Updated: Sep 2
You've likely heard it said: “sales is the lifeblood of a company." If you are interested in sales improvement, the question to answer is: "What is the lifeblood of sales?" The answer comes down to one thing, and that one thing is the most misunderstood requirement for success, or greater success: productivity.
Productivity is often confused with activity or preparation to be productive. Actual productivity means: qualified accomplishment, or, the standard of accomplishment required in order to reach a goal. (Note: "accomplishment" should be understood to mean incremental accomplishment, as some goals are achieved through several objectives that cumulatively attain the goal). Productivity, therefore, is concerned with everything that impacts, or could impact, efforts to achieve the progress required to reach a goal. You can find a more useful way to understand productivity on this page of my website.
“Sales improvement” is somewhat of a misnomer, since sales are the result of what makes sales possible, which is a combination of several interdependent things, such as process, strategy, skills, knowledge, etc. Sales improvement is, actually, improvement of a factor, and/or combination of factors, which create and “close” sales opportunities. The effectiveness of these factors is directly reflective of your ability to be productive. Productivity, therefore, is not limited to activity; it encompasses everything related to conversion of the potential for sales into actual sales.
The advice in this article is based on the culmination of my professional work: creation of the IDEAL Productivity model. My authority as a sales expert is presented on the career page of my website, publication of my articles by several respected industry organizations (which are also available on my blog), and, hopefully, evident by the number and quality of testimonials that I’ve received. I mention this for two reasons: presumably, the subject of this article is important to you; and, secondly, you should know why you can have confidence in the advice presented here.
In order for you to derive greater value from this article, it may be important to be aware of the foundation of my perspective on sales. The basis of my perspective includes these three fundamental ideas:
Sales is not a numbers game; sales is about a process of conversion (of a potential for sales into actual sales). “Numbers” are an obvious sub-point to what selling actually involves. A detailed explanation of my point of view is available in this article.
Success (of a sales goal) is impossible apart from productivity, which necessitates your having an accurate conception of what it means to be productive. You can learn a more useful way to understand productivity in this article.
A top cause of failed goals is: lack of planning. Therefore, our best effort to succeed must involve planning and preparation to succeed. Part of our effort to succeed must take into account consideration of how we could fail – that is, how we could cause our failures. More on this important subject is available in this article.
IDEAL for Sales
Your best effort to improve sales requires you to plan. IDEAL is an acronym for a five-part productivity model, the most natural framework by which to plan your success. The basic idea of IDEAL is that each step of the model creates a process, and, through its application to reach your sales goal, you can discover how to improve productivity—your sales efforts. IDEAL should be used as a dynamic guide—one that evolves—as you progress toward success. More about IDEAL, in general, may be found on the IDEAL page of my website.
Now, with a fresh perspective of productivity and sales, begin your quest for greater sales with an assessment of where you stand today in your efforts to sell. Identify what success will require—in all respects—from you, specifically. Since guesswork here is an unnecessary liability, IDEAL requires you to track progress toward your goal, which will allow you to know—with verifiable data—where you stand. This, in turn, can help you make smart decisions about what improvements are actually necessary.
Each step of your IDEAL plan will address a critically important area related to your goal. These areas are: Intend; Direct; Engage; Assess; Learn. Each area may be understood this way:
(1) Intend = your goal, with regard for related considerations;
(2) Direct = your choice of a course by which to attain your goal;
(3) Engage = your efforts to satisfy a performance standard required by your goal;
(4) Assess = data-based assessment of your progress; and
(5) Learn = refinement of your aim, approach, and efforts (the first three points).
Collectively, these areas, in large part, will determine your potential to achieve your goal.
Now, with the proper foundation for improvement established, with regard to your sales improvement interest, here are a few suggestions on how you may apply the IDEAL model to improve your productivity—sales.
STEP ONE: Intend
An interest in sales improvement is actually an interest to improve productivity—the results from your sales efforts. Since results are related to activities, skills, knowledge, data, etc., any, or a combination of, refinement in these areas may lead to improved sales. The starting point to improved sales is to decide where to invest your attention to improve.
(1) Consider your sales process;
(2) Identify the major steps that convert your potential clients into clients;
(3) Identify the activities involved in your process, which may include prospecting, nurturing, presentations, data management, negotiation, etc.;
(4) Select the activity or activities to achieve targeted improvement(s).
NOTE: Be aware! There could be a difference between what you think will improve your sales and what would actually improve sales. Areas to consider:
Quality of data
Strategies / Approaches
Ability to nurture opportunities
Degree of relevant knowledge (about sales, your prospects, etc.)
STEP TWO: Direct
At this step, choose your course. Learn about the improvement options available for the areas you wish to improve. This step is the heart of your plan, the step at which you decide—for better or worse—how you’ll achieve improved results. Here, you’ll identify all key considerations related to your effort to be productive, and the contingencies upon which your success depends.
As the name suggests, you’re in control; you “direct” how and to what extent the aspects of your sales operation function and are interdependent. A few of many decisions made here:
Process—the steps and sub-steps to convert sales potential into sales;
Use of time;
Allocation of resources;
Development of skills;
Required support materials;
Coordination of tools;
Research, reviews, and revisions;
Use of safeguards.
Once you’re confident about what the success of your goal requires, you’re ready to coordinate the activities that will comprise your plan. Consider these steps:
(1) Review options for a methodology;
(2) Create a plan for productivity;
(3) Determine data needed and means to manage activity and assess progress;
(4) As relevant, determine a structure for team and operation management;
(5) Determine progress assessment measurements, assessment schedule and means;
(6) Prepare to sell: train, prepare materials, determine approaches, etc.
STEP THREE: Engage
After you’ve planned a course to your success, you are ready to prepare accordingly and pursue your goal. Engage is where the “rubber meets the road,” where meaningful productivity is gained or lost. Your preparation (based on the requirements of the plan you created in the previous step) is critically important to the support of your activity. So, prepare well and completely.
Skills, knowledge, reliable data, support, tools, and everything else related to your productivity comes into play here. As relevant, address each of these areas:
Your sales presentation;
An objective for each step in your process to advance sales opportunities;
Data and strategy required in order to qualify and connect with prospective clients;
Materials and means required to nurture opportunities (over a long sales cycle);
Lists of qualified prospects;
Account acquisition campaign;
Phone and email approaches;
Data management system.
In order for the Assess and Learn steps to support the improvement of your sales operation, consider the data required in order for you to have insight into these areas:
Status of your sales opportunities;
Usefulness of strategies;
Usefulness of support tools/resources;
Where fail points exist in your process;
What sufficiently supports productivity;
Performance differences among sales reps;
Where operational improvements can be made; and
How IDEAL (your planning and preparation) can be improved.
STEP FOUR: Assess
How do you learn how to improve the structure of your sales operation? What data do you have or could you obtain that might be useful in knowing how efficient and supportive your sales operation has been? The Assess step is a safeguard for productivity, the aspect of IDEAL that clarifies the effectiveness of your plan. Assess will identify productivity status, the merit of accomplishment, potential issues, allow insight, etc. Here, you will (1) monitor and understand progress, (2) track any areas of concern, and (3) review revisions that you’ve made.
Here, insight is sought through information about engagement of processes, application of strategies, skill, and timeframes, all with regard to a performance standard. Judgments of “on-track” or “behind par” are made, and options evaluated. Issues will either pertain to the plan, preparation, and/or how the plan was executed.
Know where you stand – what isn’t working, what is working, etc. A few thoughts:
Frequency: How often are the areas of your frontline sales activity assessed and improvements sought?
Steps: Consider the conversion points of your sales process. What data do you have about decisions and actions that impact success in those areas?
Means: How will data be collected and assessed in order for you to gain insight?
Range of data: Beyond the data you have, what verifiable information could be obtained that could be valuable?
STEP FIVE: Learn
Assess asks and answers important questions about progress toward your goal relative to your plan. Learn is considered with all areas related to productivity, and the evolution of your plan by way of updates and thoughtful revisions. This step values curated data from a variety of sources, such as industry reports, research, books and articles, events, etc.
Learn is the safeguard for productivity optimization. Through Learn, you reevaluate, restructure, revise your IDEAL plan in order to be more productive. If you cease or restrict your ability to learn, you limit your potential to improve, and thereby minimize your options and opportunities. The subsequent result: you preclude any chance for and benefit from greater success. Therefore, your regard for ongoing development through discovery—through the IDEAL process—is imperative for sales growth.
Learn calls for action—the action of making decisions, the application of what has been learned in order to revise Intend and the work that follows—Direct, Engage, Assess.
Some thoughts and suggestions:
1. Identify four areas where greater knowledge or insight could reveal where improvements in your operation could be made.
2. Reevaluate your sales approaches and strategies. Consider how a change could improve results.
3. List the last three discoveries that led to improvements in your sales or how your sales operation functions. What were the sources of those discoveries?
4. What are the sources for data on which you depend? What sources could be included that might add value?
5. How regularly does new insight lead to an improvement in your productivity? How might you improve that regularity? Consider all of areas related to your productivity.
While the IDEAL process is a constant, each plan for productivity is unique—based on the factors that make one, and one’s endeavor to sell, unique. That is, there is no pre-existing, ready-to-go IDEAL plan for your situation. IDEAL is a foundation and framework by which to create your plan to be productive. Don’t be concerned about having the perfect plan from the start. Your plan will improve with use of IDEAL. Respect your uniqueness, be open to discovery, and make your best effort to succeed.
You now have a comprehensive model for support of improved productivity—for improved sales. Live better and succeed more naturally with IDEAL.
Achieve your most ambitious goals! Take the next step toward what you want to improve, achieve, or become in your personal life or for your business. Support for: sales, goals, productivity, personal-development.
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