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The Green Sheet Online Edition

December 12, 2011 • Issue 11:12:01

Game plan 2012

By Karin Bellantoni
Blueprint SMS

Every new year deserves to kickoff with a well conceived game plan. Now is an opportune moment for ISOs to craft a winning sales strategy for the coming year. After all, in today's fiercely competitive sales environment only the best will thrive and grow.

For starters, a sales plan must be succinct and simple. To create a strategic, tactical plan for acquiring new accounts and growing revenue from your existing merchant base, experts recommend that the plan focus on generating 75 percent of revenue from new business and 25 percent from existing clients.

Early in my entrepreneurial career, I realized the importance of achieving weekly goals in my overall plan. My business partner and I would meet in San Francisco at a different breakfast spot each Monday to review the plan, make weekly goals and commit to daily activities that would support the weekly goals. Weekly sessions began with an earnest assessment of the prior week's accomplishments, making me highly accountable for actions taken.

What is most important is to find a system that works for you. If you are just dusting off your 2011 plan and changing a few numbers and client names, you are not going far enough. If your sales manager writes a plan without including sales force input, that could also prove fatal in accomplishing anything new, different or improved.

Dynamic process

An effective sales plan is an active document developed collaboratively between sales professionals and sales managers. It includes specific activities that will support achievement of company, department and individual goals.

Planning is a process. Sales plans need to be modified with real-time results and qualitative input. Reviewing your plan regularly will keep you in touch with your goals and strategies. Schedule two days each month at an offsite location one hour earlier than you usually begin the day.

During that time:

  • Review what is working in your plan and what is not.
  • Determine what goals need to be removed or revised due to changing circumstances.
  • Ask a mentor or your manager for guidance on what is not working.
  • Enroll in a workshop to shore up skills where you are falling short.

Analysis is critical. Sales professionals in a typical organization devote only 14 percent of their time to actual selling. That's less than two hours a day. Speaking from personal experience, applying an effective sale plan can actually increase selling time.

Inventory analysis

In formulating a plan, you must first take inventory.

  • Remove obstacles by analyzing last year's performance. What worked? What didn't work and should be improved or eliminated?

  • Which goals did you achieve/exceed? Why were you successful or not? Be honest with yourself.

  • Do you have an updated list of "influencers" and referral sources? Did they work for you? What was the common theme of your contacts that helped you generate sales?

  • With your manager, review the deals you lost. Was the cause deficient selling skill or drive, lack of selling knowledge, poor communications with your boss or co-workers, targeting the wrong prospects?

  • How will you create more selling time? Analyze where you are spending your time now. A good nutritionist will tell you to keep a food diary to document what you eat. Do the same thing to become aware of where you spend time each day. Could better use of sales tools help?

  • Finally, do you have an efficient tracking system? Is reporting in real-time over the Internet or is it paper-based? Can immediate action be taken? Are sales activities measured, segemented by individual and weekly goals? Do sales activities correlate with revenue required? Can changes be made weekly/monthly based on where you see actual results versus planned results?

New contenders

The Internet has forever changed the playing field. And with today's slow-growth economy, business for ISOs is highly competitive. Concepts like "social selling" have become critical. Your customers have gone social, but maybe your competition hasn't. What is your strategy?

The buying process has also undergone change. Sales reps aren't just selling products and services; they are selling solutions, their company and themselves. There are multiple channels of communication: Internet, cell phone, voice mail, "snail mail" and social networking that demand immediate, real-time interaction.

Prospects know a great deal about you and your company well before you contact them. In addition, products have become commodities. How will you understand the prospects challenges in a new way?

The selling process is about adapting to buyer needs and using resources constructively. Above all, clients demand superior service, knowledge and competence. Speed of execution and response to merchants are part and parcel of the sales process.

Sales professionals must seek every available outlet for lead generation, communication, credibility and knowledge. And this requires learning new sales and marketing techniques. Agents must also understand what competitors are doing and what challenges prospects face in order to gain a sustainable competitive edge.

The specifics

After a thorough internal analysis and assessment of your general sales strategy, ask yourself these two questions: What am I going to do differently next year? How am I going to make it happen? Your plan should be specific in terms of activities, with weekly goals that correlate with company approved goals and expectations.

Your answers to these questions should include:

  • Last year's activities and results
  • A competitive analysis detailing how will you sell versus your top five competitors
  • Company-approved goals and your stretch goals (tie personal rewards to these)
  • An education plan indicating where and how you will improve specific skills this year
  • Ideal buyer profiles (who you should be selling to and why)
  • How you will practice to become a better salesperson (role playing can build self confidence)
  • Who your support partners will be (boss, peers, family, human resources or training staff)

Growth process

Now it's time to strategize how you will become more effective at growing your business. To do so you must cover the following bases:

  • More prospects (Who are you targeting and why?)
  • Social selling strategies (How will you use social media to sell?)
  • Better conversion (How do you get people to close and buy?)
  • Increased revenue from existing merchant base (cross-sell additional services)
  • Increased revenue overall (larger transaction size, more payment options)
  • Attrition reduction (expand, improve service to existing customers)
  • Referral plan (customers, friends, prospect segments)

proceed with how and when you will execute your plan to achieve maximum results.

Programmed efficiency

Next, determine how you can become more efficient and devote more time to selling. Here are some actions to take:

  • Reduce time spent on paperwork and performance measurement.
  • Reduce administration/face time.
  • Measure and evaluate frequently to diminish ineffective activities.
  • Address logistics and timing when scheduling meetings.
  • Exercise self-discipline related to selling activities.
  • Create balance between personal, family and work time.

Efficiency defines how you can generate more selling time and more customer contacts.

Progress yardstick

Knowing how important it is to continually gauge the effectiveness of new strategies, how do you measure success before you see the monthly sales report? Key performance indicators (KPIs) are an ideal solution because they measure and track all activities leading up to the sales close.

KPIs should be segmented by prospect category, by week and include number of contacts made, appointments set, follow-up attempts per close, closing ratios, total sales volume, total sales dollar amount, average dollar amount per sale, market share by merchant category, and results versus goals for the current and prior sales period measured.

Many businesses fail to adequately invest in results measurement tools. Yet without these tools, unrealistic expectations persist regarding customer relationship management (CRM) and sales results. Mobile technology is available to create a bridge to the CRM and provide paperless, real-time feedback to managers and sales agents. When looking at sales force software the real goal is to reduce data entry and increase customer face time.

The formula to success calls for increased skill through perpetual practice, spending more time selling and focusing on the right decision makers at the right merchant targets. It sounds simple, but a well executed plan wins every time. end of article

Karin Bellantoni is the President of Blueprint SMS (Sales Management Science), where she finds untapped potential in her clients' business-to-business (B2B) sales process. She works with B2B sales teams at all stages in their evolution. She can be reached at bella@blueprintsms.com.

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