Is Sales Planning a Waste of Time?

The Context

In a recent sales workshop we had lunch with three sales representatives. For purposes of anonymity we will call them Abbie (A), Bill (B) and Charlie (C). It was 10 months into their fiscal year and the conversation turned to their sales funnels, sales planning activities and their efforts to close the year at or above their sales quota.

Abbie opened the discussion by mentioning that she was mapping out her time over the remaining two months, making sure she had the best plan for her key revenue producing accounts and opportunities. “Actually, I enjoy planning sales calls and account strategy.” She explained that it provided her with a laser like focus that increased her productivity and effectiveness.

Bill commented that he was “too busy to plan” and wished he had the time to plan his sales calls and focus on key accounts. He explained to us that he travels 3-4 days per week making sales calls and closing deals, has a “ton” of E-mail to respond to and countless customer and company follow-up activities to handle each day. When you throw in CRM updates, it’s difficult to find planning time.

Charlie smiled and said that sales planning is great for sales representatives that are new to their territory, but was unnecessary for experienced sales representatives because they know “intuitively” what to do and when to do it.

Our Questions

We nodded our heads and listened attentively to each person. After Charlie concluded his statement we asked a follow-up question. “Where are each of you in terms of revenue to your plan this year and where were you last year at year end? As they responded, we wrote out the results on a napkin.

The results are shown in the Table below:

Year –to-Date Last Year
Abbie 104% 110%
Bill 94% 92%
Charlie 85% 87%

We shared the table with our small lunch group and asked “to what do you attribute these results”?

Their Responses

The responses were interesting. Each sales representative said their sales quotas were fair last year and this year.

Abbie replied that by taking the time to develop a territory plan, key account plans, opportunity plans for high dollar volume sales and call plans she felt more confident and prepared in all of her customer interactions. She further stated that she believed she was using her sales time wisely and this resulted in increased sales. She further stated she has a robust sales funnel.

Bill stated that he felt he had been lucky so far in getting close to his quota. He turned to Abbie and said, “listening to you has created an Aha moment for me. I now realize that sales planning is essential and that I should make it a priority. With it I should be able to make plan. My challenge is to make the time to plan.”

Charlie had an epiphany. Without any probing he said “I think that I may have gotten into a pattern of doing busy work and relying on my relationships to get sales. I may have inadvertently decreased the amount of my selling time and avoided developing new accounts. I agree that what I am doing is not working and I need to do something different. I need to start with a territory plan.” He then asked Abbie if she would be willing to share her sales planning process with him.

After Charlie concluded his comments we stated “well it sure sounds to us that each of you has a concrete approach to move forward in each of your respective sales territories. Each person thanked us for our help and insight even though we did nothing but listen and ask a few questions.

Parting Thoughts

Sales Coaching is about being observant, listening and then asking questions to make sales professionals think. It is not about preaching, dictating or telling. With a few simple questions the group came to the conclusion that every account, opportunity or customer interaction (sales call) requires planning to engage a customer, grow an account or close an opportunity. All of this must be done by starting with the development of a concrete territory plan.

Sales Planning doesn’t take more time or less time…it just takes time. It’s hard to hit double digit growth numbers without a sales plan.