Growing up, often my Dad, and sometimes my Mom, would really piss me off. Every evening after dinner they would say, “Go do your homework!” My sisters and I always had more interesting things we wanted to do, whether it was getting together with friends or watching something on TV. But they were very strict, before we did anything else, we had to complete our homework.
Sometimes they would sit with us, looking at what we were doing, helping us where we were struggling. Mom would always read the papers we wrote and make suggestions.
When I went to college, even though they weren’t hanging over my shoulders, I got into the habit of doing my homework. It wasn’t because I wanted to, but I had to get my homework done to pass my courses. Whether it was a paper I had to turn in. Or I would have to write the results of an experiment, or I had to do some sort of problem analysis. I knew I would be called on to present my work. Or I would have to turn it in to be reviewed by the professor.
Slowly, I started seeing the necessity of doing my homework–both to learn new things, but also to be prepared to participate, hopefully intelligently, in class discussions the next day. It was critical to getting things done, learning, and making progress.
I thought I had escaped “doing homework,” when I went into my first sales job. But it continued. I learned the importance of doing research before meetings–whether they were internal meetings or with customers. I learned the importance of being prepared. I would think about what it was I wanted to accomplish, what points of view others might have and what they might want to accomplish. I learned the importance of presenting data and facts, developing points of view, having plans if things started going off course.
The better prepared I was, the more I accomplished.
But with experience, I started getting a little cocky. I thought, “I’ve been through dozens or hundreds of these meetings and calls, I can handle everything that comes up.” I didn’t do the work to prepare for the meeting. Increasingly I was winging it or shooting from the lip. And I’d get called out on it. In internal meetings, I would get called out, or people that had prepared would get more accomplished than I did. The same thing happened with customers, rather than driving the meeting, I wasn’t prepared to do much more than a few basic things or respond to questions the customer might have. I noticed I wasn’t as effective or accomplishing as much as I had hoped.
As I moved into leadership roles, I recognized how important it was that I was prepared and impactful with the people in my organization. I realized I couldn’t just wing it, I had to be on target and impactful in whatever time I had with them–individually or as groups.
Likewise, I expected the people on my team to be prepared and thoughtful in our meetings. We always had more to accomplish than we had time, so being prepared was critical. We wanted to achieve things, we wanted to make whatever time we worked together impactful.
Perhaps I was jerk, but sometimes people on my team would come in unprepared. They weren’t able to contribute to the conversation and what we were trying to achieve. When it was obvious that someone wasn’t prepared, I would “suggest” they leave the meeting so they could prepare. Or perhaps they could spend their time on the things they thought were important–since they clearly didn’t think the meeting was important. It only happened a few times, but people recognized they needed to be prepared. And then the magic happened, we started realizing how much more we accomplished when each of us had done our homework.
This “habit,” continues today. We work with clients facing fantastic opportunities and huge challenges. They want to accomplish a lot, we want to help them achieve those things. Their time is valuable as is ours. Doing our homework–and making sure our clients are doing theirs is critical to our effectiveness and helping our clients achieve their goals.
We’ve found, both in our selling efforts and in our client projects, we want to accomplish as much as we possibly can in each interchange. Neither they, nor we have enormous amounts of time. We set high expectations of ourselves and everyone we work with to accomplish as much as possible in each interaction. This practice has enabled us, in our selling process, to reduce the average number of calls to close from 22 to 9. And these prospects actually enjoy meetings, because they see themselves accomplishing so much. And we continue that process in the projects we work on with them.
Counterintuitively, I’ve learned that I like to get as much done in as little time/work as possible. The way I do this is by doing my homework and making sure everyone I work with does their homework, as well.
But doing our homework seems to be an unusual practice. Prospects and clients tell us how much they appreciate what we accomplish with them (I’m actually glad that many of our competitors don’t do their homework, it makes what we do so distinctive.)
Sellers reach out to me, wanting to talk. I know they are trying to sell me something, but they never make much progress. It’s because they don’t do their homework. Simple questions like, “What do you know about our business and what we do?” If they have done the most basic research, “You’re a consulting company…” But consulting is a huge business and they don’t understand our niche or how we work.
Or they say, “We think you would be interested in our products…” I ask, “Why?” They respond, “Well companies like Google, Microsoft, SAP, BofA find it useful, so we think you will find it useful?” Forget that those references are irrelevant to us, but I continue, “What is it about our company that you think we need your solution?” The conversations go downhill pretty quickly.
Or the people that want to partner and collaborate? “What do you mean about this, how might we work together, when I look at your company, I don’t see any synergies….” The answer is, “We think you would get value from buying our product…” But they don’t know why because they haven’t done their homework.
Or the person on LinkedIn that says, “I’ve looked at your profile, we should talk….” But they have never looked at my profile, nor have they given me a valid reason why we should talk.
Doing our homework is a tremendous productivity tool. The time it takes to do some basic research, to prepare, to think about what we might accomplish in a meeting enables us to accomplish a tremendous amount in very few meetings.
But, like I was in grade school, preparing for a sales call or a meeting isn’t fun and seems like a lot of work. But I wonder about all the work and time people spend in meaningless outreaches or meetings that accomplish so little. Isn’t that a lot of work to accomplish so little?
Action: For the next 45 days, take the time to do your homework for every meeting you have–internally, with prospects, with customers. Think about: Who is it I’m meeting with, what do they do, what are they likely to want to accomplish in the meeting? What do I need to know about them, their roles, their companies? What is it that I want to accomplish, how do I most effectively do this? What do I preparation to I expect of the people I’m meeting with, how do I communicate that with them, so they are as prepared as you are? Prepare and circulate an agenda before the meeting, ask for input, so you are agreed in advance.
You will be amazed at how much more you and the people you meet with are accomplishing!