The Bug-out Bag of a Sales Professional

I believe in being prepared. Not ‘bunker in the backyard with 25,000 rounds of ammunition’ prepared, but…Boy Scout level prepared. The kind of prepared that anticipates both likely and potential scenarios and has a plan for each. The kind of prepared that involves knowing how to do stuff and having the right tool for the job.

A fundamental component of preparedness theory is the concept of a “bug-out bag.”

A bug-out bag is a portable kit at the ready that can be grabbed if one has to bug-out, or leave quickly. Potential scenarios include earthquakes, forest fires, or even social unrest triggered by the impending end of Game of Thrones. But not zombies. There are no zombies coming. I’m reasonably certain about that.

A bug-out bag contains enough food, gear and clothing to support you and your family for a few days in the event that you need to leave your home with little warning. Recommended items include a first-aid kit, flashlights, necessary medicines, water, packaged food, copies of important papers, warm clothing, toiletries, etc.

This is not a fringe concept supported only by camouflage draped survivalists with a strange penchant for machetes.

This is basic good planning. The American Red Cross recommends and sells them. I have one packed and ready in my garage.

Which brings me to my work bag. I treat the bag that I bring to presentations and meetings as my professional bug-out bag, containing all of the gear that I may or may not require to conduct or support a successful meeting with my team or to deliver a talk to an audience.

Everything I may need is always in this bag.

I take nothing out of it unless I’m using it. I have 100% confidence that when I grab this bag to head to the airport or drive to a meeting, what I need will be in there.

I also have a backup of a lot of these items in my office, car or other bags so that I never have to pull something out of my core work bag.

Here is a list of the items in my bag, which is a Briggs & Riley Relay Convertible Brief. I like this bag because it is clean and professional but can serve as a backpack when needed with straps that stow in the back padding. It also travels nicely when set on top of my rolling luggage and moves easily through an airplane aisle.

  1. Video dongles. Both HDMI and SVGA. Not having a dongle is unacceptable. Period. Apple makes a Mini Display Port to VGA adapter, but for some reason they don’t make one to HDMI so you need to get an aftermarket adapter for HDMI like this one from Belkin. I don’t know what people with Windows machines do, presumably something involving string.
  2. Slide advancer. These make for a much smoother and professional presentation than hunching over a laptop to advance a slide. I like the Logitech R400.
  3. Dry-erase markers. My good friend and colleague Jon Ott turned me on to this idea and it’s genius. Whiteboarding is a critical skill, and meeting room dry-erase markers are notoriously unreliable – dry and faded. Bring your own.
  4. Portable Bluetooth speaker. Video is a great tool in presentations, ensure you’re able to provide your own amplification. The JBL Flip 2 is a good size and less than $100.
  5. Laptop. I have two laptops, a souped-up MacBook Pro in my office and a MacBook Air that I use for travel. The MacBook Air is lighter and slimmer. I keep everything synchronized between the two with programs like DropboxBox and iCloud so it’s easy to move back and forth from one system to the other and not lose work.
  6. Chargers. Phone, tablet, laptop – especially laptop. Plug in your laptop when presenting so the display doesn’t power down, unless you’ve changed your energy settings properly. And you probably haven’t, even if you think you did.
  7. Phone/audio headphones. It’s difficult to move through an airport and hold a phone to your ear at the same time. I have multiple sets of the standard Apple EarPods (some pilfered from my children) and keep them (and all my cords) bound with Nite-Ize cord ties so they don’t get tangled. I also have a pair of Klipsch in-ear headphones that are noise canceling and can be used for phone calls.
  8. Notebook. Don’t take notes typing on a laptop. It’s distracting and potentially disrespectful. Use a regular notebook. Moleskine notebooks are timeless.
  9. Pens. Good ones. Have extra in case someone in your meeting needs a spare. Sharing is nice.
  10. Business cards. You’re a professional. Always have business cards.
  11. Toothpicks. Minor in the grand scheme of things but very important when you need them. Nobody wants to watch a presenter with food in his or her teeth. Whole Foods carries these great Tea Tree Therapy mint toothpicks.
  12. Tissues. No explanation required.
  13. Meal replacement bars. Sometimes we don’t have time to eat – have a backup plan. I personally like Clif bars – they’re resilient, avoid getting horribly smushed in a crowded bag and are substantial enough to cover a skipped breakfast. I keep two in my bag and am happy about it at least once a week.
  14. Personal stationary. Handwritten thank you notes are a professional courtesy that is worthy of the time and effort. Have personal stationary in your bag so you can send a quick follow-up letter to the people with whom you’ve met. Have some stamps, too.
  15. Non-work book. Not everything in life is about work. Take advantage of airplane time or unexpected downtime by reading something that has nothing to do with work. Here’s an amusing piece from The Awl on how to read more.

What do you keep in your bag that I may have missed? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. If you enjoyed the post, please share it with your network and click the ‘Like’ icon to let me know.

Ethan Zoubek is Regional Vice President of Sales at Krux Digital, an advisor and speaker, and author of the Self-Aware Sales blog.

When and How to Present a Proposal – Six Rules

Just because you’re asked for it doesn’t mean you should provide it – yet. And when you do, it should inspire.

(Part 2 of 3)

Irony abounds. Sales professionals tend to hedge and delay when asked the “how much does it cost” question as we reviewed in Part 1 of this series, but we’re quick to scramble to put together a proposal almost as soon as a prospective customer asks.

We should do the opposite.

As with jumping to the “how much does it cost” question, it makes sense that prospective customers are quick to ask for a proposal. It’s a clear, easy, concrete request to make and most buyers haven’t been trained in how to evaluate and purchase something. Asking for a proposal after an initial discussion is a simple and seemingly logical thing to do.

When to Deliver a Proposal

A formal proposal is one of the LAST things we should provide to a prospective customer. It must be complete and clear, and there’s no way that we can deliver such a proposal early in the sales cycle.

A formal proposal is one of the LAST things we should provide to a prospective customer.

Sales professionals should be constantly summarizing and feeding back to their buyer their understanding of the situation – requirements, objectives, timing, pricing parameters, etc. This can be done in emails after calls or meetings, in formal summary of understanding documents, or in ‘what we’ve heard’ sessions at the beginnings of presentations.

The important thing is to make no assumptions and continually validate – and challenge when necessary – the understanding of your buyer to ensure you and s/he are talking about the same thing and working collaboratively toward the same goals. No guessing, no speculating.

It is only at the end of comprehensive discovery and differentiation activities when you’ve received indication that you’re a viable vendor or even a finalist that a formal proposal should be delivered – though you’ve been doing the work to prepare it all along.

Then you do so with incredible thoughtfulness and care.

How to Think About a Proposal

Proposals are ambassadors. An ambassador is the highest ranking official representative a government can place in a foreign country. They are charged with representing policy, negotiating agreements and protecting their citizens within a host country. It is a position of tremendous gravity, honor and prestige.

Our proposal must serve as our ambassador within the buying organization, speaking for us when we’re not there

Our proposal must serve as our ambassador within the buying organization, speaking for us when we’re not there and communicating to decision makers with whom we’ll never meet, like the CFO approving the spend or the purchasing committee reviewing a requisition request.

For this reason, a proposal is perhaps the most important document that you can prepare throughout the sales cycle.

More often than not, the proposals that are delivered to customers are repurposed pieces of crap that are unreadable

But what happens? More often than not, the proposals that are delivered to customers are repurposed pieces of crap that are unreadable. Sales reps do a find/replace on company name, update a pricing table, and deliver the same voluminous nonsense that they deliver to every other prospect. Nonsense that they in all likelihood have never read.

It’s amateurish and disrespectful, and it should not be allowed to continue in any sales organization.

Six Rules of Good Proposals

Proposal Rule #1 – No Surprises

A proposal should be a formal summation of an understanding that you and your buyer have already established. There should be no surprises at all. Pricing should have already been reviewed in another format, important commercial terms discussed ahead of time, and delivery schedules considered as part of an engagement planning process.

The only thing your buyer should be surprised by is how clean, accurate, thoughtful and gorgeous your proposal is

The only thing your buyer should be surprised by is how clean, accurate, thoughtful and gorgeous it is, because they have been trained by lesser sales professionals to expect uninspiring proposals as the norm. They should be surprised by how inspired they feel reviewing yours.

Proposal Rule #2 – Decision Makers Don’t Read

You barely read the material that your own company produces – why should you expect a senior executive at your prospective customer to do something you yourself can’t be troubled to do?

Make your proposals clean and readable. Lots of white space, lots of crisp bullet points. Stick to the facts and make the document easily able to be skimmed. Strike large blocks of text and complicated graphics that you pilfered from some product team’s PowerPoint. If it doesn’t add clarity, it takes away. Get rid of it. If you must, place expansive detail in the back of the proposal in an appendix section.

Assume that the CFO at your prospective customer has the attention span of a 15 year-old boy sitting in class on a Friday afternoon

Assume that the CFO at your prospective customer has the attention span of a 15 year-old boy sitting in class on a Friday afternoon and you’ll be just about right. Structure your proposals for them.

Proposal Rule #3 – Show the Math

You’re asking your buyer to spend their money on this project instead of another, and with you instead of somebody else. Do them the courtesy of showing the math to support why that’s a good idea. It’s hard to argue with math. It’s math. Outline a clear and concise business case – what you expect your solution to deliver, over what period of time, in real dollars – either savings, revenue growth or both. Try for both.

Always, always, always include some sort of business case that shows the outcome of what you’ll deliver in real dollars

Always, always, always include some sort of business case that shows the outcome of what you’ll deliver in real dollars. This is table stakes. This is not optional.

Then make sure that your pricing explanation doesn’t require an accounting degree to decipher. See rule #2.

Proposal Rule #4 – It Must End

Please, I beg of you, include an expiration date. Anytime you deliver a summary of pricing, put an expiration date. Every quote you send, every time. And especially in your proposal.

I beg of you, include an expiration date

You know from your Engagement Plan by when your buyer needs to make a decision and complete all paperwork and signatures to meet their desired outcome – so put it in there. That’s the expiration date. It helps you, it helps them, it helps everybody.

Proposal Rule #5 – Make it Beautiful

While there is absolutely no empirical data to support this, we will assume for the sake of this discussion that all ambassadors are so strikingly handsome and gorgeous so as to make one’s heart skip a beat. So too should your proposal be. These are not to be white papers, they are to be compelling messages of premium value and extraordinary experience.

Convince your marketing organization to lend you a designer

Convince your marketing organization to lend you a designer and then spend time with them on layout, fonts, imagery and readability. You’ve trimmed most of the junk already by making the content readable and clear, your designer should be able to turn back to you a proposal layout that’s more engaging than anything your sales organization has produced…ever.

Proposal Rule #6 – Make it Repeatable

You can’t keep that designer forever, and sales professionals need to be self-sufficient, so ensure that all of this work is done with an eye towards repeatability and scalability. There are a number of ways to do this.

I like using PowerPoint as opposed to MS Word. Word demands that users possess an advanced degree in ‘How to Format Stuff Without Losing Your Patience and Smashing Your Laptop to Bits.” It also invites verbosity. PowerPoint is much easier for layout changes and the nature of it forces lots of great whitespace. An easy Page Setup change and – voila – you’ve got yourself a portrait oriented document that’s facing the “right” direction for a proposal.

Upload into Google Slides, fix some formatting, and now you’re cooking with a document on which your team can collaborate, copy and share. You’ve got an artifact in which best practices, positioning and content can be shared throughout your sales organization.

Extra credit to those who print, bind and hand deliver their gorgeous proposals to the buyer in creative ways

Reminder: always print to PDF – don’t deliver a proposal in its native format. Extra credit to those who print, bind and hand deliver their gorgeous proposals to the buyer. With some chocolates. Or tchotchkes relevant to their business. Something. Anything. Set yourself apart and show that you cared enough to take the time to do something special and different. Pressing ‘send’ on an email with an attachment isn’t doing something special and different.

A great alternative is to subscribe to a SaaS service that automates this process for you. One of the best companies for this is TinderBox and it provides sales automation tools for everything from presenting through proposals contracts in a platform that integrates directly with your Salesforce.com instance.

If Nothing Changes, Nothing Changes

Regardless of the tool or service you use, commit to treating your proposals with the respect they deserve. You and your teams work too hard during the sales cycle and spend too much energy crafting a compelling value proposition to diminish that effort so badly with a sub-standard proposal. A little care and attention with this critical deliverable can make a world of difference.

How to Handle the “How Much Does It Cost” Question – Part 1

It’s a fair question. “It depends” is not a fair answer.

Interested is seeing a sales professional stumble and squirm for a bit? Ask them how much what they’re selling costs.

Anyone outside of the selling profession can be forgiven for thinking that talking about price would be one of the first things we learn as sales professionals. After all, the concept of pricing and cost is one of the most central and fundamental components of a business transaction. Trading money for something is the quintessential representation of a value exchange.

Those of us who make our living selling know that it’s not that easy.

Why?

We’re taught how to  dodge the question by well-meaning sales leaders.

No one really teaches sales professionals how to handle the question. What we’re taught is how to dodge the question by well-meaning sales leaders who tell us that we should defer the question until later in the sales cycle. That we should be selling on value. That we’re to understand the budget of the buyer first. That we’re not supposed to show our cards too early.

Those positions aren’t inherently wrong. They just don’t answer the question. And it’s a fair question. Prospective customers have a right to ask their salesperson what a solution costs, and we have a responsibility to give them a clear and direct answer.

We have a responsibility to give prospective customers a clear and direct answer.

For anything that’s not a fixed good with a readily quoted unit cost (professional services, enterprise software, consulting, etc.) the pricing tends to be variable and that’s part of what makes it difficult to provide an answer early in the sales cycle.

Most customers haven’t been trained in how to evaluate and purchase something.

Most customers haven’t been trained in how to evaluate and purchase something, and they may only do it a few times in their careers. As professional sellers, who do this all day, every day, it’s our job to help them frame their thinking around “price” or “cost” in a manner that will allow them to make the most informed decision.

What something costs is one factor among many in a purchase consideration. For less sophisticated buyers, however, price is the most concrete factor and the most logical to which they can go, which is why they ask about pricing so quickly. Even more sophisticated buyers can press the price question early. It’s easier.

“It depends…” are the two words that most commonly tumble out of a salesperson’s mouth when asked about price.

We know that early in the cycle we don’t have enough information to provide an accurate price – the prospect isn’t clear on their requirements, there’s more for everyone to learn, etc. This is why “it depends…” are the two words that most commonly tumble out of a salesperson’s mouth when they’re asked about price. We then proceed to explain, using far too many words, why we can’t actually give them a price. But that doesn’t answer the question and it frustrates the buyer.

Provide a framework with your response.

Here’s how to answer the question.

Provide a framework first – this gives your prospective customer a sense of what goes into your pricing and why you structure it the way that you do. Don’t just give a number. Explain to them the components of your pricing. What they’re asking for (the price) isn’t what they actually want to hear (which is how you’ll help them determine value to their organization.) The framework gives structure to the how you’ll help them determine that value.

For example, if you sell enterprise SaaS software, this is sample framework:

There are three components to our pricing model – annual subscription, utilization, and professional services.

  1. The annual software subscription is the cost for accessing the core platform that we’ve had in market for years and continue to enhance and improve.
  2. The utilization is a variable component based upon how much you plan on using, and this is different for every customer. (Note: ideally this utilization is based on whatever the value metric is – users, storage, messaging volume, API calls, etc.)
  3. Professional services costs are based upon real human beings doing work to help implement the software and train you on its use and are scoped with you as part of the project planning.

So that’s it – we price on those three things: annual subscription, utilization, and professional services.

Our average selling price when you combine all three of those components is about $300,000. Lots of things impact that, which is why we always setup a discovery and strategy session with your team to help map out a path and plan. We’d like to do that once we both have a sense that there’s a good fit between what you need and what we do. That session will allow us to provide you with a thoughtful and accurate proposal, which will be based upon the value you’ll receive as a business across those three components.

Then stop talking. Please. Stop. Talking. Let them process what you’ve just told them.

This framework gives the prospect’s brain what it wants.

What have we accomplished? We’ve given a structure to our pricing model that the customer can consider. We’ve given them buckets into which they can place their assumptions and ideas to organize their thinking. The human brain likes to organize into groups (for example, grouping everything our eyes see into semantic neighborhoods.) This framework gives the prospect’s brain what it wants.

We’ve structured what we deliver into three discrete functions instead of one monolithic block, which allows us the opportunity to articulate not just a general value statement, but specific instances of value in each of those areas.

We’ve also established some qualification criteria – for both us and the prospect. If they hem and haw all over the $300,000 number, then we know something is off – either there’s total misalignment, we’re talking to the wrong level of buyer, something. But we now know that we have work to do, and we know that early in the cycle.

It also helps the buyer understand where this kind of purchase fits into their budgeting cycle, levels of approvals that will be required, etc. It establishes a baseline so we and the prospect can work together to craft an engagement plan to guide the evaluation. 

It doesn’t really matter what you’re selling or what the pricing structure is – always provide a clear and consistent framework.

There are infinite variations and ‘what if’s’ that come up with the question of positioning price, but I contend that it doesn’t really matter what you’re selling or what the pricing structure is – the method of providing a clear and consistent framework allows you to help educate the buyer with how to think about your solution and it puts your initial, general price figure in some context. Use a framework, pick the right three things to be in the framework, and then answer the question by introducing the framework.

Without context a number is just a number. Maybe too high, occasionally too low, never just right – so spend your energy on articulating the framework, not equivocating on a number.

A structured response should roll off the tongue of every sales professional in your organization.

Practice this with your team and colleagues. A structured response should roll off the tongue of every sales professional in your organization. You and your teams should feel empowered to answer this perfectly appropriate question early in the cycle – because it will be asked early in the cycle – and to answer with clarity and conviction. Doing so is a signal of professional competence that your prospects will appreciate it and it will be a point of differentiation from your competitors.

This post is the first in a series of three on the subject of discussing price and cost in selling situations. The next two topics are “When to Present a Proposal” and “How to Frame Your Price Negotiations.

When and How to Present an Engagement Plan

In last week’s post (Stop Calling it a “Close Plan”) I wrote about the criticality of incorporating into the sales process a mutual plan with the customer. I continued by calling attention to the folly of sales leaders using terms internally (read: Close Plan) and not expecting that some of their troops in the field would, consciously or unconsciously, use those same terms directly with customers. Words matter, and leaders have a responsibility to choose them carefully and deliberately – for their teams repeat what they say.

I recommended as an alternative to Close Plan the term Engagement Plan (Evaluation Plan is another good substitute) and promised that I’d review what I’ve found to be the best approach for presenting and structuring such a plan. I’ve also included a link to download a sample plan layout at the bottom of this post.

When to Present The Plan

When we consider the sales stages with which sales organizations manage a qualified deal cycle, we’ll find a discovery stage at the beginning. This observation is akin to stating that the sun will come up in the morning. Every sales engagement must have as its foundation deep discovery.

Immediately following that is a stage in which we look to establish clear answers to the “why change? why now?” questions. When we know that an evaluation exists, that the customer has agreed that they are going actually do something and they are considering doing it with us – that’s when we present the Engagement Plan.

An Engagement Plan is not a tool to be used at the end of the deal to make sure you get it in for the end of the quarter. It belongs at the beginning, when it can most help.

The intent of this plan is not to help us close the business. It will help us do that, and it will dramatically improve the chances of that happening – and at the highest possible value – but that is not the intent. The intent is to help the customer conduct their evaluation thoroughly and responsibility and to move through their engagement with us in a clear and deliberate manner.

Our Customers Need Help Buying

Our prospective customers don’t know how to buy what we sell. We spend all day, every day thinking about our particular corner of the market and the solution we have been trained on, believe in, and – in some cases – truly love. Our customers do not. They have demanding jobs with requirements that go far beyond just procuring our particular type of product, something they likely do no more frequently than once every few years.

As stewards of our company, our industry and our profession, it is our responsibility to help our customers through this process – independent of whether or not the end result is a sale or order that benefits us. That’s what professional salespeople do.

What to Say

When I have my teams present an Engagement Plan to their prospect, the objective is to help share all of the steps that we know a company must go through to conduct a complete and thorough evaluation to find the right solution to meet their business needs. The words they use are quite literally something like:

“Look – I know that you don’t buy (marketing software / spaceships / combat robot waffle irons) every day. But we do this all the time, and our customers have always found it to be helpful to have us put together an Engagement Plan with them. We’ll include all of the things that typically have to happen for a complete evaluation so you don’t miss anything, and then we’ll go through it with you. That way you’ll have a full checklist with dates, all working back from the day you told me you wanted to have this live and ready. Would you find that to be helpful?”

Many sales executives resist doing this, however, and as a result this incredibly useful tool – a tool that sets clear steps and dates for everyone – goes unutilized. Why? Putting aside those who are simply lazy or undisciplined, some sales executives feel uncomfortable – they fear that the customer will resist this as a tactic designed to get them to buy something. And the customer should resist it – if it’s a tactic designed to get them to buy something. But if the real and true intent behind the presentation of this plan is to help the customer, independent of outcome, then they will welcome it.

Be Conscious of Your Intent

Motive and intent. Motive and intent are the differentiators here. They are the differentiators everywhere. When we approach a situation with an intent that is clean and a motive of helping others, people respond. It is human nature. We are then in a position to help and to be of service. If we are providing the absolute right solution to solve their problem, if we are clear about the value we deliver and the business case that supports it, then an orderly and smooth business transaction is a natural extension of this alignment. When we detach from outcomes, all finds itself in order.

Components of the Plan

Some items to consider when you’re crafting and presenting an Engagement Plan:

  • Include anything that you know most buyers don’t think about, even if it’s not always necessary. An example is a security review by IT. They may not need to do it, but you want to find that out sooner rather than later. This is not a monster under the bed – it won’t go away just because you’re not looking at it. Surface these things as early as you can. Nothing kills the timeline of a deal and gets in the way of the customer getting what they need like an IT security review. See you in six months.
  • Do not make the last item in the plan the signing of the contract – that is self-interested and self-serving. The signing of the contract is the beginning of the next phase for the customer, which can include things like project kickoff, key milestones for the customer, etc.
  • Ensure that, if possible, you review this plan in person. Go through each item, confirm the necessity of its inclusion, validate that the target dates you’ve included are attainable, and note any changes or comments. Then revise the document and send to them.
  • Use the review as an opportunity to ascertain decision making authority, purchasing protocol, approval chains, etc. Remember – this is about helping your customer attain what they need to solve their business problem. A clear understanding of the process helps the customer get what they need in the time they need it, and sales professionals are better than anyone at figuring out that process. If it feels too early in the cycle to dig into those items, don’t – but list them and tell your customer that you’ll come back to them in a future review.
  • Revisit this plan with your customer routinely. Just like an entrepreneur’s business plan, an Engagement Plan is never right the first time. Or the second time. Or the third time.

For a sample layout of an Evaluation Plan, click here to download. This plan is an oversimplification, but provides a general framework for how to structure a plan that will work for you or your team. Tailor the particular line items to reflect the important milestones in your deal process and the important steps for your customer to consider. Remember – the intent is to help your customer conduct the most thorough evaluation they can.

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Stop Calling it a “Close Plan”

The importance of a plan to address the ‘last-mile’ of a sales cycle cannot be overstated. It is critical, especially for large and complex deals, that the sales executive draft and review with their sales leader a detailed plan to earn the business in question. Doing so is how we ensure that things don’t get missed, that the account team is in alignment, that senior executives are clear as to what is required of them to support the deal and that everyone is focused on the most important tasks to reach the desired outcome: closed business that will bring clean revenue to the company and a valuable solution or product to the customer.

Close Plans Are Necessary

Most evolved sales organizations have a process for this. At certain stages in the sales cycle, for deals of certain dollar amounts or strategic importance, sales leadership will require that the sales executive convene a review in which the sales executive presents the plan. Sales leadership will help strategize on tactics and iterate the plan until a final list of action items is determined. Most of the time, this plan is referred to colloquially as a Close Plan.

Invariably, there will be components of this plan that require collaboration with the buyer to do things like:

  • Align incentives “…and to confirm, we’ve agreed to this pricing structure with the understanding that you’ve agreed to take reference calls and sign the contract by the 25th of this month…”
  • Validate steps “…and you’re sure that the procurement director approves and then sends to the CFO for signature…”
  • Confirm dates (“…and we are certain that the CFO isn’t taking a trip to Bora Bora the week that we are planned to have him sign…”

A plan created in a vacuum isn’t a plan – it’s a hope and a dream until we confer with our buyer.

Don’t Call Them Close Plans

So, being fortunate enough to have one of those top deals in the pipeline and recognizing that it’s necessary to consult with our buyer on the items in the plan, we call our buyer and we propose that we sit down together to review our plan.

When this happens, please – for the love of all that is holy, DO NOT REFER TO IT AS A CLOSE PLAN.

To some this may be a statement of the obvious, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard sales professionals and their managers actually state to their prospective customer that they would like to review their Close Plan with them.

But why wouldn’t they? For months or years everyone in their sales organization has talked simply about the Close Plan. After a period of time, muscle memory and habit kick in. If we consistently refer to something as a Close Plan when we’re inside the four walls of our organization, it’s a safe bet that we’ll refer to it as a Close Plan outside those four walls.

Words Matter

The words we choose matter. They convey the motive behind our actions and the intent that we bring to an engagement. When we talk about a Close Plan, we de-humanize our buyer and we diminish the importance of their needs and values in the process. We turn them into an object that is to be conquered, a deal to be won. We turn them into a thing.

Buyers sense this – consciously or unconsciously. They must. The result of choosing our words inelegantly is that we turn what may have been a very collaborative and mutually respectful process up to this point into a tug-of-war that trades on angles and leverage, a zero-sum game with a winner and a loser.

What the buyer hears us say when we use the words Close Plan is “this has been nice up until now, but I’ve got to get to work and close this deal. And that means I’ve got to close you.” It signals to the buyer that the situation has changed and that they must now be on guard against tactics designed to extract as much money from them as efficiently and smoothly as is possible. And we are the person with whom they must be on guard.

This is unfortunate. Most sales professionals genuinely enjoy their work and the opportunity to be of assistance and utility to the customers they serve. Most attempt to be as genuine and authentic as they can. Most work for organizations that legitimately believe in the importance of customer satisfaction and shared success. It is an error of sales culture and a result of bad habit that a couple of irresponsibly chosen words can undermine what are otherwise thoughtful and deliberate efforts to provide genuine value.

Sales Leaders: Lead

Sales leadership bears the bulk of the responsibility for shifting the tone of the sales organization and the words that our teams use, both in the field and in the office. Our people look to us to get direction – both spoken and implied – as to how they are to engage with the market, the competition, our prospects, our customers and our co-workers.

This is encouraging, because it means that in many ways all we have to do to start to engender a more value-driven culture is to choose our words more carefully. This is a discipline that is easily begun and, with practice, develops reliably. It does demand awareness, however. Many of us run-around barely conscious of the words that spew out of our mouths, oblivious to the emotional wake that we leave and the downstream impact of the words we choose. So we must consciously decide to begin.

There are any number of ways to convey the intent of a close plan – mutually agreed upon steps to reach a mutually beneficial outcome – without calling it a Close Plan. If you’re a sales professional, I’d encourage you to share this post with your leadership to initiate a conversation on the subject. If you’re a sales leader, discuss this with some of your managers and sales executives to collaborate on some new terminology that more accurately reflects the type of organization that you want to be.

For the past number of years I’ve favored the term “Engagement Plan” and have required my teams to use it in lieu of “Close Plan.” It maintains the word “plan,” and it’s important to call things what they are as simply as is possible. The term “engagement” conveys a sense of collaboration and forward momentum.

Next week I’ll spend some time reviewing what I’ve found to be the best approach for structuring an Engagement Plan and when to present it to your buyer. Hint: it is NOT at the end of the sales cycle. To make sure you know when it’s published, click here to sign-up to be notified.

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