Originally published in Forbes
By Randy Illig
At least for many of us, our sales situation is clear in this COVID-19 pandemic. On the continuum of being in deep trouble on one end to thriving on the other, each of us can place a pin on the board as to where we are now.
No matter where we are, eventually we’ll move to Phase II, which is the bridge to what will become our new selling reality.
I have always believed that a good strategy with excellent execution beats an excellent strategy with good execution — every time. So, how well you execute your bridge plan now will make all the difference in the success you’ll have in a recovery.
I asked my friend and colleague, Chris McChesney, for his thoughts about how to execute with excellence. Chris and I now work together at FranklinCovey, but I was a fan long before we did.
He’s the bestselling author of The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals. Chris has produced a must-read white paper on execution, if you want more. In this article, I’m going to address a slice of his sage advice about executing with excellence.
In times like these, focus is critical; it’s also the hardest thing to do. Why is it so very difficult to get? The answer has to do with the way that people process ambiguity. Right now they are dealing with it in every aspect of their lives: their children, their parents, their jobs, their workspace and Zoom. There’s only so much a person can handle.
A new sales goal represents unknown variables and because people’s ability to process anymore unknown variables is already spent, they can’t focus on it. And in business, because of this low tolerance for ambiguity people will be drawn to what they did before, instead of focusing on the new goal. They long for the pre-Covid-19 sales approach and the in-person meeting that was.
While these reactions are understandable, executing on strategic priorities is always about maintaining focus. To push through this level of uncertainty, it’s important to have a single measure of success. A single wildly important goal.
ONE WILDLY IMPORTANT GOAL
Start by selecting one goal instead of trying to work on several. Identify where you are now, where you want to be, and by when. Define a starting line, a finish line and a deadline. From X to Y by When.
For example, when leaders at NASA said they wanted to lead the world in space exploration, it might have been easy to think just beat the Russians. But that concept could mean a million different things. Then President John F. Kennedy set the goal to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade and return him safely home. He set a clear goal with a starting line, finish line and deadline.
Every team needs to know that in addition to all they are doing in their day job there is one result that they are going to stay focused on to help achieve the organization’s strategic goals.
Creating this clear, winnable game matters.
A WINNABLE GAME
What makes the game winnable is that people know what to do to affect the outcome. It’s not only within their control, it’s a needle they can move. And they must believe that if they do that one thing that’s within their control, it will lead to the outcome they want.
Often teams are given sales goals that are influenceable, but the people don’t believe that they are predictive. The organization believes they’re predictive. So, the question is: To whom is the game winnable? It must be winnable to the players.
No matter what your team is trying to achieve, your success will be based on two kinds of measures: lag and lead. Lag measures track the success of your goal. They are the results: revenue, profit, customer satisfaction. They are called “lags” because by the time you see them, the performance that drove them has already passed.
By contrast, lead measures track the critical activities that drive or lead to the lag measure. They predict the success of the lag measure and are influenced directly by the team. Easier said than done.
For example, if you had the goal of acquiring a certain number of new accounts and believed that first appointments were predictive of getting those accounts, but only 10% of your sales force could get first appointments, that isn’t a winnable game. That’s predictive, but it’s not influenceable.
What if you had them focus on the number of cold calls? While cold calls are influenceable, they aren’t necessarily predictive of new accounts. Now you’re in a quandary. Focusing on acquiring new accounts may work, but only a few on the team can do it. And, everybody can do cold calls, but they don’t work.
But what if the goal actually was to increase the number of first appointments? A good lead measure might be to focus on referral leads, which would increase the team’s ability to set up first appointments.
Now, that’s a winnable game. And as Chris advises, nothing creates employee and team engagement like playing a winnable game. Doing these things can make all the difference, now and later.