Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.
It’s an often heard adage that applies to virtually any situation, but with sales it’s especially important because failure isn’t a mere inconvenience—it can be the difference between financial success and financial ruin…or at least financial mediocrity.
I once saw the results of a study that said 57 percent of a purchase decision is made before the buyer has any contact with a supplier. Let me put this in graphic terms so you can really get a feel for how important it is.
Imagine you’re about to start a race. You look up from the starting blocks and find that the person you’re running against is already 57 percent of the way down the track.
You have some serious catching up to do!
This underscores the importance of doing extensive preparation before you make any sales call—whether it’s to an existing customer or you’re prospecting via cold calls. You see, if you are able to intelligently engage your prospects or customers (who are 57 percent ahead of you) you can get them to pause long enough for you to catch up to them. If you fail at that, they’ll keep running and cross the finish line without you.
Sales preparation steps
Your preparation falls into two general categories:
- Understanding your prospect’s needs, and
- Understanding how your solution meets those needs.
With both of those basic elements understood, then you can begin to craft the best way to engage your prospects to eventually get the sale. Engaging the prospect involves asking the right questions and being attentive to the answers. Let’s first look at how to understand the needs of your prospects.
You’ll first want to get a solid understanding of the company itself and how it stands in relationship to its competitors. What are its strengths and weaknesses? If you’ve been in this industry segment for a long time, you may already have a good feel for this. But even if you’re experienced, talk to others and read industry materials. Know who the leading companies are and if you’re approaching one of the “also-rans,” what would it take to push them into a leadership position? Be able to discuss the trends within the industry and how your product or service supports these trends.
Do a little digging so you know the history of the company. Has it had any major successful projects or products? If its president or CEO were to give a talk and brag about the company’s achievements, what would they be?
Using social media for sales preparation
Social media is a huge benefit for us today. If you follow the social media accounts of your prospects, you’ll quickly discover what they assume to be their strengths. Then, by noting what they don’t tout, you’ll have some clues as to their weaknesses.
Next, you’ll need to get a good feel for the person or people you’ll be meeting directly with. Again, social media can be a huge benefit. Look for shared LinkedIn connections and if any of these shared connections are people you are close to, make some calls to get additional details about your prospect.
Look for shared interests and if your prospect seems to be actively engaged in social media, become a “follower” of his or her account.
By the way, this kind of “research” doesn’t stop at social media. When you eventually head to the office of your prospect, look for more clues that tell you about the person’s interests and background. This information could inform your decision later on when you’re sending gifts to your customers.
Once you understand the industry, company, and the individuals you’ll be working with in the company, then you can see how your products or services fit into the picture. This will help you ask the questions that steer the conversation to a place where your prospects can begin to see the benefits of doing business with you.
The danger of disengagement
Without a deep understanding of your prospect’s needs, you’re likely to end up rambling on about features that are irrelevant. This will cause your prospects to disengage from the conversation. You’ll get a polite, “Thanks for stopping by, we’ll consider it” and nothing more (maybe not even a second chance down the pike.)
I heard one person say that every minute devoted to preparation pays off with 10 minutes saved in time spent with the customers. I don’t know if the 1-to-10 ratio is exactly correct, but the general idea is true. What is even more dramatic is the fact that if you don’t put in the preparation time, you’ll end up losing the sale to a sales rep who is willing to invest the time to properly prepare.