Every salesperson should consider this ancient proverb before embarking on the enterprise sale: "Know thyself."  It means that before we start trying to understand our customers' worlds, we should develop a full understanding of our own world and have a guiding vision that begins to define the ideal customer. More specifically, we need to understand our offerings, the markets they target, and the quantitative and qualitative levels of activity we must attain to reach our personal performance goals.
Self-knowledge begins with the value proposition inherent in the goods and services we are offering customers. In the context of enterprise sales, when we discuss value propositions, we are talking about the positive business and personal impact that your offerings deliver to your customers. This value represents your competitive advantage in the marketplace. It also forms a baseline from which you can begin to measure the fit between your offerings and prospective customers. The unique characteristics of your offerings help you define the ideal customer. If you are selling a logistics software package that allows the user to manage and coordinate tens of thousands of small packages with different destinations, the best place to spend your time is not with a company whose shipping patterns indicate that it transports full containers to only a limited number of destinations. Obviously, this customer will not be able to receive the value available in your solutions.
The analysis of the value proposition yields valuable conclusions about the characteristics of the most qualified customers for our offerings. For instance, if our company is a leader in innovative solutions, we should be looking for the early adopters in our target markets. If we are the high-value supplier in our industry, we should be looking for the customers who are the high-value suppliers in their respective markets. Value propositions tell us what segment of the industry is most likely to buy, what size company we should contact, and who we should seek out inside those companies. This information allows us to begin constructing an external and internal profile of what our ideal customer looks like.
This is common sense, but it is surprising how often we have found companies changing their value propositions without integrating those changes into the way the sales-force operates, how often changes in the selling environment render an existing value proposition ineffective, and/or how often we find salespeople who simply don't understand the value proposition they are offering.
Once you understand the value proposition you are offering customers, you can create a personal business development plan. An effective personal business plan must be linked to overall corporate strategy and operational objectives. We are all members of corporate teams, and our goals must be contributory to those of the larger organizational goals.
A personal business plan must have both quantitative and qualitative components. Most salespeople are already familiar with the quantitative aspect of a business plan. It is the common approach that tells us that if we contact a predetermined number of prospective customers, we will set a fixed number of appointments, that x number of appointments results in y number of presentations, and that y number of presentations yields z number of sales. The problem is that most plans stop right there, and salespeople end up struggling to achieve their quotas by crunching through vast numbers of prospects, working harder—not smarter.
Sales-by-numbers advocates do make sales, but they never excel at the enterprise sale and certainly are not making the best use of their resources. What they are missing is the qualitative element of the personal business plan. Qualitative metrics, which we have already derived from the value proposition, add an important dimension to a personal business plan. They allow us to begin to optimize our efforts and resources. For example, instead of simply telling us that we must call on 12 companies, a qualitative measure might take into account the fact that our value proposition is most attractive to companies with revenues between $15 million and $50 million and is more heavily weighted toward the top end of that range. Accordingly, our plan might stipulate that one-third of the companies we call on have annual revenues between $15 million and $30 million, that two-thirds have revenues between $31 million and $50 million, and that we do not call on companies whose revenues are above or below those figures.
The final component in understanding our own world is the opportunity management system that enables us to organize and schedule the activities of the personal business plan and the ensuing interaction with customers. There is only the most superficial need for opportunity management in conventional sales—the traditional salesperson chooses a prospective customer and drives that customer as far through the selling process as possible. Then, the salesperson moves on to the next opportunity.
In our sales process methodology, opportunity management is a more fluid process. Every customer is treated with a determined level of priority. Some prospective customers do not fit your qualification criteria at the time you first look at them; therefore, they may be monitored only at regular intervals to see if their fundamental indicators have changed. Others show a strong initial fit and are scheduled for further research.
Opportunity management encompasses how we develop and manage our leads. It includes early warning systems that tell us when specific customers are optimal for contact. For instance, a salesperson providing office storage systems might track commercial building permits and commercial real estate to identify sales leads. A building permit equates to a new building, which equates to new storage requirements.
As the opportunity represented by each customer changes, so does their priority in the salesperson's schedule. The ultimate purpose of opportunity management is to point salespeople toward that single individual or company that represents the best place they could be at any particular moment.
According to the 16th edition of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations (Boston: Little, Brown, 1992), the admonition to "know thyself" dates from between 650—550 B.C. It was inscribed at the Oracle of Delphi Shrine in Greece.