A 'Sales Project Plan' keeps everyone on track and moving forward
Project plans are a great way to understand and manage all sorts of things that people and teams work on, and sales is no exception.
Sales, when thought of and approached as a process, lends itself extremely well to a Sales Project Plan. You can download the Sales Project Plan template from the Free Resources page. The highlighted cells in it offer explanations and guidance on how to approach things.
Why a Sales Project Plan?
I've used Sales Project Plans throughout my career. They're a simple yet powerful way to answer 3 important questions:
Who are the Sponsors and who are real Power when it comes to discovery, evaluation, and the actual buying decision?
What are the definitive steps and what's the timeline for each in the prospect's buying decision process?
When are each of the people or groups who are going to be engaged in the process actually going to be scheduled into the plan, and when will the customer make their decision?
Why This Sales Project Plan?
The Sales Project Plan template on the Free Resources page isn't meant as a replacement to anything you may already be doing in your CRM. I'm simply offering an extremely simple and stripped-down version for two reasons.
First, I hope it's useful to your thinking about your sales process, and how you qualify opportunities and prospective buyers. It's always helped me to remember to ask questions that confirm HOW A PROSPECT BUYS!!!
The other reason is that it could be helpful if you don't already have something in place for capturing and communicating your Sales Project Plan with your prospect and within your organization.
Experience has taught me that when it comes to internal communications, a Sales Project Plan becomes very helpful for winning and building trust with my colleagues. I've used them for forecasting, in funnel review meetings with sales managers and executives, in meetings with production and professional services, and basically with just setting expectations and giving my colleagues who want to know and will be impacted by a new sale the heads up everyone appreciates.
Again, I'm not saying that CRMs don't already afford a way to do this. The Sales Project Plan template I'm sharing may just be another way to share information with prospects and colleagues.
Talking With Prospects
Oh, and my advice is to call it something other than a Sales Project Plan when you share it with your prospect; perhaps something like just Project Plan, or Project Plan for Resolving <Their Big Problem>.
Let me also offer a little advice on when and how I've talked about project plans with prospects.
The Project Plan has proven most useful to me once there's some agreement on the part of the prospect that they have a problem I can potentially solve, and they've explicitly agreed that further discovery is warranted, and that a decision - one way or the other - will be forthcoming. In a word, commitment.
Now, how long and complex any discovery and evaluation will be is most certainly a function of their problem(s), your solution(s), and their buying process.
Once I'm at this point in the conversation - and provided the decision is complicated enough to warrant a Project Plan - I usually preface it with something like this.....
Well, <prospect's name>, let me first thank you for your time and for sharing <points they made; problems they're having, etc.>. Have I missed anything?
<Assuming you've established as part of the conversation that you have the ability to help them....>
No? Ok, then let me ask you if you agree that we should dig a little deeper into how we can address <the specific issues and problems you've talked about>?
Yes? Great! I'm going to create a project plan for us. I've found it to be a solid way to keep everyone involved on track. Let me start by asking what the next few steps are for how you and your organization make his kind of decision?
As they describe it, I'm responding with, "Ok, great. Thanks. That's very helpful. Who are the folks for that step, and when would we be meeting with them?"
IF I GET A LOT OF OBJECTION to this approach, I'm pretty sure I'm not talking with Power.
People in positions of Authority and Influence tend to focus on how decisions are made. When they're truly interested - and they trust me - Power hasn't held back basic information like who is going to be part of the process and when. They want as much as I do to be efficient in coming to a decision.
People without real power, on the other hand, tend to object to sharing names and offering dates. In my experience, that's because either they don't yet trust me, or they feel that they would be relinquishing too much of their perceived (or desired) power over me and the situation.
When I get this kind of objection, I respond truthfully and sincerely with,
"<Their name>, I understand your caution. We're just getting to know each other. If you're concerned about me contacting anyone directly, please let me assure you that I wouldn't violate your trust in me like that. We're in this together. We're both trying to determine if I can resolve <their problem(s)> for you. I just want to be the best resource and partner to you that I can by better understanding you, your organization, and who is going to be involved.
<Then with a touch of sincere humor in my voice...> Plus, it'll save us from those awkward conversations that go something like.... 'your person in legal' or 'your East Coast division manager'."
My best advice is to be your authentic self.
Me? I go into each sales opportunity with the goal of being helpful while also being pragmatic and efficient in how I use my time.
A Sales Project Plan helps me to do that, and I hope it can do the same for you.
Let me know if you have any questions or if you have any thoughts you want to share.