Dwight Eisenhower is said to have remarked that "...battle plans are all well and good, right up to the point where someone starts shooting at you." The implicit warning was to not get too attached to your carefully crafted vision for how things are going to go: because you're almost certainly going to have to improvise and adjust once it all starts to hit the fan. As I read recently, Ike's once heretical concept has become a pillar of military theory: "Commander's Intent." The focus is now on training the battlefield leader and his troops to expect anarchy, confusion and dysfunction. Today West Point emphasizes improvisation, adjustment and real time decision making... but always tied to a unifying leadership vision - the Commander's Intent - that says "we're taking that hill over there."
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One risks trivializing military service by drawing comparisons with sales, but there's a comparison here that needs to be drawn. Sales leadership and planning are actually way behind the curve when it comes to Commander's Intent. We neither communicate a clear, unambiguous vision for what success likes, nor do we coach our teams on the improvisation and adjustment skills they'll need to pursue that vision. Instead, most sales people still rely far too much on rigid sales process scripts or highly structured, linear presentations - without much of a connection to the leadership vision.
In today's fast-paced, asymmetrical sales environment - and particularly in our world of digital media and marketing - we need to start letting go of dated models and theory. Presentation skills and negotiation may be going the way of the big gun naval battle and the cavalry charge. The successful manager is training her team around sales innovation: setting an engaging environment, provoking discussion, listening curiously, adapting on the fly.
As Ike also said, "Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable." It's no longer about planning presentations. It's planning how to present. So put away your books of complex theory and your 40 slide PowerPoints. Your interaction with the customer is never going to align with the picture you've painted in your mind. The best sellers and managers not only get this point, they build their strategies around it.
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