“Those who fail to plan, plan to fail” goes the old saying. But far from being an over-shared LinkedIn “inspirational” quote, this modern day proverb actually has some basis in fact. Try bluffing your way through a sales meeting with an FMCG client and you’ll quickly understand the wisdom of thorough preparation.
But the reality is that some skilled sales professionals actually begin to believe their own hype. Which means they become completely reliant on smooth sales patter and self-confidence to breeze through any customer objections. Sales planning is something for newbies and poor performers – or so they think.
Even if they do manage to carry it off, there are still two major problems to this approach.
- An inability to properly serve customers
The over-confident sales rep typically has a personal formula that they have used relatively successfully for many years. They go into every meeting with their own agenda that they use to steer the conversation – and eventual outcomes.
Often, this strategy is quite successful – the rep walks away with an order.
The trouble is that this approach doesn’t fully consider the needs of the customer. Which means that they may end up stocking products that don’t actually suit the needs of their own clients and which they struggle to sell. The knock-on effect is a drop in the frequency of orders – or even a loss of the account.
- Missed cross-sell and up-sell opportunities
By using a one-size-fits-all sales strategy, the “wing it” rep typically has a particular product or range that they want their customers to buy. But if their focus becomes too narrow, the rep misses opportunities to recommend additional products that will enhance the client’s offering.
The rep may hit their sales targets, but there is more money being left on the table at many meetings.
Not everyone falls into this trap
The good news is that these over-confident, under-prepared reps do not represent the attitudes and approach of the whole profession. Indeed, a report carried out by Pace Consulting found that most reps spend 4.8 hours every week on sales planning. That’s 10% of the average working week.
The reality is that those sales professionals who spend time and effort understanding their clients and markets are more likely to recommend products that suit customer needs. Accurate, effective planning looks beyond the current sale, laying the groundwork for several future sales.
Having great quality customer and product info makes the difference
Effective sales planning balances your company’s needs to shift certain product lines with the preferences of your customers and their customers. Which means taking the time and effort to research both.
Key to any sales planning is high quality data – the more you have available, the more granular that research becomes. The more detail your sales team can see, the more finely tuned their pitch, and the more successful the resulting sale – for everyone.
At the heart of sales planning is the CRM system. By collecting data on all of your customers – and making it available to your sales reps – it is possible to observe long term purchasing habits and wider industry trends. Using these insights, reps can create all-new approaches that:
- Ensure customers get the products they actually need – and have a chance of selling.
- Help buyers stay on trend – and in touch with their competitors – by stocking the products their clients want.
Sales planning is about building partnerships with your clients. Rather than telling them what to buy, they need guidance in choosing the correct mix of products for their market. The sales rep becomes a trusted partner of the buyer – after all, their success determines your own.