Jun 15, 2020 • Podcast

Why and How Should I Plan In Tough Times?

Paul shares three reasons to plan and his four-part sales plan for existing customers.

Show Notes:

Eisenhower said, “In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Churchill also said, “Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.” So, if plans are useless and indispensable, then why create them?

“Planning gives you a sense of control in an uncertain time.”

“Planning leads to progress.” Inch-by-inch, we’re moving forward. In tough times, progress matters.

“Planning demonstrates commitment to the customer or prospect.” It’s to easy to walk away from an opportunity when you don’t have a plan. People place a higher value on the things they create.

“Planning doesn’t produce results. Have you ever met a salesperson that would rather prepare than produce?”

Develop a simple plan and act. A well-designed plan, without action, delivers zero results.

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Why and how should I plan in tough times?

(Transcribed from podcast)

On today’s episode, we’re going to talk about account planning during these tough times. In tough economic times, we need to have two types of plans: plans for our existing customers and plans for our prospects. So that’s the question today. How do I plan, and more importantly, execute that plan during tough times?

Before we get into that, a quick shout out to our sponsors. When it comes to all things podcasting, Andrea is your go-to resource. I know when I was first starting out this podcast, I was trying to navigate all the things and it was overwhelming. I soon realized that I needed help. That’s when I reached out to Andrea and she has been extremely helpful throughout the entire process. So make sure you reach out to her. We’re going to have a link to her website, The Creative Impostor Studios, on this episode’s webpage.

The other sponsor, Value-Added Selling. Make sure you pick up the latest edition. We’re now in the fourth edition of Value-Added Selling. In fact, some of the things we’ll talk about today are going to be available in the book as it relates to planning. So check that out.

Let’s get into planning in tough times. One of my favorite quotes on planning is from Dwight Eisenhower and also from Winston Churchill. Eisenhower said “Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Churchill said, “Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.” Now, if plans are useless, why do we need to create them? But planning is everything right? So it’s a little bit of a paradoxical statement. Here’s what I’m thinking. Many people have tried to decipher what Dwight D. Eisenhower was talking about and what Churchill had been talking about.

Here’s my take on it. During uncertain times, like battle (that’s when they were quoted, in the midst of World War II)… When you think about what happens in battle, you’re facing a lot of uncertainty. Kind of like we’re facing right now; we are facing uncertain times. Going into an uncertain situation where there are a lot of different scenarios you have to play out, a lot of different things going on, a lot of dynamics, it feels good to have some sort of plan. It just gives you a sense of control. Right now, in all of this uncertainty that we’re facing, we crave that sense of control. We need it. We’ve got to have it. And putting together a plan is just one way that we can do that.

The reason why planning is so important, even if plans are useless (according to Eisenhower) is because plans will give us a sense of control. It’s also going to give us more confidence going in to an opportunity. That’s one of the main reasons. But let’s talk about a few planning principles as we begin today’s episode.

First things first, planning leads to progress. A vehicle when it gets stuck in the mud, it’s hard to gain traction. Well, the same is true in tough times. We’re kind of stuck in the mud and it’s hard to gain traction. We seem to be just spinning our wheels, wondering if we’re ever going to move forward. Like the wheels spinning in the mud, there seems to be an inordinate amount of effort. We hear the wheels spinning, spewing mud everywhere. All the while, the vehicle is just moving inch by inch out of the mud. And that’s kind of how we feel in tough times.

But, all of a sudden, when you gain traction, you’re able to dart right out of the mud. That’s what happens during tough times. When we’re planning, we’re planning for progress, we’re planning to inch our way forward. That’s why I encourage every salesperson, whether actually it’s good times or bad times, your plan has to be filled with concrete, small wins that will help you progress the sale forward. So whether you’re prospecting to an existing customer, or prospecting to a brand new opportunity, you need to fill your plan with small wins. Those small wins will lead to progress. Not only that, but planning demonstrates commitment. When you put together a target account plan for one of your opportunities, it’s going to take you a little while; it’s going to take some effort, some research. It’s going to force you to spend more time.

Now, the more energy and effort you put into a project, the more you begin to own it. This has been proven in psychology with the endowment effect. Also, another term that’s a variation of that is the Ikea effect. And if you’ve ever put together furniture from Ikea, you know, that the more time and the energy and the effort that you put into that furniture, it just seems to be more valuable to you. The same is true with planning. The more time and energy and effort you put into a plan, the more you feel committed to that plan, the more likely you are to go out there and execute that plan.

The next thing we’re going to focus on… Planning does not produce results. A plan that’s well-designed but poorly executed is still a poor outcome. So we need to make sure that planning does not preclude us from going out there and taking action. Have you ever met a salesperson that was more content planning rather than producing? That’s what we need to avoid. The plan doesn’t have to be perfect by any stretch. All you need to do is have a sense of where you’re going with this opportunity and gather some basic information. When you think about planning, it should not fill up your day. It should literally be maybe 20 to 30 minutes, planning an opportunity, getting a sense of where you want to go with this opportunity, and then going out there and executing that plan. Planning alone does not produce results. It requires the action and effort of the salesperson.

Those are the basic principles. Remember, planning leads to progress; planning demonstrates commitment; and planning alone does not produce results.

The next thing we’re going to do is create a plan for our existing customers. As salespeople, you’re either selling to existing customers or brand new prospects. On this episode, we’re going to talk about selling to existing customers. We call this defensive selling. Defensive selling is about protecting and growing the business that you already have.

Here’s what I’d recommend. This is a basic four-part plan that can help you get started as we reopen the economy. The first thing you want to do in your plan is conduct a competitive analysis. Remember that your best customers are also the competition’s best prospects. So it’s critical for you to understand who is going after this customer. Figure out where you are vulnerable. What other salespeople from competing companies have been coming around? Here are a few questions to ask yourself just to get started with this exercise:

  1. Which competitors are most likely to go after this customer?
  2. How do we compare to those competitors?
  3. In a side by side comparison, where is my solution vulnerable? Is it product performance, value-added services? You want to figure out where your weaknesses are.
  4. If I were selling against myself, what weakness would I acknowledge? If you were selling against yourself, where are you weak as the salesperson? This will give you an understanding of how you’re positioned.

It’s important that we understand the competitive threats that we’re going to be facing, because during tough times, there’s going to be more activity from your competitors trying to come in and steal that business.

Next thing you want to do, conduct a relationship analysis. Relationships will strengthen your position with that customer. During these tough times, it’s important that you demonstrate your commitment to your customers and also to the people that you have relationships with within that opportunity.

Here are a few questions just to conduct a basic relationship analysis:

  1. How many decision makers do I have a good relationship with in this opportunity? When I say that, I know it sounds a little vague, and how do you really define what is a good relationship? Well, a good relationship would be if you called the customer and you wanted to schedule a meeting, they would schedule a meeting with you. Or if you call them, they would at least return your phone call. It’s a customer that would usually take a meeting or is going to dedicate some time to you. That’s a good relationship.
  2. Who are the key decision makers and influencers?
  3. Who are my internal champions that will help protect this partnership?
  4. How can I make these decision-makers look like a hero? Remember, during these tough times, everyone wants to look like a hero. Whether they can share their ideas with the boss on how they can improve the company, or if there are cost-cutting ideas, or new initiatives that will help the company gain a favorable position, all of these things matter. People want to be heroes during these tough times. Ask yourself “What can I do to help customers? The relationships that I already have, how can I help them become a hero?”

The next thing we want to look at is value reinforcement. Value reinforcement is about reminding the customer of the value that you deliver, and then also getting credit for the impact that it has on their business. Here’s the first part of this exercise.

  1. Demonstrate how you have already created value for this customer. Share that information with the customer.
  2. How will you reinforce that customer’s decision to partner with you during these tough times?

During tough times, people are at more risk of buyer’s remorse. When people make a decision, they’re looking for reasons to either support their decision or to question it. I’m sure we’ve all experienced this to some extent. During these tough times, it’s critical that you surround your customers with your message of value and all the value added that you previously have delivered. Because once they see that information, it’s going to remind them that, “I made a good decision to partner with this company. Here are all the ways they’re supporting me during this tough time.” We want to reinforce the value that we’ve delivered.

And then finally, the last part of this plan is to leverage. Leveraging is about expanding your products or services that you’re already providing this customer. During tough times, no stone can go unturned. It’s important that we get to meet new decision makers. We are introduced into new departments so that we can uncover new opportunities. Each decision maker that we meet with represents an opportunity. Our goal is to look for all those little opportunities that maybe other salespeople have overlooked. Now is the time where we fight for those scraps the end of the table. So during these tough times, we look for any and all opportunities. Every dollar that comes into your company is one dollar less going to your competition.

That’s how we build this plan. Again, there are four key sections to this plan:

  1. The competitive analysis
  2. The relationship analysis
  3. The value reinforcement section
  4. Leveraging

Make it a big day.

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