Maximizing the impact of reference calls

Maximizing the impact of reference calls

Just when the finish line of your sales cycle is in sight, your prospect asks you to jump over one more hurdle. They like to speak with one of your customers to get unbiased feedback on your offering.

Even though it’s quite a common request, organising such reference call often causes unnecessary angst. Stumbling here could jeopardise the momentum of the evaluation, or worse, put your whole deal at risk. The 7 steps below help you get the most out of this important step to seal the deal.

As you go through these steps, you’ll see that while they are written for sales people, they also apply to a reference request during an interview process for when you, well, sell yourself.

Step 1 – Keep them warm

You’re going to need to dip into this powerful source of validation regularly, so don’t be that person who only pops up when you need something from others. Make sure you develop and maintain a community of references whom you have regular contact with. Find one or two references for each of the most common topics.

Step 2 – Find ‘the why’

Prospects don’t always have a clear idea why they need a reference call, or what specifically they want to get out of it. To avoid wasting time or even losing control of your deal, you will need to get this clarified. A consultative line of questioning could be: Sure, I can help you with that. Just to make sure I guide you in the right direction, what insights would you have gained after the call that would have made it a valuable use of your time? Don’t do this over email as nuances can easily get missed – both ways. Answers tend to fall into one of three categories:

a) “We’re just exploring”. Such a scenario does not warrant a reference call, so you’ll have to push back. Once your solution, integration, services, pricing, and contract have been evaluated, reference calls are a valid final check, but if they’re still exploring, you’ll need to guide them to alternative sources. Often, an underlying distrust towards sales people is at the heart of such thinking, so find out how you can better position yourself as a trusted advisor. A friendly way to push back is to explain that you want to avoid your customers get overwhelmed with requests, just like when the prospect would become your customer, they wouldn’t want to get a call every day. Offer case studies or videos from your annual customer event instead, or invite them to a local event where they can learn more about your offering, and informally meet other prospects and customers. Non-committal reactions point to the need to build more urgency or even a re-qualification.

b) “We need to validate what you’ve been presenting”. Assuming this happens towards the end of the cycle, this is a fair request. Ask what specific topic they like to verify and find out if there’s an underlying concern that ‘requires more selling’. Topics typically involve a function of your product, a specific use case, the architecture or eco-system integration, the user friendliness, the services involved from you as a vendor, or the work required at the prospect’s side. For instance, if it’s about your services, is it the initial implementation, the integration, or ongoing customer success? Get to the bottom as concerns are often based on seeds planted by competitors.

c) Sometimes, the answer points to a formality. “Procurement stipulates that we need to do a reference call with every new contract – it’s just our process”. Don’t be afraid to push back and turn this into something more constructive – they’ll not only get more out of the call, they’ll see your prodding as a value add. For instance, if your USP for that prospect is your ability to automate their processes, suggest that similar prospects have asked questions around that, and link them up with a customer who sees great value from that aspect of your solution. Guide them so your customer doesn’t perceive the exercise as a mindless tick of the box.

Step 3 – Negotiate

To maintain momentum, put forward a counter demand. “Once this is done, do we have a deal? Can we go to redlines? If not, what is the process at your end?”. I often see reps who are nervous to rock the boat by asking such action oriented questions, but when you’ve been asked to involve your customers, it’s completely fair to ask for something in return. A non-committal answer will expose other gaps that will need to be addressed, before you commit to a reference call.

Step 4 – Prepare your customer

Depending on the topic, determine which customer is most suitable. Also make sure you find the right person to address the topic. Call your reference in advance, and tell her what your prospect is trying to do, what their current limitations are, and specifics they like to see validated. The prep call helps avoid surprises that can kill your momentum. For instance, I once had a prospect who specifically wanted to learn about migrating from a competing platform which my customer also had been on. This had happened before my reference worked there, so after my prep call, she pulled in someone from the IT team to ensure these questions could be answered straight away. When you summarise the details in a brief email after the prep call, include your key sales messages in the lingo you have been using with the prospect.

Step 5 – Prepare your prospect

To avoid last-minute nervousness in these final stages of the deal, it’s key the call doesn’t produce anything alienating. Call your prospect to explain your customer’s configuration, their ecosystem, and the reason why they get so much value out of your solution. Provide details about the role of the reference, including the similarities and differences from the prospect’s role. People don’t often explain their technology stack or processes to outsiders, and unconsciously end up using internal acronyms, system names, and role titles that can sound irrelevant and foreign to your prospect. Make sure to ‘translate’ all of that – both ways. Summarise it via email so all information is in one spot. It’s a great opportunity to re-affirm your key sales messages as well.

Step 6 – Hook them up

After your prep calls, send a brief email to both the customer and the prospect. Share their contact details, links to their Linkedin profiles, and briefly confirm the topics of the call to guide the conversation. To avoid full agendas slow things down, suggest a time slot that you know your customer can make (within the next 24 hours), and let them work it out directly. If your reference is in a different time zone, include a link to an online time zone scheduler to avoid delays.

Step 7 – Close

After they’ve had their call, check in with the customer to thank them for their time. Do a quick run down to see how the conversation went, and whether any questions were left unanswered. Write notes and share these with your wider sales team: you will pick up on landmines from competitors that help you be more proactive on these with your next cycle. Provide something of value to the customer, like a 3rd party white paper, a ticket to an event or a chance to speak at one. Then, follow up with the prospect to see whether they’re ready to move onto the action you agreed upon before. Sometimes, minor additional clarification is required, but in my experience when you go through above effort to make it all happen, prospects don’t come back with new requests. You can keep the foot on the gas and move your deal to a close. And once that has happened, don’t forget to close the loop with your customer and tell them about the good news! 


Like to get more tips on how to get to target with a calm mindset and a smile on your face? In my new book, In the face of challenge: Perseverance in sales, I tell the story of my life-threatening kitesurfing accident that left me in a coma, and explore what my two-year recovery taught me about perseverance. I share over a hundred practical tips for AEs, CSMs, SCs, SDRs and their managers on how to deal with challenges in sales, and how to avoid them in the first place. For more details and a list of retailers who carry the paperback and ebook, see here.

The biggest mistake made at Sales Kick Off

The biggest mistake made at Sales Kick Off

It might not be up there with throwing up on your CEO after partying too hard at SKO, but it’s a big mistake nonetheless. Sales teams from all over the world fly all the way to the US for the annual Sales Kick Off, only to clique together with colleagues from their home country.

They all sit close together in the big presentation hall and stay close to each other during the break-out sessions. At the end of the day, they gather at the hotel lobby bar and then go out – with their local colleagues. They miss out on one of the most valuable (and lasting) take-aways from SKO: a strengthened social support network.

Social support networks are people you gather around you to obtain and provide support when facing challenges. They stimulate perseverance by providing practical support that develops skills and insights, to emotional support that strengthens mindset and resolve. Social support networks are the cement for a strong team foundation; without it, we’re weak.

While sales people like to clique together, underneath that pleasantness often sits a level of competitiveness that works against the proper formation of such a network. Some selfishly (or a least unconsciously) think that spending time on helping someone who’s struggling is a distraction with no payback for them. Some are keen to keep the best accounts, and quietly see their peer knocking it out of the park as a threat. Most are just too busy.

In sales, the typical attrition rate (the percentage of the workforce leaving their job in a given year) is around 34%. It’s three times higher than the average attrition rate across companies (11%). A strong social support network isn’t the only way to fix this, but the topic doesn’t always get the attention it requires either. If you’re in sales, it’s often up to you to create and maintain your social support network.

So what to do?

Consciously create and maintain a network of people who you can help, and who can help you. At the start of each quarter, sit down and think about who you would like to have in your social support team. You don’t have to ask them formally; a modus operandi based on an informal give-and-take works just fine. Catch up with them regularly, and make sure to give, and not just take.

International Sales Buddies can be a hugely valuable element of such network. An International Sales Buddy is someone in your company who has the same role as you but in a different country. They lack the competitive tension your peers in the local office might exhibit and will be more willing to help you succeed. Before Sales Kick Off, do your homework and reach out to a shortlist of potential candidates from across the globe. During SKO, spend time to network with them and find one (or two) with whom you click. 

Chances are your buddy is going through the exact same challenges as you, so agree to check in every other week to compare notes. These could be practical tips around how to better pitch that new solution, finding a case study that really resonates with CFOs, or a way to accelerate the discount approval process. Maybe you want to test your new pitch in a role play, or bounce some ideas around on how to best segment your accounts. Be careful to not make it a ‘whinging session’. It’s easy to vent your frustration with someone who doesn’t sit right next to you, but that could make it hard to build a healthy relationship over the phone.

Whatever you do, fly back from SKO with a strengthened social support network. And don’t drink too much.


Like to get more tips on how to get to target with a calm mindset and a smile on your face? In my new book, In the face of challenge: Perseverance in sales, I tell the story of my life-threatening kitesurfing accident that left me in a coma, and explore what my two-year recovery taught me about perseverance. I share over a hundred practical tips for AEs, CSMs, SCs, SDRs and their managers on how to deal with challenges in sales, and how to avoid them in the first place. For more details and a list of retailers who carry the paperback and ebook, see here.

I have never been on Facebook

I have never been on Facebook

Coaching sales people often is about changing behaviours. It takes a bit of time and effort to change one’s ways and that sometimes leads to resistance. ‘I am too busy already and just don’t have the time to <create a plan/fill in a template/do another review/do that training/do a dry-run/etc.>. Yet when I observe them in the office or in meetings, it seems that they do have the time to check out Facebook and Instagram, or are the first to respond to a post on Linkedin. When challenged, their defence involves a shrugging of the shoulders and mumbles like ‘it’s only a couple of minutes’.

It’s not. In 2019, the average person spent two and a half hours a day on social media1. Some reports put the number lower, some higher. All say the time spent on these channels keeps going up year after year.

For me, it’s zero. I have never been on Facebook. It simply doesn’t align with my overall life goal to spend less time on screens and more time in the real world. I also never liked the idea of paying for a service with my data, unless such service is really useful. I regularly ask friends whether Facebook meets that criteria for them, and always get the same response: don’t bother. So I don’t. I was enticed to go on Instagram because those same friends kept saying they liked the pictures I take, but was shocked to see how quickly my brain yearned for updates and reactions on stuff I post. I deleted the app after a couple of days.

My brain might be extra sensitive to these things after my accident, but I can tell from the zombies around me that their brains are just as susceptible to the Power of the Glowing Screen. And it’s not just distracting us from getting stuff done. A steady stream of research is being published on the negative impact of social media on our mental health. Expect these warnings to become louder, especially as we see younger generations coming into the workforce and having to deal with setbacks in the real world. We are conditioning our brains to seek affirmation in ‘likes’, and develop a fear of missing out if we’re not part of the noise happening on these channels, 24×7.

So what to do?
If you want to protect yourself from the downside of social media, use iPhone’s or Android’s Screen Time functionality. They both provide reports on your actual usage and offer a way to set limits for specific apps. Better yet, delete the apps. Don’t make too much of a fuzz about digital detoxing – it’s not that big a deal once you realise how much time you free up to do other, better, things. If you are an average social media user who spends two and a half hours a day on social media, you miss out on 900 hours that you could spend on other things every year. I can spend nearly 40 days a year more on the very things I coach sales people on. I have time to create a sales plan, to call another prospect, to do a dry-run before a big presentation, and to read a business book a week. Time to sport and stay healthy, mentally and physically. Time to meditate. Time to learn to play the piano. Time to go kitesurfing and recharge.

I know I miss out on social updates and possibly even business opportunities, but the downside that comes along with the upside is simply not worth it for me. I am not missing out at all: I gain way more than I lose.


Like to get more tips on how to get to target with a calm mindset and a smile on your face? In my new book, IN THE FACE OF CHALLENGE, Perseverance in Sales, I tell the story of my life-threatening kitesurfing accident that left me in a coma and what the two-year recovery thought me about perseverance. I share over a hundred practical ideas for AEs, CSMs, SCs, SDRs and their managers on how to deal with challenges in sales, and how to avoid them in the first place. See here for links to retailers of the paperback or ebook.

The Problem Seeker in Saas

The Problem Seeker in Saas

There’s this awkward truth that sales professionals never talk about. A challenge that usually doesn’t get brought up in sales meetings or bid reviews, doesn’t get complained about at the water cooler and definitely doesn’t get discussed amongst friends. It’s such an uncomfortable topic, that most sales trainings don’t really address it, or at best kinda dance around without calling it out. But however uncomfortable it is, it’s still the truth. People don’t like to deal with sales people. Buyers don’t like being sold to. Us B2B sales professionals are seen as a necessary evil that should be avoided, if possible. We get grouped into the same bucket as second hand car salesmen and snake-oil sellers who can’t be trusted and are only driven by personal gain.

That view is not a recent development either. This underlying negativity towards the sales profession has been around for a while. Wolf of Wall Street, Gordon Gecko, Glengarry Glen Ross, the Boiler Room and other populistic depictions of our profession, all enforce that snake-oil stereotype of dishonest human beings whose main motivation is personal gain, with no regard to damage done to others. And these stories always end it tears; the last scene tends to involve a culpable and sweaty insider wired with a microphone, followed by the FBI raiding the sales villain’s premises. Not exactly the poster children that make us proud of our profession.

Sure, in the last twenty years, the sales profession has smartened up. But so have the buyers. I am sure you’ve seen the stats from the likes of Gartner, Forrester and CEB saying “57% of the purchase decision is completed before a customer even calls a supplier”. And “two thirds of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally”. Those headline grabbing numbers obviously simplify things, but nonetheless, they do expose the existence of our uncomfortable truth. B2B buyers prefer to research their options online, away from the sales person. Only when there’s no other way to get the information they’re after, do they call in the rep – like when they want a demo or pricing.

Of course, poor sales practices are to blame for these perceptions and the resulting behaviour at the customer’s side. Us sales people have to be more customer centric, and be more consultative. We need to listen, and help the buyer find a solution that fixes their pains. We should tailor our messaging to the customer’s needs, and show how our offering is the best solution for them. In short, the best sales people are problem solvers who guide buyers to find the right solution. Right?

Wrong. In SaaS sales, we don’t need problem solvers. What we need is problem seekers.

Problem seekers help customer uncover problems they’re not aware of yet. Problem seekers guide customers to look at their pains in a different way, because “the old way of doing things, no longer works”. Problem seekers take buyers by the hand as they formulate their needs, the budget they need for that, and the people they should be involving, before they start looking for a solution. Problem seekers take control way before BANT happens. Because when Budget, Authority, Needs and Timelines are established, it’s already too late – it becomes a matter of problem solving. And there are three reasons why problem solving in SaaS sales is a bit of a shitty exercise that makes us frustrated and want to give up.

Firstly, our uncomfortable truth means that buyers won’t let you in – they will do their problem solving research online. They simply don’t need sales people to find a solution. Secondly, we sell SaaS, which is a (typically multi-tenanted) solution that roughly does the same thing for everyone. We don’t develop features or customise modules specifically for individual customers. In other words, the only way that we can solve a customer’s problem, is when what they’re looking to solve, co-incidentally is exactly aligned with what we’re selling. Clearly, counting on that happening, severely limits our chances. Finally, even if a sales person is able to provide an eye-opening new view that makes a buyer rethink the way they look at their problem, it’s hard to get a B2B buyer to back-paddle. Once a multi-stakeholder buying team has decided on budget, business needs, the people to involve, and the timelines to commit to, it’s an uphill battle to go back and change things. It’s possible, but no one likes to do it.

So what to do?
Much of this thinking you’ll recognise as challenger sales. Whether you adopt such (or similar) sales methodologies or not, it’s important you acknowledge the role customers allow you to play. Once BANT has happened, your ability to take control, or even to add value, is limited. If you truly want to add value, become a domain expert about the problem, not just your solution. Adjust your sales pitch to talk about your customer, rather than you. Focus your outbound activities by segmenting your market based on propensity to buy, not just industry. This allows you to get in early, before a client starts shopping around. Make sure your internal sales reviews and CRM reporting focus at the early stages of a deal, not the later stages. True value for the buyer can and should be added early on, when key decisions around the problem are made. Become a problem seeker and work hard to get a seat at the table when that happens. Because it’s during these very early stages where deals are won, not the later stages.

You’re looking in the wrong spot for your new sales rep

You’re looking in the wrong spot for your new sales rep

Sales has changed. Thanks to the transparency and wealth of information the internet provides, prospects are more knowledgeable than ever. They research trends, compare vendors, learn what questions to ask, hear what to be heedful of, back-channel references, and uncover so much more before they accept our reach-out for that first meeting. According to CEB, the typical B2B buyer is already 57% through the purchase process before reaching out to sales.

This makes B2B sales, particularly complex enterprise sales, very challenging. For us to build rapport, influence strategies, requirements, budget and evaluation criteria, getting in early is crucial. Most of us have smartened up and adjusted our selling strategies to this fundamental shift. But I often see sales professionals in this cat-and-mouse game where they come up with smart ways to get in front of prospects, while prospects do everything to avoid just that. A new perspective is required to break this silly game that the customer always wins.

What we’ve been trying to do is to transform sales reps into domain experts. Which at face value makes sense – the last thing a prospect wants, is to get a meeting with a sales rep who starts the meeting with “So, tell me about your problems…”.

Prospects have no time for sales reps who only ask questions and need to call in the troops to go deep and share relevant insights. If prospects haven’t learnt anything from you in your first meeting, they’re not going to respond to you chasing them for that second one. Today, domain expertise is the currency in sales.

To meet that expectation, we’ve tightened the collaboration between sales and marketing. Great marketing content has allowed sales to be seen as thought leaders who keep prospects interested with a constant stream of insights. But having great white papers, webinars, case studies, and industry events will not turn the sales rep (or even the organisation for that matter) into thought leaders. The sales rep needs to speak the prospects language, understand the technology ecosystem, be able to articulate examples, refer to what other clients have done, and always be able to add value. Merely referring to the marketing content, however great it is, doesn’t turn the rep into a domain expert. It just makes the prospect leverage that content while still trying to keep the rep out of the conversation.

So we have gone further – we’ve trained the reps to be more consultative. We changed our sales processes to create value for prospects in the early stages of the buying cycle. Rather than waiting for the prospect to define their needs and counter with a solution, methodologies like the Challenger Sale and Insight Selling have positioned reps to get in early to teach and tailor. But it takes time to develop the credibility and confidence of a rep to bust open doors based on his or her domain knowledge. Lots of time – depending on your industry, buyer, or solution, this could easily be a two-year journey, as reps in Analytics, Security, Marketing Automation, CX and AI (to name a few) will attest.

So, what to do?
I believe there is merit in exploring this challenge the other way around. Rather than transforming sales reps into domain experts, we should transform domain experts into sales reps. Rather than taking commercial acumen as the foundation to build domain expertise onto, we need that domain expertise to be the starting point. We should look into our organisation and leverage the Solution Consultants (SCs), the Client Success Managers (CSMs), even the Professional Services (PS) or Delivery professionals and see how we can expand their skillset into sales. They have a credibility that easily gets them that first meeting, and the knowledge and experience that reps yearn for to be seen as a trusted advisor.

The problem of course is that SCs, CSMs, and PS professionals are typically not skilled up to be reps. And they sometimes think they can’t deal with the pressure, anxiety and rejection that comes with the sales job. While I always assumed that the skill and mindset gap would be too much of an uphill battle, several people have proved me wrong in the last few years. I have seen SC-turned-rep’s get their first meeting way quicker than sales reps. I’ve seen CSM-turned-rep’s develop deep relationships that traditional reps can only dream of. I have seen them close deals faster than traditional reps. Most of all, I have seen them get more satisfaction from their job, precisely because their domain expertise is valued so much, and is the springboard to develop a whole set of new skills.

Naturally, to successfully turn SC, CSMs, and PS professionals into sales reps, they need to learn sales skills like account planning, presenting, negotiating, etc. They need to develop commercial acumen, they need to learn to independently set a course and make tough decisions on qualification, win strategy, pricing etc. They need to learn to say no. Most of all, they need to learn how to deal with rejection and develop their resilience. I’ve been in sales myself long enough to know that that’s not a small feat, and I know that not everyone will be cut out for sales. But depending on your industry and product, exploring this option could be easier to accomplish than the other way around.

Even if you’re not willing to try to move people from these roles into sales, I suggest you leverage them more in your sales process. Get them to work closer with the reps, particularly in the early stages of the sales process. Because that domain expertise is what prospects want. That’s the currency. People with domain expertise don’t need to chase prospects for that second meeting. The prospect will be chasing them.

What my coma taught me about the sales profession – Part 3

What my coma taught me about the sales profession – Part 3

In August, I wrote how a kitesurfing accident that left me in a coma triggered a deep curiosity on the topic of resilience: the ability to brush yourself off after getting knocked down. I wanted to find out what we can learn from people who don’t just get back on their feet, but actually come out stronger – and how to apply their skills in the sales profession. Because the reality is that in sales, we’re exposed to a steady stream of setbacks, which could lead to disappointment, stress or demotivation. Yet, we don’t really get trained on how to best handle these upsetting events. Some of us cope well, others don’t. Why is that? This is the third article to share what I’ve learned about resilience for the sales professional.

Picture this. You worked super hard to hit your target, but this year, the sheer number of unexpected ups and downs made it practically near-impossible. Your key sponsor at that mega deal you’ve been working on resigned, pushing it into next year. For opportunities that you did manage to close, prospects threw you so many last-minute curve balls, that your whole legal team unfriended you on Facebook. They even ignore your outreaches on LinkedIn messenger. Your best solution consultant went to the competition, and although the new guy has potential, that wasn’t exactly what you needed in the last quarter. To top it off, management introduced new pricing and discount approval processes that make you wonder what they exactly mean when they tell you to be customer-centric.

Still, somehow, at the end of the rollercoaster ride that we call Q4, you made it. You hit target! Like Tom Hanks’ incomprehensible dodging of bullets, grenades, shrapnel and rockets amidst the complete chaos on Omaha Beach, you made it and you’re still in one piece. Phew!

Then, in the first week of the new financial year, it slowly sinks in. That shitty inner-voice you’ve been suppressing during your well-deserved, but all-too short break, gets louder and louder. When the invite for Sales Kick Off lands in your inbox, there’s no way around it – you have to face it. You. Are. Back. To. Zero. Yep – your YTD bookings are exactly $0! Your new target looks Pretty Big and Improbable and you’re not sure where to start. Welcome to the new Financial Year.

I spent two weeks in the Intensive Care Unit after my kitesurfing accident, followed by six long rollercoaster weeks in hospital. Too many operations to count, and too little energy to fully grasp all the ups and downs. But finally, after 54 days and nights in hospital, I got discharged. On 17 January 2014, under the watchful eye of my lovely wife, and on crutches, I wobbled back into our home. I was over the moon to have her with me around the clock, and to sleep in my own bed again. To not have the constant noise around me from doctors and other patients, and to have proper food (no offence, Chef de Cuisine of Royal North Shore Hospital).

Still, that first week back home felt a bit like the first week of the new Financial Year. I had fought so hard through all the ups and downs, just to get to zero. Arriving home was just the start of the journey. Numerous operations still lay ahead, as well as several months of hospital check-ups, 13 teeth to repair, and at least a year of physiotherapy. What I really wanted, was to get to the end. I wanted My Old Life Back. I wanted what I had before the accident.That was my target.

However meaningful (see Part 2) the target of Having My Old Life Back was to me, it felt, well…, Pretty Big and Improbable. So, here’s what I did.

First, I defined success. “Having My Old Life Back” is not exactly a tangible goal that you can measure, so I broke it down into sub-goals. One of those sub-goals was kitesurfing. If I were able to kitesurf again, I would have that aspect of my life back. Other sub-goals were around going back to work, getting to my old body weight, being able to do the Govetts Leap hike in the Blue Mountains, being able to drive, and many more. All of them together represented my target of Having My Old Life Back.

However, these sub-goals, and particularly the kitesurfing one, still looked Pretty Big and Improbable. To make them more manageable, I broke them down further into S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely) goals to work on over the year I gave myself to recover. For instance, I wanted to kitesurf again on or before 31 December 2014. Working back from that date, I targeted doing that hike by 1 December latest. Working back from that, I had to be able to walk 10km by 1 October, and 5km by 1 August. A first (wave)surf session by 1 June. Swim 10 laps by 1 May, and 4 laps by 1 April. From my very rough calculations and assumptions, that sub-goal of kitesurfing by 31 December meant that by 1 March, I should make it to the roundaboutThat roundabout is located just 40 meters from where we live, the first waypoint on the road to the beach, and my first S.M.A.R.T. goal.

Then, I determined what activities I needed to do to reach those S.M.A.R.T. goals. In the first week, that was 5 squats times 2 a day. Lifting 2 kilo weights, times 5. The exercise with the elastic resistance bands – 10 times 2. In the second week, 10 squats times 2 a day, lifting 3 kilo weights, and so on. That Pretty Big and Improbable goal of kitesurfing had become very specific and therefore, a lot more realistic. 

I printed the 3 pages of the spreadsheet with S.M.A.R.T. goals, activities and their timelines and stuck it to the wall in the bedroom. For many months, this spreadsheet was the first thing I looked at in the morning, and the last thing I updated in the evening. I made it to the roundabout on the 24th of February, and ended up kitesurfing on 28th September! Sure, I had setbacks – surfing took a year longer because the wrist didn’t heal and the joint unfortunately fused together. Fixing the teeth took over 2 years. I unexpectedly developed gallstones and had an emergency operation to remove the gall bladder. Pain befriended me. But those setbacks were easier to digest because my spreadsheet kept me stubbornly focused on the short term activities for the next goal. And this focus gave me the confidence that it would eventually lead me to my end goal. And it did; I not only have my life back, I have a much better life now, nearly 5 years after the accident.

Back to your sales challenge. You just received your Pretty Big and Improbable target and weren’t sure where to start. Here’s what I suggest you do. Follow this same approach by breaking it down in to S.M.A.R.T. goals and start with the end. From historical data, calculate your Average Deal Size. With that, determine how many deals you need to win to get to target. Using your previous win rates, calculate how many qualified opportunities you therefore need. Knowing your average deal cycle, calculate how they roughly should be distributed over the quarters. Determine how many stage 1 opportunities you’ll need by what date. How many qualified leads, how many first meetings, how many unqualified leads. Finally, you’ll give yourself a target of how many email and phone reach outs you need to do this week to get those new unqualified leads.

Even if numbers are not going to be 100% correct, this approach enforces a mindset to break down a Pretty Big and Improbable task into a set of very specific activities. Sales still is a numbers game and activity creates opportunity. Thoroughly plan it all first, then focus on execution, and trust the process along the way. Lock in a monthly review to see if you’re on track, fine-tune the sub-goals, dates, and activities, and just keep going at it. Before you know it, you’ll reach your roundabout.