This guest blog post is by Donal Daly, CEO of the TAS Group. He shares sales insights, hindsight, and a little foresight on his sales and technology blog, Dealmaker365. Daly will speak on the second day of the upcoming Sales 2.0 Conference: The Art & Science of Accelerating Revenues, on April 3, during his session: Six Factors That Are Transforming B2B Sales in 2012.
I recall when, back in 1989, I was a few years into the growth of my first software company. Having bootstrapped the business and eked out survival through the first year or two, things were beginning to take shape. Each year I grew revenue levels over the previous year – but not by a lot. I used to approach planning from a position of "Where am I now, and how can I improve on this?" The result was steady-but-not-spectacular growth.
As I was entering my fifth year, I was struck by the realization that with this growth curve, it was going to take me a long time to create a company of any real mass or substance. I was in my twenties and obviously still had a lot of time, but I was impatient. I didn't know a lot about much of anything – though I didn't appreciate that at the time; however, this blissful ignorance enabled me to think about things in perhaps nonconventional ways. I read Drucker, Townsend, Peters, McCormack, Kotler, Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, Porter, De Bono, Iacocca, and other topical and nontopical tomes of business development, strategy, corporate lore, thinking, leadership, etc. I was struck sometimes by how insightful some of these authors were, and in the haze of boundless self-belief found only in youth, I favored those whose views echoed mine. I must have learned something along the way, however, as I still remember the day my growth-challenge epiphany occurred.
When I changed the question from "Where am I now, and how can I improve on this?" – which invariably translated into 20 percent increase in revenue – to "How can I achieve 200 percent growth this year?" a fundamental change happened. In hindsight, with the benefit of many years' experience, I now know, as you do, that this goal-oriented or vision-oriented method is well understood. As a paradigm for growth strategies, it is a method by which you can stimulate creativity, momentarily suspend reality, and remove constraints or guardrails to release your unfettered potential, untrammeled by the stifling boundaries of "What's reasonable?" or "What do other companies do?" or "What's acceptable?"
I was reminded of this recently when I was speaking to Tom, a successful salesperson, who, when planning for 2010, asked my opinion on his sales plan. He had closed about $2,000,000 in 2009 and was among the top performers in his company. His plan was well structured, clear, and very focused – and his personal target for 2010 was $2.2 million. When I inquired as to the basis for that number, Tom cited 10 percent growth on his previous year's achievement. We got to talking about potentially taking a different approach. We discussed what he would do differently if he had to achieve $4 million.
I had little value to add to the conversation, as I did not know Tom's business, but he took a "I think that's crazy, but let's brainstorm it a while," approach. The following hour was peppered with such phrases as, "But I'd need help from...," "There's no reason why that shouldn't happen," and "I wonder if...," "No, I knew you were crazy," and finished with, "Now that I've thought about it that way, I think maybe $2.8 million is achievable."
As I said, I didn't add any value to the planning, but Tom, who, to his credit, was open enough to indulge my questioning, stretched his own thinking and created more of a vision for success than a plan for incremental growth.
I've tried to put some structure around this approach for myself and others with whom I work. To make it easy to remember, I use an acronym: V.I.T.A.L., which goes something like this.
- V – Vision – This needs to be very ambitious but not ludicrous and is a quantifiable statement of the ultimate goal for the time frame in question.
- I – Implications – These are the things that would need to fall into place, the activities required, and the resources needed to support the vision.
- T - Test Reality – While still keeping the bar quite high, exclude elements that are entirely impossible, but keep those that are merely a real stretch.
- A – Aggregate – As if the goals remaining from the reality check are the baseline objective, figure out how to achieve each of those, aggregate the identified initiatives and associated resources required, and create a two-dimensional, high-low map of reward versus effort so that you can prioritize your efforts.
- L - Laser Focus – Now put your new ideas into action. Stop things you were planning to do –because that’s what you always did – but that don't bring high return. Keep on doing the things that you know work very well, and start doing those new things you've identified that can add significant incremental value.
None of this is easy, and while it's important to plan and question and question your plan once you've done it, you need to commit to it and follow through. As Jack Nicklaus said when asked about his incredible shot-making ability:
"I start by assessing where I am, looking at the lie of the ball, figuring out the terrain, gauging how far I am from the hole, and thinking about the wind and other elements of the weather. Then I decide where I want the ball to land so that it ends up near the hole or at the right place on the fairway. Next, I visualize the flight path of the ball and see in my mind the kind of swing I’m going to have to make to get the ball to travel on that flight path. Then I commit to that swing."