It’s early January and many New Year’s resolutions have already fallen by the wayside. If there’s room for one more on your list, I encourage you to add this one: Preparation.
Anyone who has painted a room knows the importance of properly preparing before painting. Proper preparation generally takes more time than painting itself and can be tedious, which is why many choose to skip or cut short this step in favor of “just getting on with it.” A true professional might get away with less prep than the average person, but a sloppy job is a constant reminder that cutting corners rarely pays. Doing the job right from the start requires a good plan, patience, and discipline. The resulting satisfaction from a job well done likely includes the realization of how important those preparation steps were to the process.
In sales, the need to prepare is no different. Even the greenest sales rookie knows to take time to prepare before a sales meeting or call. But what’s the proper way to prepare? What boxes should you check before proceeding?
We take preparation very seriously and categorize it into three groups: strategic, client, and technical. Here are a few ways you should prepare when going after new targets:
Look at the big picture. Where are you in the sales cycle with this client? What do you hope to achieve as a result of the meeting? Envision how you want the meeting to end and then build from there.
What are the possible curveballs that can be thrown your way and how can you avoid them? The devil is in the details, and knowing what challenges may arise and how to overcome them will greatly aid your level of preparedness.
This step includes multiple layers to be researched and explored before sitting down with your client.
- Company – What does the company do? How do they make money? Who are their customers and what do they want? What division are you targeting? Is the company growing, stagnant, or struggling to compete? Has their leadership changed recently? What does the company say about themselves, and what are others saying about them?
- Individual buyers – Hopefully you have an internal project champion to help guide you. Try to find out about your target buyer and influencers. How senior are they? What’s their position and role? Is their focus local, regional, national, or international? Do they have buying authority, or are they researching for their boss? Look them up on LinkedIn to find out what groups they belong to and whether or not you have any common contacts and to see what topics they are posting or commenting on to get a sense of their level of experience and sophistication.
- Competitors – Who are your target’s key competitors and what are they up to? How might that influence your sale? Is your target leading their industry or playing catch up?
- Past projects or history – Have your companies worked together in the past? Not doing your internal homework is a rookie mistake that can make you look really bad in front of the prospect. Even the smallest project in another business unit from 10 years ago counts as history. Know who did what, when, for how much, and with what results before talking to your buyer.
Once you have answered the strategic and client questions, you need to align that information with your company’s products, services, and capabilities.
- Capabilities – What challenges do they face that you can help resolve? How do your products or services fill a void, fix a problem, or otherwise help them improve their business? What features and benefits of your services directly relate to their needs? Don’t drown them in every last detail about your business, but rather pick your specific capabilities that can help the client.
- Industry and market trends – What are the trends across the industry? Not only should you know what’s going on, but try to dig deeper to uncover an insight that would be of interest to your prospect. It could be something they already know but perhaps weren’t aware of the scope, or it might be something significant that presents a threat or opportunity. Show that you’ve done your homework, but be careful to be respectful and not insulting when presenting the insight.
- Objections – How would you respond if confronted with “We don’t need your help – we can do it ourselves. You’re only here because my boss wants a dog-and-pony show.” What other objections might you face and how would you overcome them?
Where should you look for answers to these questions? Search Google, LinkedIn, Twitter. Industry publication websites are also great sources of information. Simple keyword searches will usually yield helpful results beginning with basics such as “banking industry trends” or “top issues in banking 2014.” Of course, using keywords that are specific to their business or issues will get you more granular results.
Your New Year’s Resolution: Preparation
We’ve all been guilty of Ready-Fire-Aim at some point. But when it becomes an everyday habit, your ability to be successful will likely be extremely compromised. Good preparation takes thought, time, and discipline to set yourself up for success (and avoid failure). Sales managers need to encourage action and monitor progress, but also to instill the importance of properly preparing for sales meetings and calls. As you look to the New Year ahead, resolve to make preparation a priority.
What are your tips for preparing for client meetings? What pitfalls have you encountered along the way? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.