together a plan that’s still valid after 90 days, because life happens. You’re out engaging with the customers and prospects and you’ve got all these numbers and targets you can talk about when you talk about specific tactics and strategies, action items you’re going to take to implement, and so on and so forth. Let’s break it down into fairly finite detail what you’re going to do in this first quarter, and then we’re going to revisit the plan in second quarter.

BG: Yeah, I don’t disagree. I’m typically looking at a VP level that’s having to be rolled up to my CEO, just rolling it up to the board.

AP: What’s the management plan?

BG: Right. So the managers are typically going to have a mandate and it’s going to say, “I need you to do this in this quarter.” The way that I’ve done it is you’ve got a yearly number and quarterly goals against it, so we look very generally at the yearly number Then – like you said – how do we break it down per quarter? What’s going to happen per quarter? Then use that though as the straw man to iterate on for those for the subsequent quarters.

AP: So you start bringing that down. You’ve got a goal, there’s certain strategies that you’re going to put in place to try to achieve that goal. You’ve got your existing process and so on. Are there any new initiatives you’re going to put together? What’s really going to happen? You know, what are you what are you going to do when you come into work on Monday, the first day of the year? What’s that look like? And I think that frontline sales manager roles don’t have that in mind, right? They’re just sort of saying, “We just have to quota.” It shouldn’t happen by accident, though. There should be some sort of forethought and planning and things that you’re doing that are deliberate to achieve a result. I like to see that there’s some strategies, then you’ve got active action items, and put some dates for some of the major initiatives. It could have to do with hiring, could have to do with training, could have to do with the development activities, could have to do with campaigns or blitzes, but have those things in there and understand what you expect the outcomes to be. How are they going to impact your plan? What are the risks associated with them? What are the investments associated with them?

BG: Yeah, I think a key part of that is when you said what are the outcomes and really measuring and keeping track of the outcomes. Are the activities and these strategies delivering against the set of outcomes that we need to have? When you think about it, 90 days is a short window.

AP: It depends on the length of your sales cycle in the product. Too often, I’ve seen companies have their salespeople put plans together. They say, “Oh, yeah, I’m going to make this many calls to this type of customer” and 30 days into it, they’re off track somewhere, right? Maybe some opportunities came up and then they sort of got lost in the weeds and they’ve lost the ability to focus back on where they really thought they were heading. I think it’s always useful to have a road map. It’s okay to take detours if outcomes are positive, but I always want to see reps and frontline managers have some sort of roadmap so they sort of come in and not have any question or any ambiguity at all in their mind about what they’re doing each and every day?

BG: Well, we potentially have a lot of data around the size of customers that we’re attracting, the average sale price, the conversion ratios, etc. As an example, I’m used to seeing the reps roll up to a manager and in a 90 day plan looking at “Here’s my quarterly Number, here’s the opportunities that I have and they’re size A, size B, and size C. I know sort of what the mix is that I generally get. Here’s where I’m deficient, so I need to figure out my strategy for where I see my deficiencies.” Now, the managers I had at Sumo Logic were so good at this alternate strategy. We would do the quarterly plans, quarterly business reviews, but on a weekly basis, as we’re tracking towards that, the best managers would say to me, “Okay, here’s where we are against that plan. We had a couple of big deals fall out, this is what we’re doing to shore up where we fall in behind there.” They’re using that quarterly plan on a weekly basis to stay on track.

AP: One of the things that I wrote about a couple years ago and worked with companies on is I saw what I labeled “calculating their lead deficit.” Having a rep really understand how many opportunities they need to develop in order to have a chance of meeting their number is important. So it’s a calculation that I’d put together – and I can give people a link to the article – but it basically says, you look at a bunch of factors and you look at average deal size and based on that calculation that put together and based on your conversion rates, at the end, it pops out a number. You can say, “Look, these are the number of opportunities I need to develop or that I need to have in order to have a chance at meeting my number.” You know exactly the magnitude of the task in front of you. Then you could start saying, “Okay, where are the missing pieces of my strategy, right? Where I’m going to find these names? You can really put together a solid plan for going out and addressing our territory.

BG: Well, I think it’s a big miss if reps don’t do that regularly and don’t know how to do it. Most often, they need to be trained on how to do it. Hopefully they don’t have to be trained over and over and over. I remember one VP of Sales role that I took where there had been an issue with reps not hitting their numbers and there were some morale issues as well. Then reps don’t meet their numbers and there’s some morale issues, sometimes people don’t work also. I mean, they’re just frustrated.

It’s hard because the moods are contagious, and it tends to spread in sales organizations and I remember telling this particular team during a workshop, “You’re going to build your plan for the quarter and let me show you how you do it. We’re going to do it. It’s simple math.” We sat in a conference room and as they were doing the math, they came to these numbers of activities that they would have to do. They said, “We can’t do this many!” I said, “This is what you’ve been doing historically. This is the deal size. This is how long it takes to close. You need to start changing stuff. This is the number of calls you’ve been making. And you know what I promise you will not hit your number if you keep doing it the same way. I promise.”

AP: Well, yeah, you can change the variables as long as the variables accomplish the same outcome.

BG: That’s part of the plan. If you look at pieces of the plan, and see that you don’t want to make that many calls, find another variable. But what I see more often than not is sales reps just doing activities. They’re not working against a plan. They’re not checking themselves. I remember starting my own company and figuring out what my metrics were if I knew what I wanted to bring in at the end of every month. I just backed into the activities that I needed in order to get the number of deals that I wanted, and then I had to test it and iterate on it. I was just unforgiving for myself in terms of having a plan and following a plan because I didn’t need a surprise.

AP: Yeah. I learned this lesson right at the beginning of my career. The first job I had, I was part of a big computer company that had this division that sold big desktop adding machines. And, and you had to sell like, based on average sales price, we had to sell like 25 of these things before we could qualify to get trained in selling computers. This was sort of the first cut for all the new hires that come in. I took the opposite approach, which was, “Well, that sounds like death.” We had a model that was programmable, so if I could sell two of them, it was worth 25 of the others. The price had to pay was teaching myself how to program these things. One was a payroll tax calculation. So, I taught myself how to program a payroll tax calculation one Saturday and went out and sold two of these things and I was done.

BG: Andy that I love that example because you changed the variable. Sometimes in companies – like Xerox -they wouldn’t let you do that.

AP: It was only later where we had various product groups and we needed to sell some of each group in order to make quota. And it was and the thing is, so they held on to these legacy adding machines, but 10 years too long. And it was always a struggle at the end of the year because we had to sell some of these adding machines in order to make president’s club so there are always a lot of sweet deals cut with our customers that bought up you know million dollar computer to In some of these

Yeah, and that’s where you know, friends and family come in. I need you to pitch in and buy an adding machine probably worth something now.

I really don’t

like is a relic is okay still not still no. Okay, not useful than not useful now.

Marginal there’s a period there were probably like two weeks about 10 years before we were selling them. Yes.

Okay, okay. Yeah, I remember those days we’ve all had that. We’ve all you know every well we’re talking about really antiquated equipment. There’s still antiquated software that people are out selling for very high prices that you wonder. People are really buying that and they do.

Well, I remember once we were in setting in this presentation where a stated customer service policy was “We want to keep our customers surly, but not rebellious.”

BG: Gosh, that would never survive today in a SAS environment

AP: There are companies that maybe inadvertently do that, but this was the stated policy. These guys believed that the customer is most likely to buy additional product and services, even if they were just slightly unhappy.

BG: Let’s not share the name of that company, because I don’t even care if they’re still around or not.

AP: They are still around as part of another company.

BG: Getting back to the question of sales planning, Andy, do you think most companies require managers to submit or present a quarterly plan?

AP: In my experience? No.

BG: Which means they’re probably not asking reps to submit or present their quarterly plan, right?

AP: I think that’s the case. I mean, that’s been my experience. Let’s say certain companies that have an inside sales team think their process is a substitute for the plan.

BG: Process is not a plan. I understand that.

AP: But I think that some people adhere to that, right? We’ve got a process. We keep executing the process. Whatever number you give us, we’re just going to scale the team or do something, and we’ll be able to hit it. I’ve got one client I work with on occasion. Every year it’s like, “Okay, well, have you put your plan together? Let’s sit down and do that.” One year we actually put it together and went through the process and he got it, but then sort of set it on the shelf and didn’t do it. Then he wondered why they weren’t hitting their numbers. To me, sales is a thinking person’s profession. It’s not for robots, right? If you want to succeed at sales, you have to be thoughtful and deliberate about what you do.

BG: Well, and this is why I love early stage. Lots of thinking is required, creating the plans and executing on the plans and figuring out that you don’t have all the x’s and the y’s figured out. You’ve got to keep doing the planning.

AP: Yeah. It’s this balance, right? I mean, there was an article I was reading recently about the CEO of McDonald’s and having to execute the turnaround that he’s executed with them. He was saying, “Act, don’t plan.” He wasn’t don’t plan but his thing is that you need to put the premium on action, right? You’re never going to perfect your plan, so you need to have a plan of attack. Then, go do it.

BG: Yeah, that’s a really good point. When I say that I love planning, I don’t like the thinking part of the planning. What’s fun is the doing against the plan. Is this working? Is it not? It’s like a big puzzle. It’s such a fun puzzle. I like the challenge of continually figuring out the puzzle. You got this plan? Let’s go test it out. Okay, let’s modify, let’s tweak. Let’s change this. Let’s look at this variable, but I’ve got to get to this goal. Action is such an important part of the plan. If action’s left out and we’re just doing PowerPoints in a room, I’ve actually have zero interest. In fact, that makes me mad. Don’t waste my time, because that seems like a waste of time and we can’t get time back. We haven’t figured out how to manufacture more time.

AP: Planning is important but at some point it has translate to action. Perfection is the enemy in most cases.

BG: Which is good because I am not a perfectionist.

AP: No, I’ve never been accused of that myself either. I love to have people think and take the time though. Think before they act. That’s important.

BG: Yes, I want thinking not robots. In fact, there’s a lot that I was reading on the plane recently about machine learning and artificial intelligence and how the next wave of it is really more intelligent and thoughtful. Machines don’t do well with a lot of context, right? They can’t pick up context. So we still need the thinking cabeza.

AP: I also was just reading an article about artificial intelligence where very serious thinkers were saying the most obvious things such as, “We need to be able to turn these things off.” Some people don’t think it’s that far away. I mean, I’m not sure it’ll be in your lifetime in my lifetime, but-

BG: But it is probably sooner than I think it is. Things happen quickly.

AP: We’ve got these huge artificial intelligence engines we’re dealing with now like Siri and Cortana and Alexa and all those things. It’s amazing, all AI. They can’t handle context, though, and what we find is that context and sales is what keeps humans employed in the business. It’s also very complex. Even the simplest interactions between humans is very complex. There’s a lot of facial expressions, body language, tone, usage of words. Undoubtedly – as you said – as we see more machine learning or AI, we’re going to get much more adept at machines helping us with that. In the meantime, that’s our province and our domain.

BG: I keep thinking that’s how we’ll keep the robots at bay,

AP: As always, great to speak with you. Friends, thank you for spending time with us again today. This has been another episode of Frontline Friday with Bridget Gleason and Andy Paul, and we look forward to talking to you next week. Have a great one. Thanks for listening to the show. If you like what you heard and want to make sure you don’t miss any upcoming episodes, please subscribe on podcasts on iTunes or Stitcher.com. For more information about today’s guests, visit my website at andypaul.com.