Small Business

Selling Strong in the New Year


You can align your annual sales goals with your personal goals to sell more effectively using this six-step planning guide

I love the start of a new year. As I look at my clean, fresh calendar, I see 52 weeks of opportunity to sell better and live more fully. If you're like me, it's tempting to jump right in and start filling up those hungry boxes with your routine appointments and activities. Resist that temptation!

No matter whether you keep your calendar on a computer or on paper, before you write a single entry, now is the perfect time to create a master plan for the upcoming year. I call this "Intentional Sales Planning" because it helps align your selling activities with your intentions, and as a result you will sell more and be happier. My six-step process follows:

Step 1. Review the previous year. Did you make enough money? Have enough fun? Do something meaningful that could affect the rest of your life? If you answered no to any of these questions, it's time for a new plan.

Step 2. Take some time for some dreaming and scheming. If you could design the year ahead, what would it look like? Another approach is to mentally project yourself a year out and look back. What do you wish you had accomplished during that year? Set goals to do more in areas or activities that matter to you. These could include work, community service, family, friends, travel, exercise, health, spirituality, and personal fun.

Step 3. List the activities necessary to accomplish each goal. Maybe this is the year for a "Big Hairy Goal" (see BusinessWeek.com, 10/5/06, "It's Not Just About Sales Goals"). If so, you need to do things differently from last year. For example, if you decide you want to sell 250 units this year, you will need a new strategy. Maybe it's time to add some extra employees, outsource your marketing, or delegate follow-up calls to your customer service reps. Remember, you don't have to do it all yourself. In fact, your highest returns will come via your planning and leadership.

However, if you sold 100 units last year and want to sell 110 units this year, you can probably just do the same things you did before, only a little more or a little better.

Another way of selling a lot more is to target larger customers. This takes more planning and effort up front, but many successful sales organizations have chosen this path. For ideas on selling to large companies, check out my two podcasts with Jill Konrath and David Pearson (See BusinessWeek.com, 11/23/06, "Selling to Giants" and 12/21/06, "Smart Sales Strategies").

If you choose this path, don't forget to make a plan concerning what you want to do with your smaller customers. I once consulted for a company that sold two products, one of which went for 100 times more than the other. They were having difficulty servicing both customer sets. I recommended they sell one of the two divisions because it was really two different businesses. You can make money selling to minnows or whales, but selling to both will drive you and your customers crazy and drag down profits, too.

Step 4. Honestly evaluate if you must scale back one goal to reach a more important goal. For example, to reach a significant sales goal, you may have to pass on coaching your child's sports team or on Sunday golf outings. Be sure you think this through. Beware of unintended consequences. If it requires a sacrifice from your family and others who depend on you, you'll need to sell them on your plan. If they are behind you 100%, you can accomplish a lot more than if they begrudge the time you're away from them.

Step 5. Consider if you're at that point in your life where you don't want to give up any of your non-work-related goals. If so, it's time to make peace with that and be satisfied with just maintaining your business activities and free up the time and energy for your worthy lifestyle goals.

Step 6. For each goal, eliminate those activities with the lowest return-on-investment in terms of money or fun. This is hard because you have to admit that an activity didn't work out the way you'd hoped. For example, for the last few years I have sent out a sales newsletter to subscribers who requested it. However, my analysis showed that I wasn't getting an acceptable return on the time and expense it entailed. So last fall, I sent out a final newsletter announcing I was ceasing its publication. This freed up some time and energy for other projects that produced a higher rate of return.

Planning is one of the few tasks a salesperson or business owner can't delegate. No matter whether it's planning a year's work or a specific project, it must be done, and by the person who's ultimately responsible for the results. As reader Ron Hubsher paraphrased in a recent post, "An ounce of planning is worth a pound of frenzied activity." Better planning now means better sales and more enjoyment in the coming year—and beyond. Happy selling!

Michelle Nichols is a sales speaker, trainer, and consultant based in Reno, Nev. You can visit her Web site at savvyselling.com She is also the Savvy Selling columnist and podcast host for BusinessWeek.com.

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