Recently, I was forced to spend couple of hours in the departure lounge, at Mumbai Airport, while the airline decided whether to fly that day or not! First they blamed the Civil Aviation at some other airport for keeping their aircraft on the ground and later they said that it was the weather en route, or some such thing.
Instead of getting worked up I decided to hunker down and work on the next article for my blog – lost in thought, creating a mental picture of what I was going to put down on the page, I felt a tap on my shoulder and a voice said: “Hi, Stranger!”
Looking up I found the smiling face of a former colleague from my telecom days – while I had made an exit from that industry some 5 years back he had stayed on and was heading business in one of the Northern Circles.
As usual when former colleagues meet, after courtesies and routine questions regarding family and common friends, the talk drifts towards work and business.
I asked him how things were going in the telecom game and the weary expression that appeared on his face said it all.
Even the man on the street is aware of the troubles faced by this one-time dream business. Now, there is a phone in every hand but the balance-sheet of most companies is awash in red ink – as if that wasn’t enough there are a few scams tainting the reputations of the already tottering business owners.
I asked how it has been for him.
He was returning home after a business meeting – the Business Heads had been working through the weekend to recast numbers and to prepare some strategies for revenue growth.
As a Consultant, I was an interested outsider, and eager to grab any information on business – it was grist for my mill.
He said no business plan would make much sense if the basics were not in place. I egged him on in order to hear more.
He asked – “What are the chances of your game-plan succeeding when you don’t have people on the ground to run them?” No much, I said.
Due to the stagnation in the business the manpower losses were not being made-up – the workload was being shared among the team-members who remained in the system and fearing further dip in business more were leaving.
He said that while his two main competitors had 35-40 people each to cover the market, he was asked to make do with 17-18 – there was no budget to take on more people this year.
Channel Partners either stopped stocking the products or were disillusioned due to lack of support – there weren’t enough Captains around to rally all the foot soldiers. Eventually, many distributors stopped dealing with the operator and took on other agencies. Retailers had to turn customers away because there was no supply of material.
A tired horse won’t run faster even when its whipped and with two riders astride – it would just give up.
Your plans may be brilliant, they may have been the result of days of thinking and strategising – you probably called every member of the leadership team and picked their brains too. The estimates you made and the timelines drawn up could be realistic and do-able. Trust me, nothing will come off it if you don’t have the necessary infrastructure in place to run those schemes or plans.
Your infrastructure plan has to be a component of you planning document – it should say who should do what and how many people are needed to ensure successful rollout.
Imagine having a carefully thought out Channel Incentive Program and your channel appointment is way behind schedule – how do you expect to get the necessary business results if there is no one available to run the program?
The Operations of the airline I was using that day was clearly messed up and instead of facing the issue squarely, they palmed the blame off on the air-traffic controllers and Civil Aviation authorities. Blame others and making customers wait are easier than working on a corrective action program.
And then the airline decided to take us home – I wished my friend well and walked to the aircraft with this thought running in my head:
“I hope the telecom companies play it differently get their wires untangled real soon.”
This and the next week the Big Boys would be preoccupied with that annual activity called Business Planning. They are busy putting together the game – plan that will keep the team busy for the next 12 months – everyone is going to get a piece of the action, that’s a given!
Yes, the Head Honchos along with the Board would put together the Key Business Objectives and then that will be drilled down to the next level during the huddles – to put in a nutshell, the Business Heads will share with the Regional Heads what is expected by way of Sales and Profits and they would also outline the inputs provided to help achieve those numbers – they are given budgets for Sales and Expenditure.
There is no rocket science here – the plan would definitely have to be cast around a few known variables:-
Market – How best to take advantage of the present market conditions and extract the highest possible returns? Which are the segments that are buying and who could respond most favourably to our products? What changes are envisaged and how do we take advantage of it?
Finance - Where can the funds be deployed profitably? How can we ensure the best cash flow round the year from our operations? And how can we keep costs under control while going about the business!
Product – How can our products and services be tailored to appeal to the markets – what in our portfolio would work best in the given conditions? How can the price be structured to make it most appealing to the buyer? How and when will the new products be introduced?
Competition – What are they currently offering? Are we aware of some new introduction planned that will reach the market soon that can impact our plan? What will be our counter – measures for those threats?
Pitch & Promotion – How are we going to present the portfolio to our targeted segments? Should we approach the market like we did last year or do we need a whole new approach? What low cost methods can be effectively utilized and how do we ensure that every rupee is gainfully spent? Remember that what was effective previously may not be useful now?
People – Is our existing team suitable for the job the way they are, do they need to be retrained, or maybe restructured, to make the plan a success?
Do we need to deploy more people in some markets? Can people currently available elsewhere be redeployed for short-bursts on projects to speed things up?
I have kept the discussion at a very basic level – but I have said this so that everyone in the team can start thinking on the same line as the bosses; while they decide on the Nation or State level, can you do a similar exercise on a District or Town level?
Organisations succeed when the thinking is aligned down to the last man!
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1. Achieving the Annual Target (which means bonus / incentives)
2. The Annual Appraisal (the outcome of which is hugely dependent on Item.1)
I am going to focus on Item.1 in this article.
JFM is the quarter that sees frenetic action – no prospect is left alone; even the prospects in deep-freeze or in a comatose condition are brought to life and given “Never before and never going to happen again” offers.
When I receive such calls in JFM I ask the Executive right away – “It must be year-end or quarter end scheme? How short are you from achieving your target”. A sheepish smile would fleet on their face and then they gather themselves again to make the automaton-like pitch: “Sir, you don’t know what you are missing by refusing this offer.”
I feel like telling the youngster – “And you don’t know how much peace-of-mind I am gaining by refusing to fall for it.”
Only this morning I went to the bank to make a deposit; looking around I noticed this young fellow near the door give me longing looks – don’t get me wrong, he did not have any intention other than trying to separate me from my hard-earned money. If his look could be turned into an image we’d have seen a cash-cow or something akin to that.
Poor chap was way off mark – I wasn’t even a cash–calf! He cornered me and I braced myself for what was coming. There was no time for nicety, he launched in the pitch – it was a lengthy paean on the virtues of the insurance scheme on offer and how I was going to benefit from it. I pleaded that I had enough insurance and he said this offer was better than that – he had not asked about my portfolio of investments. It went on for five minutes – in that period he also had tried to coax me into opening an account in this branch because I was a customer elsewhere. I ran away without revealing my phone number or email ID which he desperately needed to continue being the pest. I don’t think he is smart enough to check the Deposit Slip I had submitted along with the cash – it bore my number.
- Why do Sales Managers permit things to come to such a pass – if business did not materialize all year how is it going to make an appearance in the last 15 days of the financial year?
- Are the customers acquired in these melee really good quality ones? Have all the checks been done to assure long-term revenues from the account? Are corner being cut to achieve the target?
- Why are schemes being given to low–quality, last minute acquisitions? The customer who comes in at the lowest cost may not be the right fit for the organisation’s desired profile. It can impact revenues in the years ahead and create a steeper hill for them.
- Why isn’t the marketing spend focused in running loyalty schemes or referral schemes, which help to increase stickiness of the revenue yielding customers? It’s often seen that customer acquired earlier, at higher cost, and remaining loyal for years often get sidelined or forgotten. The logic is that they are going to stay anyway – its only when one suddenly decides to leave, having received a better offer from another service provider, that our worthies decide to wake-up.
Sales Managers really need to get into this game early and plan the year-end a lot earlier – get rid of the short-term thinking, look ahead into the future and ask yourself whether this is going to benefit you in the long-term.
This is a bit of hind-sight in action – I too have done last minute window dressing of this nature to give my work for the year a cute appearance. It has not done me much good later on.
Year End Sales or Y.E.S should be a big No-No in the Smart Managers book!!