“Plans are nothing. Planning is everything.”

Who am I to argue with General Dwight D. Eisenhower?   He made the comment in this post’s title regarding the Normandy invasion.  He was reflecting upon how little the actual battle resembled the D-Day plan; a plan that resulted from a truly stupendous effort on the part of the Allies.

What makes the quotation profound is the fact that one of history’s great leaders, while he insisted on painfully detailed, thoroughly debated, minutely documented plans, expected things to not go according to plan.  In fact, he believed that a written plan in and of itself was almost superfluous.  The real value, he felt, came from the rigorous, vigorous discussion of ideas, challenging of assumptions and exploration of alternatives among the smartest, hardest-nosed people he could find.

It was the General’s way of managing surprises and laying the foundation for creativity under fire.  By forcing a disciplined planning process, he forced habitual, critical thinking, and over time created a team that could anticipate and successfully react to a vast array of complex situations.

Sales leaders take heed!  Insist that your reps develop a written plan for every major sales campaign and every key account.  Insist that they formally present those plans to peers, support personnel, you and your boss.  Insist that all involved search for flaws and try to punch holes in the logic.  Insist that revised plans are developed and reviewed.  It’s hard.  It’s time-consuming.  It’s brutal on egos.  AND, it prepares reps to deal with whatever the customer or the competition can dish out.  It builds consistent winners.

Finally and most importantly, it will create an exceptionally powerful habit within each member of the team.  If Ike were a sales rep, he’d summarize that habit as, “Plan every sales call! No exceptions!”

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