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updated: 11/12/2019 11:55 AM

Optimism is not enough

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This year has passed in the blink of an eye and business leaders have precious little time to achieve the sales goals they so bravely set last January.

I have had countless conversations with business leaders who predicted record performances for 2019 based on the optimism of their sales and management teams. Unfortunately, many of them are puzzled, scratching their heads right now because the picture is vastly different than they imagined. To their credit, in November and December of 2018 they conducted individual meetings with each salesperson and listened to the glowing sales plan each presented, complete with a financial commitment they would deliver. The leaders then rolled all the numbers into a company commitment and proceeded to set operating expenses based on these numbers.

This was the beginning of all the 2019 problems as the numbers were based on what the salesperson had accomplished in the first 11 months of the year with no guarantee that they could be repeated. Shortfall problems begin to surface mid-January when these same salespeople started reducing their forecasts mid-month based on "difficult market conditions" or new buying patterns. This routine was repeated monthly throughout the year, forcing the business leader to cut expenses and lay off employees to secure a strong bottom line.

Analysts predict that 70% of small business owners will fall short of the forecast they developed at the beginning of 2019 and the reason is painfully clear. You can't build a successful business on the optimism of salespeople as there needs to be a "truth serum" that validates their positive outlook. Business leaders must follow the adage, "Trust but verify" and verification rests in the behavior plan that supports the optimism.

The last 45 days of 2019 are an excellent time to develop new thinking when it comes to analyzing our salespeople, "the keepers of our bottom line," so the same issues don't adversely impact the sales forecast in 2020. Please keep in mind that I don't want to remove anyone's positive attitude, however, this positive outlook on life is meant to support selling behavior, not be a substitute for it.

Sales results become predictable when measurables are established and tracked on a weekly basis. The metrics of success are a result of skill, knowledge, application, behavior and KPI's (key performance indicators).

1. Skill: Salespeople must consistently use a defined sales process, which includes the ability to build relationships, qualify opportunity, present solutions and close for the order.

2. Knowledge: Salespeople must inherently know what skills they should be executing during a sales call to achieve the desired result.

3. Application: Salespeople must consistently use the skills they have learned in the context of the sales process. This creates "sales memory" which helps develop proper habits, as well as the rhythm of success.

4. Behavior: Salespeople must set weekly behavioral goals and then develop an execution strategy that includes daily actions. There are 10 behaviors all high performing salespeople rely on to predict success.

5. Key Performance Indicators: Business leaders must have 5 metrics, used weekly, to validate a salesperson's proper execution of their selling behavior.

It's time to commit to using the last 45 days of 2019 to create a launchpad for 2020. Most business leaders and sales managers are developing their metrics for the upcoming year and most are still using optimism, positive outlook and feelings to create their sales plan. Sales forecasting is a predictable process where science and art come together. Go conquer your worlds!

• Bill Bartlett owns Corporate Strategies, A Sandler Training Center. bbartlett@sandler.com. Text "salestip" to 35893 to receive Bill's biweekly newsletter.