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You can read every sales book and take every training course in the world, yet it will always be true that a conversation with a prospect will never go exactly the way you expect it to go. That’s not to say that planning isn’t important. In fact, having a plan is a big reason some salespeople succeed where others fail. But the critical component isn’t just coming up with a good plan – it’s sticking to it when things get hairy.

If you’re like most people, you’ll find that conversations outside of a training setting are much more fluid than the scripted ones we have when role-playing. This is why it’s not enough to just come up with a plan; you also need to take steps to ensure you can stick to it when the going gets tough. Here are five things you can do to help you stick to your plan when you’re selling:

1. Write it down

Before meeting with the prospect, come up with every question you want to ask, a list of everything you want to convey, and a clear understanding of what you hope to get out of the conversation. Then refer to this list while you’re speaking to them. If the conversation goes in another direction, you can use this list to bring it back to where it needs to be. Try not to get off the phone or end the meeting until you’ve checked off everything from the list that you hoped to accomplish. If you do this (and do it thoroughly) you’re unlikely to be left with unanswered questions or without a clear path forward.

2. Go over it before meetings

Far too often, salespeople prefer to improvise – likely the result of strong and confident personalities. However, this isn’t the best way to go, and taking some time to prepare before a meeting can pay dividends. Since you now have a plan that you’ve written down, review it before every call. And, take the time to research your prospects and their companies so you have points of reference before the discussion starts.

3. Pause and think

When we’re talking to prospects, we tend to be quick with our responses in an attempt to seem knowledgeable. But you’ll be surprised at how big of an impact taking a few seconds to think before speaking can really make. With your written plan in front of you, pause and consider what the prospect is asking, what their intentions are, and how you can best serve their needs. Don’t just say to first thing that pops into your head. Not only will you give a better response, but you’ll also present yourself as a competent and thoughtful resource instead of a fast-talking politician.

4. Have an accountability partner

If we don’t hold ourselves accountable, we’re unlikely to change our behaviors. And, like most things, it’s better to have someone helping you than it is to go in alone. Your best accountability partner is going to be your sales manager, although a fellow salesperson can be just as effective. Make sure to keep your accountability partner in the loop with clearly laid-out goals for your meetings, and connect with them before and after each one (or on a weekly basis) to debrief. If you make this a part of your process, you’ll see your behaviors change for the better.

5. Reward yourself

It’s not hard to figure out a way to reward yourself, but it can be difficult to make the reward conditional on your own behavior. The best way to get started might be to offer yourself small rewards every time you stick to your plan on a call, whether it’s letting yourself get a dessert with lunch or spending a little time on your favorite app. Tie your reward directly to your plan and your brain will eventually associate the two positively, helping you change your behavior and turning it into a habit.

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About the Author Ken Kupchik

Ken Kupchik is the creator of Sales Humor and the author of the funniest sales book ever written, The Sales Survival Handbook, which you can order on Amazon.com. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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