A Plan to Win in Sales

“Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.”
– Will Muschamp

Phil Blevins is one of the most successful stockbrokers in the history of financial services. When asked what makes a successful financial consultant, Phil does not mention things like studying the market, making sound investments, research, and portfolio management. Instead, he says the most successful brokers focus first on themselves (their attitude and skills). They define success as focusing on the things that lead to winning, doing them consistently, and ensuring that they are done every day. With that as a baseline, a broker defines success in terms of how well they honor their commitment to the process, as opposed to the outcomes/emotions of the day.

Once a broker makes a commitment to a process of development, they have to be patient, knowing that an adherence to the process will lead to results. Says author Bob Rotella, “Patience alone doesn’t get you anywhere. You have to be patient while doing the right things. “

Personal improvement processes are the top priority of winners, whether you are a stockbroker, professional athlete, a chef, or sales leader. The winners distinguish themselves by a commitment to do the right things.


Anytime a sales organization is not meeting its potential, I’ve observed that everyone starts looking for a ‘silver bullet’ fix. Everyone knows the problems, or claims to know them, yet no one finds the solution. I believe the root cause lies in behaviors:

Underperforming sales organizations spend 80% of their capacity (time, effort, thoughts, stress) on items that only drive 20% of the business impact. To reach its potential, a sales organization must shift its behavior and thinking to spend 80% of its capacity on the items with the highest impact and output.

This is much easier said, than done.

I believe there is a recipe for winning in sales. I’ll call this a Plan to Win. I believe that if a team measures their weeks, days, and hours by how they are doing in executing this Plan to Win, results will improve quickly; they will become a winning team. The Plan to Win is about defining the behaviors necessary to win in sales. Some may discount these as ‘obvious’ or something that they already do. I’m sure many do. In fact, I know the top performers do regularly.

Change is not easy. But, it starts by identifying the desired state. If you want to be a top performer and make a lot of money, I challenge you to try this for a month. Then a quarter. Then a year…


#1 Positive Attitude

What are you selling today? Are you selling something positive or negative? How are you impacting the environment? These are questions you should ask yourself everyday. Or better yet, make a commitment to bringing a positive attitude every day. One of the hardest things to do in any complex business is to maintain a positive outlook. However, I have seen it time and again; the few people that constantly bring the right attitude and temperament, turn negatives into positives, and engage the whole company with their enthusiasm, enjoy the greatest riches. It starts with a commitment to work with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.

“Nothing great can be accomplished without enthusiasm.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

#2 Client Time and Expertise

Your worst day at a client will always be better than your best day inside the company. It’s amazing how often people forget this. In fact, the best cure to a negative attitude is to call on a client; get inside their organization, their challenges, and their needs. This is one reason why I think great sellers often had a previous life in consulting. Consulting is all about client time and building client relationships that become your personal relationships. This is very different from simply selling to the client. Client time demands expertise from you, the seller. Clients will not spend time with someone unless they believe they are learning something new from that person and that interaction.

#3 Speed and Accountability

Speed drives exponential improvements and outcomes. If you complete a task in 1 hour, instead of 1 day, your mean-time to a positive outcome is 500% faster. This is driven by the fact that large organizations always have some level of bureaucracy. You have to expect that. Therefore, the faster you execute, the faster the machine is forced to execute and spit out an answer. Leading sellers think about their days in 60-minute segments, with a mindset of maximizing every 60 minutes. If you knock out that request for approval in 15 minutes, instead of 3 hours, you’ll have your approval by tomorrow, instead of by next week. It’s a fact. I’ve seen it and measured it.

“Life is like a ten speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use.” – Charles Schulz

#4 Everyone is a Manager

It does not matter if you have 100 direct reports or zero: you are a manager in any sales role. If you don’t manage and leverage all your channels to ensure success, it will not happen. Even worse, one of your peers will do it, and pass you by. You have to manage Business Partners, Marketing, Product Management, etc. Most people do not do this systematically. This approach fosters teamwork and co-dependence and it increases your individual capacity from 100% to potentially 1000%.

“Lead. Don’t Manage”. – Jack Welch

#5 Proactive Territory Planning

Sales is often a series of reactions; request for status, request for data, request for a chart, etc. If you are always reacting, you’ve already lost the game. Winning organizations transition to an environment where the majority of effort is proactive: Planning your territory, your account call plan, prospecting, networking events, building your strategy, leveraging labs, etc. Everyone will have a different playbook. The key is to have a playbook in the first place. Most do not. Understand strengths; understand weaknesses…60 minutes at a time.

#6 Unleash the Labs

The most valuable asset for clients is technical talent. Technical talent solves problems and clients buy from those they trust and those that can solve problems. Winning sellers monopolize lab and technical resources in their accounts and deals. When was the last time you arranged a technical briefing for a client, without trying to sell something? Do it…it builds trust…it teaches…and clients love that. What is your plan to unleash the labs in your territory?

#7 ‘Steve Jobs’ Proposals

Whether you like Apple or not, you must agree that no one gave better presentations than Steve Jobs. Clean, crisp, articulate, client focused, rehearsed, and orchestrated. It was art meets business. The value, appearance, timeliness, and professionalism of sales proposals must ‘wow’ clients. Business value must exude from proposals. Great proposals will qualify deals on their own. Consider the contrast:
Scenario A: Guy walks into client conference room. Hooks up to projector. Spends 10 minutes getting it to work. Presents a canned presentation (same one he gave to a different client last week). Leaves. Emails the client a copy.
Scenario B: Gal walks into client conference room with bound hard copies, organized by the agenda for the meeting. The meeting starts with her observations of the client environment and examples of where she helped clients in a similar situation. Then, the conversation shifts to a discussion of capabilities: what can be provided to improve their environment. A timeline of next steps is discussed, formulated before the meeting and validated with the client. Bios of the team are in the Appendix.

One scenario is professional theater; the other is done in high schools all over the world. Anyone can do this. But, you must have the will to prepare.

“Most people have the will to win, few have the will to prepare to win.” – Bobby Knight

#8 Competition

Respect them. Know them: personally and in detail. Be able to explain their capabilities to your client, and then identify points of differentiation. The vast majority of sellers cannot explain competitive products, and that is a lost opportunity. If you don’t know the competition, you can’t set traps for their weaknesses.

Competing means that you have the knowledge to orchestrate a sales call, highlight requirements to the client (that you know are weaknesses for the competition), and make the client smarter from having met you.

Educate, differentiate, and compete. Ultimately, you will bury the competition. But you cannot do that without the other steps first.

“I’ll insist my competitor is the greatest, so that when I beat him, I won’t be calling myself the greatest- I’ll be proving it through my actions.” – Jarod Kintz

#9 Talent Management and Hiring

This is perhaps the most reactive task in sales. If there is a sales opening, the manager starts to look for candidates, etc. I believe that talent management and hiring should be a part of a weekly and monthly management system. Every position and territory should have a slate of known candidates, which is constantly evolving. When you have an opening, it’s about choosing from a known list, not creating a list. Winning teams recruit, hire, and manage talent as if they were a Hollywood Talent Agency.

“Time spent on hiring, is time well spent.” - Robert Half

#10 Time Management

Everything a seller does must be focused on optimizing output, 60 minutes at a time. You must set aside time monthly and weekly, to do the things that are most important. Spend time on sales and client priorities, as opposed to being consumed into the machine. Here is my view on how to prioritize time:
70%- Identifying, Proposing, Progressing, Closing deals
15%- Managing channels
15%- Learning and Administration

-People Managers
60%- Leading, coaching, planning, and driving deal strategy
25%- Hiring and motivating
15%- Managing channels, Learning, and Administration

“The key is not spending time, but in investing it.’ –Stephen Covey

#11 Metrics

If you want to change your results, measure yourself against this Plan to Win and sales priorities. Those two measuring sticks ensure that you are optimizing your time for maximum impact. Any other measurement is a potential distraction. If you trust the plan, execute it, and measure yourself against it, you will be successful. Think about it: what’s more valuable? The fact that you updated a CRM record or the fact that you spent 3 days this week in front of clients and delivered 2 rock-star proposals? The former is interesting; the latter is one step closer to success.

“Have a plan for everything. You’ll know if it was right by the scoreboard.” –Bear Bryant

#12 Communication

While the means of communication have changed dramatically in the world (real-time, interactive, social, network-based, relevant, etc), the communication in most sales organizations is stagnant. It’s asynchronous (email), overly participative (conference calls with the masses), and often not valuable to the seller. Winning organizations will rethink and reinvent communication. It will be interesting, relevant, interactive, valuable, social, and consistent. You know you are successful if other teams grow tired of your level of teamwork and engagement.

“Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul, encourages another person to be brave and true.” –Charles Dickens

#13 Obsess over Client Satisfaction

Winning teams obsess over clients and their success. You must know your clients better than you know ourselves. It starts by thinking of your client as a friend, and then treating them like a friend. There are 2 approaches to sales that ensure client success. I’m surprised by how rarely I see them practiced:

a)After you sign a deal, set Conditions of Satisfaction, in writing, with your client. This makes it clear that you care about success and even better, it sets a bar for the team to live up to. Manage the post-signing interaction according to these conditions. Review them regularly. Tell the client that you expect them to be a public reference, once the Conditions of Satisfaction are met.

b)Hold Quarterly Business Reviews (QBR’s) with your clients. This is not a sales call. This is a broad review of the relationship: what they like, what they don’t like, where they need assistance, etc. It’s an ideal time to review how you are doing against the Conditions of Satisfaction. If you do this regularly (yes, 4 times a year), your clients will love you and continue to buy from you. It is in fact that simple.

#14 Personal Development

Every person in a sales organization should have a written set of goals for the year. No, not corporate goals. I’m talking about something that you privately commit to, and, you enlist your leadership team to help you be successful. It could be building technical skills (if you are a seller) or developing sales skills (if you are a tech). It could be learning an industry to the depth that you can truly advise your clients. It could be learning Japanese, because many of your clients are in Japan. It can be anything. After all, its personal.


14 behaviors.

I’m sure many were hoping this was a simple 3 or 4 behaviors. However, the fact is that selling is not easy. Changing behaviors and habits is even harder.

Author Bob Rotella says, “When people with real talent approach any endeavor, they look for a method, a process, that will lead to success. Then they follow that process every day. They set themselves up to succeed.” This Plan to Win is not perfect. But, it can be a guide to how to optimize time.

“Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” Growth in your wallet, accomplishments, career, and relationships are all achievable and in front of you. If you commit to this plan to win, as an organization, I believe you will enjoy tremendous success.

1 comment: