Now What? Mapping the Next Steps

By Jay Manno

In sales, we set goals and (hopefully) think about them every day. Goals are wonderful but developing a plan to reach them is an even more important effort.

One of the things I’ve noticed about top performers is they not only put their focus on their top priorities, but also what comes next. An inexperienced salesperson will often ask themselves, “What now?” or “How do I follow up with this person?” The answer to both questions is that they should have known the answers long before they asked.

If you don’t know the next two steps in your sales process,  you’re not ready to take any steps in your sales process. Seriously.

Most companies have a cut-and-dried routine that was created for a reason, so for many of you, this is merely an exercise. More often than not, however, a salesperson with blinders on forges ahead like a bull in a china shop without any knowledge of what they are doing or where to go next. “Need me to make calls? I’ll make calls!” Then those calls don’t go anywhere. There isn’t any follow-through because there was never any vision beyond those calls. That’s how otherwise talented salespeople end up frustrated. You need vision beyond the call!

How’s your preparation? What does your sales process look like? We have a lot of inbound business and we will take that all day, but what is your outbound process? How do you find your best prospects and then how do you engage them? What comes next? What’s your discovery process like? Can you even help them or are you making assumptions? How long do you stay in discovery before you’re absolutely sure you can help them, and what’s your call to action once you are sure? What is required of them at this point, and how long, on average, does it take for them to act? Do they need to see samples, or do you need to get in front of them? Who else is involved in the decision?

Take out a pen and a paper and list all the things that need to happen from beginning to end in your sales process, in order if possible. It’s even better if you can map this out (I have used Mindjet before and there is MindNode for you Apple-crazed zombies). Think of every possible outcome of every meeting and write it down. That’s your map. Where are you on that map in each of the deals you’re currently working? Are you pointed in the right direction? What twists and turns are up ahead?

Once you have a grasp of the entire landscape, you realize how different your perspective becomes. You start to inquire about things in your meetings that don’t normally come up. You ask for the next logical commitments rather than leaving things up in the air. You move through the sales process more efficiently and with greater success rates. This isn’t an easy exercise, and it might take a couple of days or more to complete, but it is a great thing to use and take seriously. Applying this is every area of your professional and personal life will only make you better–at whatever. (This is actually a Special Ops exercise–thinking of every possible outcome and being prepared for whatever happens. Someone decided to apply it to other areas in life and it works.)

Only when you are prepared for what happens next are you fully prepared for what’s happening now.

Jay Manno is vice president, new market development, with Southland Printing.