Snow Blind

In which we're encouraged to write a detailed sales plan to guide our activities. We had a BIG snowstorm here a couple of nights ago. By the end of the storm, 14 snowy inches fell in my driveway. Of course, I wasn't IN my driveway at the time it was falling. I was 25 miles away. As I drove the last five miles on the country roads that lead to my house, the snow fell so fast that I could barely see to drive. The large, dense, swirling flakes reflected my head lights' light back into my eyes, reducing visibility to around 10 yards.

So, what’s the first thing a New England driver does (er, sorry… SHOULD do) under such conditions? If you guessed, “slow down,” you’d be right. So I did. At that point I was driving slowly and blinded instead of too fast and blinded, peering intently at the ten yards of road I could see, making dramatic steering adjustments as I came too close to one edge of the pavement or the other. At one point, I completely lost control of the car as I oversteered to change direction.

What to do? Reacting to a momentary jolt of inspiration, I turned off my headlights. After all, there were street lights every 150 yards. So, I turned my headlights off.

Can you guess what happened? My depth of vision immediately INCREASED almost 150 yards, to the next street light. I couldn’t even see the swirling snow immediately in front of me (because it was dark and my lights were off). I immediately felt safer; I simply drove from one street light to the next. (Hint: the road has to be fairly straight for this to work. Don’t try this in the mountains.]

Why am I telling you this story? We’re at the end of the first quarter. As you think about your year ahead, no matter how charged up you are now, your daily selling or managing activities, administrative tasks, and requests for your time will swirl toward you like wind-driven snowflakes. Like me, looking through the windshield, your eyes will tend to focus on the swirling flakes. Your depth of vision reduced, you’ll be tempted to slow down, to manage what you can see in the ten yards ahead of you.

How could you “turn off your headlights” to see past the immediate swirling? Pick targets in the distance on which you can focus, the street lights in your sales year. This could be in the form of a 2007 sales plan that includes:

1. An assessment of “weather” and “ground” conditions — your position in the market, competitors positions and strategies, economic conditions, and other circumstances that will or will not cause change in the market, etc.

2. “Street lights” — specific descriptions of customers/prospects you’re going to work on, sales and marketing activities, and expected results by month and quarter (this is your map of the road and the street lights you’re driving toward). This should include a mathematical description of how you’ll reach your sales results this year (e.g. numbers of transactions, average transaction sizes, hit rates on proposals, etc.)

3. “Safety limits” — these define the “edges of the road” in terms of acceptable levels of activity, work in process, and results by month or quarter (if you stay within these limits, you’re on the road and safe)

Review your progress toward your “street lights” AT LEAST monthly with your manager or your colleagues.

While you’ll still slip and slide or come dangerously close to the edge of the road from time to time, your sales plan targets will be the steady reference point while you’re slipping, so you can maintain your direction.

Like turning off your headlights, taking time to write a detailed plan may feel risky, even stupid. Take the risk. The view is a lot better when you do.

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