“Proper Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance” is a motto I heard once when I was 19 years old, and it’s made a huge impact on me. Apparently it’s a paraphrase of a saying in the British Army (kudos guys…the American military gave us FUBAR and SNAFU), but really at its core it’s simply a fun way of saying, “Be Prepared” (the Scouts). Try saying it 3 times quickly (…then try saying it quickly with an Aussie accent!).
In sales it has a special meaning. Nothing has the power to set you apart from the gaggle of sales people more than being prepared. If you are prepared your customers will listen to you and your management will love you. Here are some specific stages of a sales cycle where bering properly prepared are critical for success.
- First Contact
No matter how you make first contact, referred meeting, cold-call, LinkedIn Message…or even reaching out via email, you need to prepare for that contact. Who are you reaching out to and what do you know that would benefit them? Put yourself in their shoes (most of our prospects get hit up multiple times per day, in addition to doing the job they are paid to do) and understand how to present your message so they get value from every interaction with you – starting with the very first contact. Be brief, interesting and valuable.
- The First Meeting
When you meet with a prospect for the first time, it’s often to provide an overview of your solutions. Perhaps your initial contact made an impression or was well timed with an internal project they’re facing…but don’t make the mistake thinking that meeting is about you. It’s not. It’s about THEM. Too many sales people think that meeting is about the software company, when this is the perfect opportunity to showcase how well you understand your prospect’s business and needs. Nothing will put a prospect to sleep faster than spending 10 mins (or longer!) in a powerpoint presentation filled with, “Here’s a slide about our company”. Every presentation needs to be focused on, “Here is information about YOU…”. Sure, your company is great – but all those benefits, accomplishments, references need to be presented in the context of why it matters to your prospect.
- The Proposal
If your opportunity is progressing well, you will need to prepare a final proposal. This proposal will include all the research and discovery you have done up to this point and should demonstrate your ability to deliver a solution and solve a problem. It’s essential that your proposal includes a complete solution to the problem you were given to solve. That includes the software, the Services (the Implementation effort), enough information to demonstrate you are fully capable and can be trusted, essential reference customers (that have been prepared themselves with information your prospect needs to hear!), and of course the Return on Investment (ROI). Every business makes decisions based on return, so make it clear this investment will be profitable for them. A customer who fully understands their ROI (including cost to do nothing) will be committed to following through at contracting.
- The Close Plan / Negotiation
Early on in the negotiation, you need to understand what it will take to get a deal signed with your prospect and conversely you need them to understand what it takes on your side. Some prospects need to have a VP or higher sign it, some need the CFO or CEO and some even need to wait for a Financial Committee of the Board in order for it to be signed (that might happen only quarterly!). Often prospects themselves might not understand the process, so it’s important to re-confirm this information frequently – and that’s why it’s important to have a written close plan. A typical plan might back up from the planned signature date. It will include all the critical events that lead up to signature on both sides (especially if you work in a bureaucratic company). Now you can manage the final days of contracting like landing a jumbo jet – with a checklist. Additionally it gives you the power to use every step as a negotiation and keeps everyone focused on the deadline. How do you use every step as a negotiation? “If I deliver the license contract and Services plan by this date, will you get redlines back to me by X date?” or, even more effective, “If I can get you that discount, can you assure me that we can sign tomorrow?”
- The Contract / Closing
Each iteration of the proposal and contract will include important changes that need to be documented and communicated to your prospect. Read all your contracts carefully (if someone else is preparing your contracts, you need to know they included the correct updates) and never send something to your prospect you haven’t studied first. Be clear what you can give and what you can’t. Present all customers recommended changes as an added value to your prospect. If you need to ask for something in return – the way you have documented your ‘gives’ in the contract will support your need to ‘ask’.
- The Transition
This step is about preparing your customer. What do they need to know to be successful with your company (or the Implementer)? Perhaps you already have a “Welcome Packet” prepared with information on Help and Support, Customer User Groups, Company Conferences, downloading or accessing their acquired solutions…etc. Equally important is the transition to new people. Up to this point, your customer has built a strong relationship with you, they need to be assured you won’t abandon them, that you will continue to work for their success and that there are now other people they can call, eg. Service Leads, Project Managers even Customer Success support representatives.
Each of these particular stages of a sales cycle could certainly merit their own blog post to discuss techniques and sources for preparation – there’s so much to do. Preparation is a talent you develop and need to exercise regularly to stay on top of things It can suffer if you’re snowed under doing much too much – but you need to ensure you stay focused on it. Block out time on your calendar dedicated to research, build tools or templates to help remind you of critical steps or questions to ask and how you can prepare for the risk of something going sideways.
Like your morning workout, proper preparation is a habit you develop over time and if neglected, you and your prospects will suffer.
How do you prepare? Feel free to comment or shoot me and email – I look forward to hearing from you. – Lorne@LorneCampbell.com