It’s Not About The Form/Template

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The other day I wrote, “It’s Account Planning Season” again. Commenting on the post, Tamara Schenk reminded me the value of account planning–or any planning we do–is less in completing the plan itself but really all about the process.

Tamara makes a tremendous point that seems to be too often lost on managers and sales people alike. Everywhere I go, we may be talking about opportunity planning/deal strategies, call planning, account/territory planning, even pipeline management; I see two parallel things at play:

  1. Managers are concerned about the completion of the plan! They want to see the form, template, or the CRM worksheet completed. They may skim over it, ask a few questions, but for too many managers, it’s about completing the template. It’s almost as if by filling in a form, we can improve our ability to execute. (Actually there’s some truth to this but I’ll come back to it later.)
  2. Sales people groan. They view the template as just another exercise or management conspiracy to waste their time. They want to be out, taking action and executing. Unfortunately, execution may be making random calls, finding a customer who will buy, or pursuing deals in an unstructured manner. They don’t see the point of filling out another template or form they will never use.

What everyone misses, it that it’s not about the form or template. It really isn’t about the output—though having it written down frees you up from having to remember everything.

What it’s all about it the process of thinking, analyzing, collaborating with colleagues to come up with the best possible ideas to achieve the goal. It doesn’t matter whether it’s about how to win a deal, how to maximize share of the account, how to have the maximum impact in a call.

Success in sales is not about a bunch of random acts that might produce a sale. It’s not about being fast on your feet (though that’s a great skill), or being able to handle anything the customer dishes out. It’s not about being a fantastic pitch person–particularly if you are pitching the wrong thing to a person who doesn’t care.

Success in sales is about achieving our goals as effectively and efficiently as possible. It’s about having an impact in everything that we do–whether it’s a customer meeting and the value we create, or an internal meeting aligning resources to support us. We want no wasted effort or time on the part of the customer, our colleagues, and our selves.

We can’t do these things unless we take the time to think about and plan what we are trying to achieve. We can’t do it effectively or efficiently unless we think, analyze, consider differing ideas or alternatives, then map out a specific course of action.

Which brings us back to the templates. Templates and forms help us structure our thinking and planning. Hopefully, they aren’t just a standard form, but they’ve been customized, based on the organization’s best experience of practices. Opportunity/deal planning templates help you think about developing deal strategies that maximize the value you create in helping the customer buy, maximize your ability to win, help you and the customer reduce the buying cycle, and maximize deal value/profitability.

Hopefully, the template provokes you to think, analyze, ask yourselves and colleagues tough questions that enable you to put the most effective plan in place. Hopefully, the template helps you structure your thinking in a disciplined and effective manner. Writing it down helps you remember what you are trying to do–so you don’t have to worry about forgetting as you move to other things.

Likewise, account, territory, call, and pipeline plans help you think about and analyze the things critical to the customer and your success in each area.

For managers, it’s not about the form or template either. Don’t worry if all the boxes aren’t checked, every field isn’t completed. Use the form to help guide your review. Make the review a discussion. It should be focused on collaboration, problem solving, helping the sales person think about the most impactful way to execute.

Test the completeness of people’s thinking. Help expand their ideas, consider other alternatives. Leverage your experience in helping them develop a richer more effective plan. Above all, don’t tell them what to do–help them figure it out, own it and execute it.

If you are just filling out the forms, making sure each box is checked, each section is complete, without thinking, analyzing, considering alternatives–then you are wasting your time. You aren’t leveraging the process to help maximize your impact and effectiveness. As a manager, if you aren’t paying attention to the substance of the form, you are wasting your and your people’s times.

As Tamara pointed out, it’s not about the form, it’s about the thinking and analysis which lead to sharp execution.

There’s a quote in a favorite book, John Gardner’s EXCELLENCE, “Do not let form triumph over substance.” He wasn’t speaking about forms/templates, but his point is perfect. Excellence in anything is about substance. It’s about the quality of our thinking, our interactions with customers and colleagues, and our execution.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

IBM

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.

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