Smart Sales: What's Next? Check Your To-Do List

I'm a big believer in checklists&#x2014;an opinion that's apparently shared by the medical community. According to a study published online by the <i>New England Journal of Medicine</i> in January, adopting a surgical safety checklist (PDF) has been shown to reduce deaths and complications by more than a third. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> From <i>The Wall Street Journal</i>:<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> "Researchers collected data on nearly 8,000 patients who were operated on in eight hospitals scattered around the world. As a basis for comparison, about half the patients underwent surgery before the checklist was adopted. The death rate fell from 1.5% to 0.8%, and the rate of inpatient complications fell from 11% to 7%."<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> As a pilot, I'm always aware that while flying and on the ground, lives depend on me not missing any steps or getting them out of order. Make sure propeller area is clear before starting engine. Landing gear extended before touching down on runway. (It's amazing how many pilots don't use a checklist and execute wheels-up landings.) There is no doubt in my mind that US Airways Flight 1549 would have ended in a disaster had the pilots not executed their emergency engine failure and water-ditching checklists.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> ESR estimates that 80 percent of sales opportunities are lost either due to ineffective qualification or ineffective planning. Every sales plan I've ever written has had a checklist. What's a sales plan without a list of events, activities, calls, meetings, and tactics?<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> A top sales rep I mentored a while back almost missed his number one year because he didn't have a checklist. Here’s what happened:<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> He was selected at a division of a <i>Fortune</i> 500. The VP of manufacturing was his sponsor. The solution was $1.5 million of ERP software and related services. During a conversation about the opportunity, I asked him whether the appropriation was on the agenda for approval at the next board meeting&#x2014;the last of his company's fiscal year. The silence on the other end of the phone was my answer. "I've never forgotten to check that before," he said. I believed him&#x2026;but he forgot this time. I held on as he called his sponsor on his cell phone. The item had not been added to the board’s agenda for that next meeting. A quickly executed series of calls got the item on the agenda and the rep got his deal.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> If you don't yet have a formal, documented sales process, a checklist is a simple way to instill some discipline into a salesperson or sales team. There is very useful technology that will support building a series of pre-ordered events and steps for a sales process and for monitoring execution. But in the absence of a tool like that, an Excel-based checklist will get the job done.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> When you think about it, the checklist is nothing more than a to-do list. The difference is, the checklist is built for multiple sales opportunities. Here’s one you can download with my compliments; it was used as an example in my book, How Winners Sell. It’s very simple, but will get you moving in the right direction if this is a challenge for your sales team.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> If you don't know whether your sales team needs a formal checklist as part of their standard sales planning regimen, ask them, "What are the next five things that need to be done, in order, to advance this sale?" The answer will reveal a lot.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <i>Dave Stein is the author of How Winners Sell and CEO and Founder of ES Research Group (<a href="" target="_blank"></a>) in West Tisbury, Mass. </i>