Editor’s note: Terri Grauer is a consultant and writer specializing in the application of network technologies to business challenges. Her “Sanity Check” column appears on Mondays.
____________________________________________________________________________________Ok, I am crushed. I admit it. I’m a Carolina Panthers fan. Big time!

I really thought we’d pull it off, one more time, and make the playoffs. The Cardiac Cats in the playoffs with an 8-8 record, why not? Jake and team had done some pretty spectacular stuff all year long! Nick Goings emerged as a force to be dealt with and Moose showed everyone he could catch almost anything with one arm tied behind his back!

Let’s face it, they didn’t make any excuses for themselves, they just played hurt and they found a way to win anyway.

We should all take a lesson from Coach John Fox. “No one is going to save us; we just have to find a way to save ourselves.”

For all the sports analogies that get tossed around the sales huddles on Monday mornings, I bet ‘saving ourselves’ isn’t the theme of any of them. I’ve sat through many painful blow-by-blow lost sales opportunity meetings.

Usually management starts by pointing out how the sales team missed numerous chances to close the tech deal at strategic points.Then the executive team brings in the ‘educational team’ to teach the sales team a ‘new way’ of conducting the campaign so ‘this disaster doesn’t happen again’.

What does not happen is anyone from the coaching (executive) staff listening to the team who dropped the ball, and no one is listening to the customer before the campaign is launched.

What’s the Plan?

If the game plan is flawed (or doesn’t exist), it won’t succeed, no matter who’s carrying the ball. The sales team is suppose to know the customer, right? (Know your opponent-rule number one).

Determine the key technology issues facing the customer, their ‘pain points’ and where your solution can best be applied effectively. (Customer weakness, your strength.)

Understand the customer’s timeframe for purchasing the solution and any barriers to closing the deal. (Execution and timing of plan are critical elements for success.)

So what goes wrong in so many deals with customers that the executives come out of the woodwork at the beginning of every sales quarter like Monday morning quarterbacks?

Management executives (the big guys like team owners) want to win. They put together a team of sales executives like coaches to build a team of players. The management executives put out a memo that says something brilliant like “Win” or “Refuse to Lose”, without determining exactly how it will be accomplished.

So management turns to sales executives to figure out the details.

The sales executives determine a blanket plan for ‘winning’ or ‘not losing’ with a ‘one size fits all’ type mentality. The sales people jump right into a product pitch before they even qualify whether the prospect is a prospect. They rarely get to know their customers, their own products or their competition. Their companies have taught them that ‘everyone’ is a prospect and ‘everyone’ needs their product, so ‘sell, sell, sell’.

This goes right along with “Win” or “Refuse to Lose” as bumper stickers.

Forget product ‘conditioning or training’ for the sales team, there isn’t time for that type of nonsense; just go sell something, now!

This is where the ‘sports analogy’ stops.

Practice — What a Concept!

Coaches determine a game plan based on the team they are facing each week, not based on an idea of ‘winning’ in general.

The coaches and the team, study the game tapes of the opponent they are about to face, put a plan together, design plays and determine their plan for that one week, for that one opponent. They also design a contingency plan, in case the first plan doesn’t seem to be working.

Then they actually practice the plan all week long before the game. What a concept! Practice. Practice. Practice. Then they execute the plan.

So after the game is played and the customer is won or lost the drill-down meeting is conducted a bit differently. The sales team is given the opportunity to speak candidly to the ‘coaches’ about what went right or wrong, without freaking the executives out (because they aren’t in the room.)

And when the seagulls (the executives who fly in to crap all over everything) show up to chew everyone else out the meetings go much faster, with a lot less excuses.

By the way, go Panthers in 2005!

Terri Grauer is a consultant and writer specializing in the application of network technologies to business challenges. She can be reached via email at terri@sandirect.com