Why Preparation Is The Real Key To Sales Success

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iceberg sales preparationThe quickest way to get new salespeople up to speed is continual training on product and sales processes, but for those who have been selling more than 5 years, we often get lazy and rely on habits and abilities acquired early in our career.

One secret of great salespeople is that they never stop practicing.

They never stop preparing for their calls, and that act of preparation propels them to be better than all their competition.

The sales process is like an iceberg.

You’ve heard this before.  As you lazily float through Alaskan waters on your cruise ship, you occasionally see an iceberg or two.  They can be small or massive, but what you see on top of the water is only 10% of the whole, 90% of it floats beneath the surface of the water.

The sale interview and interaction with the customer is that 10% everyone sees, but the strength and power of the process comes from the 90% that no one sees.  And to constantly improve, our focus must be on that act of preparation.

Here are elements I’ve picked up from great sales people on what makes up the best preparation

1.  Customer Knowledge.

Nothing is worse than spending months talking to a person trying to sell your product, and realize you don’t have the decision maker.  The person you have been pouring every ounce of energy into for months has no power or influence to effect change and make a decision.

Not only does knowing your customer help determine the correct person, but gaining knowledge of your potential customer, shows you care about him.

With the internet, knowing your customer is easier than ever.  You can understand their business, get information online about their company and what is important to them.

This doesn’t just stop once customer contact is made.  Every morsel of information discovered can be gold to the great salespeople.  I’ve known people, who keep files on their prospects containing birthdays, kids names, list of hobbies, etc.  Those prospects begin to believe that this person is not looking for a one shot sale, but a lifetime relationship, and the process moves forward.

2.  Customer Questions.

Spend some time by yourself generating a list of common questions that customers have about your product, ask your staff to do this exercise as well, then compile the list.  From that starting point, craft concise answers, with analogies and stories, that get to the heart of the customer’s questions.

Then practice the answers to these questions, so you will be prepared when they come.  As new people come into your organization, having a file of common questions and answers to customer’s questions and concerns is invaluable training.

3.  Objections.

There aren’t that many objections within the sales process.  They usually revolve around money, time, or need.  You know they are coming eventually.  Script out great responses to the objections, and practice them.  You don’t want to be stumbling around your words and act surprised when you hear something you should have expected.

4.  Closings. 

As mentioned in a previous post, closings are huge.  Not because a crafty close will help seal the deal.  No, it’s because no one does them.

You don’t have to be slick or high pressure to make these work.  Just doing something will set you apart.  Create a list of potential closes and practice, so they become second nature and you won’t forget to ask for the business.

5  Sales Questions.

This element is huge and can be hard for all of us.  We love to tell more than ask.  We love our product, we know all the bells and whistles, and want the customer to know them.

You know what.  They probably don’t care about all the bells and whistles.  You won’t know that unless you ask questions about their motivations and pain points.

What problems have they had in the past?  What is their experience with their current agent?

Not long ago, I did some car shopping.  I am not a car guy.  The sales person can pop the hood and ramble about cylinders and liters and horsepower, and it goes straight over my head.  My wife is the car expert in the family.  In fact, on this day, we were looking for a car for her.

She was with me, but the sales guy wouldn’t talk to her.  I even threw him a hint or two like: “I am not going to drive this, she is.”

He wanted to talk about interior colors he was enamored with, along with the power the car had.

bad sales preparation


It was a minivan, and all my wife cared about was gas mileage, the dvd player, and roominess.  He never asked, he just kept talking, and then was surprised when my wife wanted to leave.

Don’t be that guy.

We all know we have.  Practice asking questions.  Become an investigator or therapist looking for issue that you can solve.

We all need help with this.  A modern resource for this is Spin Selling, and if you are looking for something a little more old school, but is really a must-read find Frank Bettger’s How I Raised Myself From Failure to Success in Selling.

6.  Role Playing

Do those words strike dread in your heart.  Announce them at your next sales meetings, and watch faces grow pale as groans issue from the depths of your staff’s soul.

None but the sadistic among us enjoy role-playing.

In a previous job, our company loved role-playing.  It was part of the ongoing training, and even promotions were based on running the gauntlet of role-playing scenarios.  My boss found increasing joy in springing role-playing sessions on us.  I hated it.  In fact, I still dread them today.  But they work.

Any skill set I have in interacting with people was shaped by role-playing exercises.  It’s painful and embarrassing, but effective.

It is much better than reviewing a conversation in your head.  Role-playing creates stress, and the stress is usually worse than anything you might experience in a live scenario, but this is why it works.

Take all the above prep-work and practice in live role-playing scenarios.  Don’t be easy on yourself and others.  Be the worst, most difficult customer.  Try on different personalities and style, and see how you do against each one.

Integrate role-playing in your sales meetings.  Your people will hate you, but everyone’s bottom-line will thank you later.

Every professional at the top of their game never stops preparing.  They never stop practicing.  Think of the pro athlete.  No matter how proficient they become, they continue to prepare, practice and improve.  We are no different.

Be Productive,

Theron Mathis

P.S.  What do you do to prepare for sales encounters?  Do you have a routine?  What do you do with your team to help them improve?


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