I spend a lot of time in reviews of all sorts. They could be deal/opportunity reviews, territory, account, call, pipeline, forecast reviews. Some are performance reviews. Some are internal projects.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m a broken record in the reviews. Inevitably, at some point, I always ask the same question, “What’s next?”

I’m trying to understand what their action plan is, what they are doing to move the opportunity forward, to grow their share of account/territory, and so forth. I want to understand the most important things that need to be done to achieve their objective.

The responses to my “What’s next” query are all over the place. I tend to assess them based on the amount of real or virtual hand waving. The broader the motion, the more the person is likely not to have thought about what they need to be doing next.

They tend to follow the same theme:

  1. I need to meet with everyone involved in the deal to understand their requirements and attitudes toward us…..
  2. I need to increase my prospecting calls….
  3. I need to get more opportunities in my pipeline….
  4. We need to find more opportunities in our account/territory……

The list goes on, but after I hear the response, I always ask the next, same question, “What does that mean?”

Most of the time people respond with exactly the same thing they said before I asked the question. They wave their arms and repeat what they said before, perhaps with greater emphasis. I suppose they think by repeating the same answer, all of a sudden they’ve create clarity. Sometimes they will expand on the answer, but not get to the level of detail critical for making progress.

Too often, sales people don’t really have a plan, they manage the process by responding to customers or what their managers have told them to do. Rather than providing the leadership needed to achieve their goals, they give it to someone else. They are guided rather than guiding.

We know the only way we achieve our goals, the only way we actually do what I’m asking in the , “what’s next” question is with very specific action plans. Sadly, it’s that absence of specificity that stands in the way of our achievement.

In order to establish meaningful action plans, we need to be very specific:

  1. Who is responsible for taking the action?
  2. Who is the target of that action?
  3. What is the goal of that action?
  4. When is the date by which we should have completed that action?

Without that level of specificity, our action plans are usually nothing more than good intentions.

As you look at the next steps and actions to achieving whatever goal it is–perhaps moving through the buying process, perhaps extending our presence in an account, perhaps prospecting to find new opportunities. With each of these you need to define the actions needed to move forward and achieve your goal.

For example:

  • “By July 15 (target completion), I (responsible for taking the action) need to meet with Bob, the project leader (the target of the action) to verify their plan and schedule for making the final vendor selections for this project (goal of the action).
  • “By the end of next week (target completion), I (responsible for taking the action) need to have enough prospecting conversations to schedule 10 meetings (the goal of the action), with customers in my ICP (the target of the action plan). The meetings will be scheduled and completed within 30 days (target completion).
  • Jill, my manager, (responsible) needs to meet with Bob, our services manager (target), to make sure delivery resources will be available when the customer needs them (goal). She needs to get this done by 2 weeks from today(target completion).

The specificity of these action plans is important. They provide great clarity, we can say we achieve them or we didn’t. We can know we are making progress.

It sounds like such a simple concept, but to few actually do this. Try it for the next 60 days, see how it impacts your performance.