The belly flop… a dive with great potential that… well… flops. It’s the perfect metaphor for all the things that can go wrong after the sale. Over the last few months, I’ve watched too many big ideas fail—and not because the ideas were weak. These projects were brilliant, and they could have produced a nice profit. As a consumer, number one fan, and a marketer, I’m frustrated that these ideas fell flat before they ever had a chance to take off. I’m sure you’re wondering… if the concepts were so stellar, what went wrong? Two words: poor planning.
We’ve all learned about goal setting, and we know success is built on a series of baby steps. If you are a lead in a musical, you attend rehearsals to learn music and choreography; there is a deadline by which you must be “off book,” or have your lines memorized; and there are tech rehearsals and dress rehearsals before opening night. No one would ever think to hand an actress a script and expect a full-blown stage production without all the intermediate steps. Yet… when it comes to executing an event, launching a fundraising effort or delivering a big project for a client, we often race toward opening night with little thought about the little details that ensure success.
That’s where the CRITICAL PATH comes in. A critical path is a planning document you create that takes you from BIG IDEA to POLISHED PRODUCT. As a sales professional, you should include a critical path with each proposal. It shows your customer that you know the steps to take to successfully deliver results. Here’s how to create your own:
- Set your target date and work backward. By what date must project be completed?
- List the tasks that must be completed for successful implementation. Think outside your own department, and also include tasks that must be handled on the client side. For your project to be a success, all parties involved must be aware of the role they play.
- Assign deadlines and ownership. Have you discussed the project with the people involved? Have you given everyone enough time to complete their piece? When you create the plan up front, you have the flexibility to set realistic goals.
- Circulate the critical path. Make sure each person involved in the success of the project has a copy of the critical path and is aware of the deadlines.
- Send reminders. As deadlines approach, check in with the people who “own” the task to make sure everything is still on track.
- Revisit the plan. Tweak the plan throughout the project. Add steps you “missed” and things you wish you had thought of. This learning process will help improve future projects.
Will the projects and products you sell reach their full potential? Or will they flop? When you develop a critical path, you are creating a plan for success. Your clients will appreciate your professionalism and attention to detail… and the results you achieve will help secure future business from a thrilled customer.
Tell me... what other steps would you include on this list? What's your number one piece of advice to make sure your vision becomes a reality? For more ideas on how to keep clients coming back, take a look at our retention checklist.
Kim Peek is the Blog Boss at The Center for Sales Strategy.