It seems in virtually every professional endeavor that the prep work is as important, sometimes, more important than the actual work itself. The singular exception seems to be selling, we seem to have a predilection for one of two things–winging it or sticking to the script.
Every professional athlete prepares for the event. It’s not just the normal practice, running plays, practicing serves, working out. They study their opponents. They want to learn everything they can–their strengths/weaknesses, how they respond, how they think.
Doctors are the same, despite the hundreds of times they may have done a procedure, they study the patient. Is there something about the individual that might make this procedure different or change the risk?
Profession after profession, we observe two things about the highest level performers. They master the basics–they know how to run the plays, do the procedure. But they prepare for the specifics of the event–the opponent they may be facing, the patient, and so forth.
The other thing that’s unique about their prep work is they do it themselves. They don’t outsource it. They don’t accept someone saying, “Tom Brady is weak at this…. Serena struggles with that…” While that may be helpful, they watch the films themselves, observing the nuances of their opponents. They think about how they might respond. Doctors, rely on reports, blood work, Xrays, other things, but they always talk to the patient trying to get an edge trying to better understand the individual.
This gives them deeper, unique insights. They see for themselves, learn for themselves. They may see some little thing, perhaps almost unconsciously, that helps them in the game/match or the procedure. Doing the work themselves better enables them to deal with the situation in real time and to be better prepared for the unexpected, to take advantage of things they may not have anticipated.
Again, profession after profession, we see the top performers do the prep work themselves.
Even in selling, we see the top performers are those who do the prep work themselves. They try to understand the customer–the enterprise, the individual, the specific situation. They use this research to prepare them for the meeting, or to help them respond, in the moment, to something that may happen during the meeting.
But everything we see in selling, seems to be oriented away from being prepared for this meeting, a this moment, with this individual(s).
We go through the motions, if we do. Technology can give us summaries about the company and their situation. We may look at the LinkedIn profile to understand what’s presented–but we seldom look into their activity–what are they saying, what are they responding to? We miss the opportunity to understand nuance about the enterprise performance–maybe there has been a shift in strategies or priorities, maybe they have had operational problems, maybe there is a new competitor threatening them, maybe there was a subtle/challenging question that came up in an investor conference, or a position taken by an executive in the speech she delivered yesterday. And understanding the individual–what is their activity, how do they interact on social channels, how do they express themselves, what are they most interested in. Even the absence of interaction tells us something about the individual.
They help us prepare for the interaction, bringing greater value to each one, because we have a deeper, more nuanced understanding.
There are some that argue, “It takes too much time! We need to make more calls!”
Some that say, “We can outsource it or leverage technology to give us a report!”
But each of these miss the critical essence of doing the work.
We need more calls, because we are ineffective at engaging our customers. Our customers are telling us this–“Sales people don’t understand my company, they don’t understand me, they don’t understand this situation…..” If we learned more deeply, prepared more effectively, executed with greater understanding, we wouldn’t have to make more calls. We wouldn’t have to increase the volume to stay even.
We know about human learning. We know that “telling,” isn’t impactful. That’s why people don’t tell us how to make a sales call, we practice in role plays. Understanding doesn’t come from being told, it comes from the experience of learning, knowing what to look for, then figuring out how to respond.
But again, people insist it takes too much time.
Well yes…..and NO!
Often, it takes so much time, because we don’t know what to look for or how to find it. Or we lack the ability to understand what it means. This is, most often, a targeting issue and a training issue. As an example, within my own company, I have made it my objective to have deep understanding of technology, industrial product, and professional service sectors. Within each of those, there are segments like software, electronic components, etc. But I study these to understand the issues, trends, challenges those segments face. Marc, also focuses on technology, but he also specializes in financial services, and CPG. Each person in our organization becomes an expert in roughly three major sectors/subsectors. As a result, I don’t tend to pay attention to financial services or CPG. I don’t know how to talk to those prospects, but Marc does.
Because I’m expert in certain sectors, when I’m researching a customer, I already know a lot of what they might/should be interested in, because they are in one of my target segments. I also, know what I’m looking for when I go to their websites, when I look at analyst reports, or when I go through their SEC reporting.
I have and leverage tools to scrape some of this data, but I find it hugely valuable to look at it myself. There are certain things that may catch my eye, there may be a quote from an executive, an observation, or something that gives the data more meaning and context.
“But Dave, you just don’t get it, it takes too much time….”
Well, yes… and NO! Since I’m an “expert” in certain areas, and I know what to look for, it usually takes me about 15-20 minutes for each call. So it doesn’t take that much time, but equips me to be much more impactful in each conversation.
“But Dave, we have to make 100 calls, we can’t spend 15-20 minutes prepping for each….”
And here is the crux of the issue. Why do we have to be making that many calls every day? I can guarantee it’s not to drive growth. Instead, we have to do more calls because each call produces fewer results….
Now you can see this destructive death spiral our philosophy of increased volume creates. We don’t do the prep work to have high impact calls, so we produce fewer results for the calls we make, so we have to make more calls, so we do even less prep work, so we don’t produce the required results, so we have to make more calls, so we…….
It is insanity!
We choose not to do the work to have high impact calls, but we think we make up for it by doing more.
We know preparation is critical to our effectiveness. If we took the time to do this work, we might get more results from the work we do. Every other profession seems to get this, why do we think selling is different? Why are we so unwilling to do the work that creates meaningful results?
Joël van Beelen says
This is it:
‘…the top performers are those who do the prep work themselves. They try to understand the customer–the enterprise, the individual, the specific situation. They use this research to prepare…’
Think of all those sales rep job offers and their request for a ‘proven track record of overachieving quota’ (hilarious train of thought btw, suggesting this company ONLY hires the best reps. And since all companies use this sentence apparently ALL companies only hire the best. I’d like to see their win/loss ratios…).
All you need to know for effective hiring is: how does someone think? Do they actually think or do they expect their employer to think for them? A few questions about how a rep finds information reveal everything you need to know: intrinsic motivation, creativity and tenacity.
Having partnered often in the past with a small coaching company that had many enterprise customers we often were baffled by the helplesness of their ‘seasoned’ reps (who simply rode a massive wave of brand recognition).
We would do everything from the very first cold call to helping close the deal, we would (re)write their emails (even write their calendar invites to prevent mistakes), coach their presentations etc. We unfortunately were not allowed to join them on the meeting.
That was frustrating since they were clueless about how to handle self generated new business vs fairs and networking (and that brand recognition). In reality their opportunity management was more like opportunity destruction.
We would put them at the table with a prospect high up in the chain at a great company and then they would email the prospect:
‘Hey so-and-so, i’m so happy to meet you soon. I’ll make sure it will be a great presentation and i’ll answer all your questions. Why don’t you email me your questions at forehand so that we can be sure you will have all the answers’. (Some reps littered their emails with exclamation marks).
We would then again have to intervene:
‘Look rep, you’re introducing an innovation at the meeting, it’s impossible for them to ask good questions right now (although surely they can ask bland questions that will make you happy). It’s your job to help them ask good questions’.
It looks like 80, 90% of reps only look for a way to ‘predict’ what will happen in the meeting so that they can optimize the slidedeck.
I’d say the fastest way to progress (or a resignation) would be to take away their slidedecks and put them in front of a whiteboard and let them, together with the prospect(s), have a real discussion. But prefab presentations will remain the rule for a long time.
Dave, i’m pretty sure you are aware of Corporate Visions /Tim Riesterer’s work. I follow them since 2016 and they have a great video on youtube about decks vs whiteboard hand drawing, based on the research of Zak Tormala (Stanford). I have no relation to the people btw.
The video is based on Tormala showing that a hand drawn presentation is more convincing with participants than a deck (and remembered better). Because, in one sentence, you own it.
Here they explain it:
David Brock says
Wow, what a comprehensive discussion Joel! Thanks for the great expansion on the post. I continue to be stunned about how widespread the ineptness with which we engage customers is. We have such an ability to improve, yet we fail consistently. Regards, Dave