"We're now preparing for our strategic sales planning workshop. Like the previous years, our sales strategies sound like campaign slogans. This time, upon your suggestion, we would like our sales plans to contain specific activities for our salespeople on how to execute strategies and achieve sales objectives. We'd highly appreciate if you can provide us some more details on how to measure selling activities in your column." -  Mr. Perry Santos

It's time again for strategic sales planning sessions for most sales organizations. Some of my clients have already finalized their sales plans while others are still trying to negotiate for more realistic sales targets. This time, I suggest we focus more on the process of achieving sales targets rather than on the desired results. This is not to say that results are less important; the activity-based approach presupposes that when the right selling activities are implemented, desired results naturally follow.

Most sales managers are good at giving sales objectives to their salespeople but lack explicit guidance on how to achieve them. You’re right in asking for specific activities rather than slogans that will help guide your salespeople. Sales slogans are good for management presentations but are not helpful in guiding salespeople who will execute the plans.

Usually, a sales team is given an annual sales target (in sales value and/or volume) which is broken down by product category and even by stock-keeping units (SKUs). This sales target is further broken down by sales territories and by salesman. The agreed sales targets are supported by sales strategies which oftentimes are just copy-pasted approaches from the previous years.

Most of these sales strategies are largely programs that should help achieve sales targets like new product launches, new coverages to reach and new customers to open, or business-building programs lined up for existing major accounts. What this sales planning process lacks are specific and measurable selling activities that must be done by the salespeople to ensure sales strategies are implemented. What are examples of these selling activities?

Example #1. If your objective is to open new customers, you might want to ensure you have the required number of salespeople deployed and number of new customers to open. To develop the selling activities for the two specific objectives, guide your salespeople by giving the required number of prospects to visit per salesman per day and the number of prospects to convert as customers per day. To illustrate, say you target to open 30 new customers per salesman per month or an average of 1 per day. A mediocre sales plan stops here – 30 new customers per salesman per month. An activity-based sales plan goes further by providing clear guidance to the salesperson by indicating, for example, how many prospects to visit and make presentations to on a daily basis.

This approach focuses the salesperson to the daily tasks (i.e. call a number of prospects per day) rather than the desired result. If your company’s demonstrated conversion ratio is, for example, 1:10 (1 customer conversion to 10 prospects called), you will guide the salesperson to cover at least 10 prospects per day.

Example #2. On the other hand, if your objective is to have a highly capable sales team, you might want to ensure that your salespeople have a high competency index, are able to execute the basic call procedures and effectively handle objections and customer complaints, etc.

In this case, to influence selling activities, recommended activity metrics are as follows:
  • Number of sales calls per salesman per day. This metric guides them to focus on calling a specific number of customers each selling day. Also, this tells you the skill level of the sales person in regularly covering customers.
  • Number of orders per salesman versus number of calls made per day. This reveals the ability of the salesperson to convert a customer visit into a productive call. A higher conversion rate or ratio shows an improvement in selling skills.
  • Average sales per order per customer per day. This shows the ability of the salesman to sell more to each customer.
I hope the additional examples will already give you a clearer understanding of the activity-based selling approach I discussed in my previous seminars. Develop similar activity metrics to help guide your salespeople on specific tasks to do rather than be consumed by the sales targets. You may email me your current activity metrics for my inputs and comments. Happy selling!

Emilio Macasaet III is the Chief Distribution Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders, Inc. For comments and other inquiries, email mentors@mansmith.netor visit www.mansmith.net