by Don f Perkins

Alternate title: “Sales Strategy and the Benefits of Being Unprepared”

“We’ve been so terrified into believing in the importance of being prepared that it’s spilled over into that other realm, the realm of life where we have no choice but to be unprepared.”

Seth Godin

And Then You Say This

Well there you are. You’ve done your homework and this should be easy. But then she slams the cover on your snazzy leave-behind folder and says that all the stuff you have determined should be so valuable, given her situation is awful ; simply dreadful. Her eyes are saying that she is sorry she wasted her time talking with you and this firm will never do business with a firm like yours. Then what? This is the point where the script is not only useless, but actually makes you a bit angry, scared and confused. I mean, what the hell? She didn’t even acknowledge points A, B or C! It’s insulting! It’s hurtful! It’s confusing.. It’s off script.

It’s been many years since I underwent training for my first real sales job. What I remember most was that there was a very specific script I was told to follow when talking to prospects (I hate that word by the way: “prospects” what am I a miner?). There was also a very detailed preparation I was to put together before meeting with a “prospect.” Somewhere around 3 months in I realized the truth of Seth Godin’s observation above. I also realized that if I didn’t bust past the fear of being unprepared and pay way more attention to adaptation, I would never make it.

Preparing to be Unprepared

In four years of exceeding quota in sales, it’s obvious that some level of preparation is definitely paramount to staying out in front. However, it’s the finer points of preparation that make all the difference. You can put together a detailed plan based on best practices, your research, other’s experiences, etc. but when you actually are in Mrs. Farquardte’s corner office for the first time, chances are great you have not prepared for this. It’s not that you don’t want to. You simply can’t account for every possibility in an interaction like this. Humans are like that; they surprise you. You must be prepared to be unprepared. You have to be ready to not only sit through all the reasons you are an idiot, but also to ignore the litany of insults and listen for the nuggets – the things that you may use to redeem the situation and come out as the one who saves the day and gets the cheese.

Traction in Interaction

Regardless of all the training in the world, emotional context and our ability to read into and adapt to it is vital to success. Think about how much your individual tastes, personal preferences and governing assumptions have changed in the last year or two. So now imagine a script generically prepared to address the needs of thousands of disparate individuals, and how out-of-date it becomes in just a few years. There is only so much you can prepare in isolation, before ever meeting someone. The real traction is in the interaction and your ability to resonate with what really matters right now with the thing that is on fire on that prospect’s desk today.

The Real Sales Portal

Sometimes it seems obvious you are just not moving forward with a prospect. You know that moment, that look. The script (and your gut) tells you to walk, but this is where you have the ideal opportunity to transition into something much more productive: the truth of the matter. Instead of taking it on the chin, what if you let the rejection pass by you and turn your full attention to the prospect for a moment? Take a deep breath and ask them a pointed question like: “What is the number one thing that your business needs right now that you have never been able to get from a marketing firm?” or “If you could pick one area of your business that you could just wave a magic wand and make it better, what would that be?” You might get more rejection. Then again you might kindle a real conversation about actual business problems that matter to this prospect. If it’s to be more rejection, who cares, you were already failing it anyway. Why not turn this into a learning moment? But you might just make a meaningful connection. You could break through the barrier of all the other bozos who have failed before you in this seat, and get the keys to the kingdom: getting past the routine scripted fodder they’ve heard so many times they think they are going to puke, and finding out what the real opportunity is that you have a shot at addressing?

No Stranger to Rejection

It doesn’t take long in sales to realize you are going to hear “no” a lot. I’m convinced at least part of the reason 40% or more of salespeople aren’t selling their quota is that when they hear “no” they go away sad, knock on another door with a droopy face and the same tired script that just failed them. But what if you decide it’s not strange to be rejected? What if you train yourself to expect that 90% of the time this person is going to say “no” but that it’s ok to fail this way, because then you can move on in the conversation to what’s real? In so doing, you turn a failure into a win because you either continue to a more relevant conversation or you learn something you can use to adapt in your next conversation. This is not easy. It’s not comfortable at first. But it’s better than beating your head against the wall waiting around for everyone to suddenly say yes!