Common Mistakes of Preparation
A large portion of this book relates to preparation, as do a large number of all career success stories. Preparation is a necessary prerequisite for virtually all aspects of an effective system of selling — from prospecting and qualifying to making presentations, handling objections, sealing the deal and following through with service. Rather than overwhelm you with the many ways you can fail to be prepared, let’s just look at some of the most common areas of preparation failure.
Not Developing Your “USP”
We’ve all heard of “ESP” — extra sensory perception — and its paranormal cousin telekinesis. If you are the kind of salesperson who can make money slide across the table and into your pocket without touching it, you’ve definitely got a paranormal gift. But if you are one of the rest of us sales mortals, there is still some good news. You definitely have “USP,” and if you develop this “gift” as part of your sales preparation, you will definitely close more sales.
USP is your “Unique Selling Proposition” — your competitive advantage. Trying to compete without identifying your competitive advantage is about as smart as a Super Bowl coach sending his team into the big game with no plays. To prepare for the “game” you need to identify your USP and consistently articulate it over and over again to your target audience.
Think about this. There are probably a number of competitors in your immediate market who provide the same basic product or service you do. If you don’t know what you are bringing to the party that they are not, then why should your prospect care? Establishing a Unique Selling Proposition will distance you from the competition faster than by competing head to head over price.
So, you owe it to yourself to give the following question a considerable amount of reflection.
What is it about you that makes you different, unique and more valuable to your customers?
Here are some broad competitive factors to help jog your thought process. Use these as a springboard to identify those specific advantages you offer.
• Hours of operation • Locations • Skill level • Experience
• Delivery Policy • Return Policy • Service Policy • Price Points
- Unusual Services • Special product training/knowledge • Industry contacts/connections
Once you have identified the specific factors that separate you from the pack, you need to get this information to your prospects on a recurrent basis. Random Exposures
Another common error salespeople make is failing to prepare a system to promote their businesses repeatedly to the target prospects. Banging the drum over and over again, even in a modest way, is very effective in getting people’s attention.
Here is a three-part system that works very effectively:
• Postcards — Think of postcards as mini-billboards. The postage is affordable and the message gets read. The content should be useful information to your prospect, or tips on where he might find such information or intelligence. Postcards are easy and fun.
- Articles — Sending articles is also an effective way of keeping your name in front of people. While writing this book, I was talking with a client and mentioned my book in progress. Around a week later I received a note from him saying, “For your book project” with a New York Times article attached. Short, sweet, and of interest to me. Perfect. Sending articles of interest to your prospects is simple if you tear the article out of a magazine and attach your calling card with a written note saying; “Thought you might find this article of interest. Let me know how I can help!”
I try to highlight a sentence or two within the article that makes an immediate point or can stand on its own. Without exception, this highlighted area gets read, even if your prospect does not read the entire story. Quite frankly, you really don’t care if the prospect reads the article or not. Your job is simply to pass on meaningful information.
- Industry Reminders — Reminders are used like articles. Simply identify an industry event coming up in your area and remind your prospect to mark their calendar as they deem appropriate.
Going With Your Gut
Going with your “gut feeling” rather than testing your assumptions can be a costly error. This mistake more often than not involves a shortage of discipline rather than time or money. For some reason, many entrepreneurs believe they have a mystical knowledge of the precise thoughts and needs of their market — a sophisticated camouflage that amounts to guessing and winging. They fail to test assumptions which would actually put them in the know, and resultantly, in the “green.”
Things like market . . . price . . . size . . . timing . . . color . . . offers . . . and policies can and should be tested to arrive at accurate answers. Some business people mistakenly believe that if the test market doesn’t consist of 500,000 people, the results will be skewed. (“Skewed” for you non-market research aficionados means “screwed up due to lousy information.”)
Do you know how big the test market is for surveys of such inconsequential questions as “Should the President be impeached?” or “Should we send ground troops into Bosnia?” Usually it’s 600 to 1,200 people. You don’t need a cast of thousands to get your hand on the pulse and pointed in the right direction. Most businesses can get good direction from surveys, direct mail, or test marketing with far smaller samples. Another approach is to utilize focus groups. Setting them up with participants is easier for consumer products than business products. One approach you can try with business people who are pressed for time includes organizing the group around the time/place of an industry event.
By testing and paying attention to the answers you hear, you will cultivate a true advantage over the “I think therefore it must be true” mentality prevalent with many of your competitors.
Not Keeping Up-To-Date
With today’s technology literally pouring tidal waves of data and information right onto the top of our desks, there is no excuse for you to not keep up to date in your industry’s news. I’m not here to sell magazine subscriptions or newspapers or Internet providers. But you have, at your finger tips, a zillion ways to keep in touch and informed. Pick one and use it. Do your homework. Ask inquiring questions of those in the know. Stay in the game.
Not Planning Your Day
Your success will come as a direct outcome of how well you plan. You may already practice strategic or even tactical planning in your business. But I am talking about the hand-to-hand combat of your normal workday.
If you hit your desk in the morning and dive vigorously into tackling every project on your desk, you will prove your energy and dedication while wasting a good chunk of it.
Instead, plan your day around the acronym W-I-N. Win stands for:
What’s Important Now
Regardless of the tasks at hand, you need to start each day by asking yourself, “What is the most important use of my time today?” Your answer will undoubtedly change from day to day or week to week. But this technique keeps you focused on the tasks most critical to your success.
Here’s what I do. Each day I simply write out a list of my “to do’s,” preferably in order of priority. No need to computerize the list, engrave it, or otherwise make it look pretty and permanent. It isn’t. This is just your check sheet. Throughout the day as you knock off tasks, just put a checkmark next to what you’ve done. At the end of the day, pull out the sheet and assess your productivity. Sometimes you’ll get the psychic reward of seeing all you accomplished that day; sometimes you’ll wonder if you were abducted by extraterrestrials who erased your memory of a large chunk of the day. Either way, you are ahead of the game because you are focused, and you have the first few items to put on tomorrow’s list.
Your old lists (I keep mine) are also useful to assess how you spend your time over extended periods. If the tasks you list and do first are the one’s you feel most comfortable with or one’s which truly keep you from the sometimes intimidating work of actually putting yourself in front of prospects, the old lists won’t lie. Take the cue accordingly.
Not Keeping Sales Tools Organized
You can’t afford to lose time hunting down a tool from your selling arsenal, especially when you are on the phone or preparing to dash out to an important meeting. A professional salesperson needs to know how to “stash” (i.e. file) things in a fashion that is conducive to easy retrieval.
I recently found a low-cost software filing system that I can recommend for someone who wants a very simple system. It is called Paper Tiger and costs about $50. If finding things within the four walls of your house and/or office is giving you fits, take a look at the Paper Tiger system. It has made a wonderful contribution to my peace of mind, not to mention speed of paper retrieval.
Taking Detailed Notes
Relying on memory can be fatal to your prospecting and selling system. Here is the long and short of it: Write everything down. Take notes. Memories can be short. And nights are for sleeping, not tossing and turning trying to remember if you have forgotten some important issue for tomorrow’s sales presentation.
The master at this is a friend of mine, Paul Moskowitz. This man runs a $150- million company and forgets nothing. Paul has a mind like a steel trap. He never drops a ball while juggling a great many of them simultaneously. His secret? He writes everything down. And he doesn’t throw the note away until he feels that he has received complete satisfaction. Once the task is appropriately addressed, completed or formally delegated, he takes the piece of paper and rips it into tiny shreds before throwing it away — which apparently clears his mind for the next task. When this guy crosses something off his list, it stays crossed off.
Do a Moskowitz. Write things down, give your memory a much needed rest, and never disappoint a prospect, client, or associate again.