Winners Do What Others Won’t: Preparation

by Brad Roderick, TonerCycle/InkCycle

For the record, I am not a huge sports nut. My dad quotes players, coaches, stats and sports trivia dating back to his childhood. A good friend knows the college, the high school, and maybe even the elementary school of every player, past and present, on his favorite teams. One relative cares little about any of the details or even about specific teams; he just loves to watch any sport on T.V. — even golf. I am the odd man out. I have little interest in specific teams, players, or coaches.

What I am is a huge competition nut. I love to watch MMA! More specifically, I got hooked on the UFC show. I didn’t really care about who won or their petty squabbles and drama; what captured my attention was the training and the preparation. The show gave us a look at how these athletes prepared for competition. In sports, like in sales, so much of what matters, so much of what separates the “greats” from the “goods” – not to mention the ONLY thing that is under our control – is how we plan and prepare. It’s the “between the game” that has the greatest impact on the end of the game. But Houston, we have a problem.

Preparation isn’t fun. Playing the game, that’s the fun part! Prep and practice, not so much. Preparation is hard work. It requires a lot of effort. I don’t know about you but I didn’t gravitate to my particular career just so that I could work really hard. I wanted the success. I wanted, and still do, the success that COMES from hard work.

Since I am writing this a few days before the Super Bowl game, let’s jump over to football for a moment. Football seasons are based on wins and losses, not on effort. Yes, effort does contribute to the likelihood of success, but nobody gets the big trophy, the big ring, solely due to effort.  It takes a lot of practice, talent, endurance, mental toughness, and about a million other things to win a single game, let alone the season. While every aspect of what it takes to win the game is important, nothing beats preparation. As important as the play is during the game, that is the only part that is partially out of the player’s control. And friends, the game of competitive sales is no different.

We can’t control every aspect of even a single call but we sure can, and should, control our pre-game and post-game activities. Pre- and post-game activities are big indicators of the next game and the games after that. Just like a sports season, our careers are not measured by any one opportunity but by a string of them over the years.

Pre-Game

Know the players. Over and over again I find salespeople have not properly or adequately identified the players. Sure, on larger deals the rep does a cursory glance of the prospect’s company on the web. But let’s remember that companies do not award contracts, have influence or make buying decisions; people do. Use LinkedIn to “meet your players.” Study who will be on the field with you. Understand how they move (what motivates them). It is likely that your prospect will do a lot of zigging and zagging and try a few fakes, so be prepared. Our goal isn’t to throw the Hail Mary long bomb; it’s to keep things moving in the direction we want. 

Prepare Your Game Strategy

Remember, our strategy is to keep moving the ball forward. For most of us, a sale is a process, a series of activities, discussions, presentations, collaborations, interactions of various types. Unless you are doing one-call closes — a wham, bam, thank you ma’am type of sales — the process includes numerous interactions. Each interaction should have an objective, a desired outcome, a way to measure your progress as you intentionally and purposefully move the ball down the field. Have a defined objective for each interaction. Your objective is NOT “to close the deal” on every type of call. Ultimately that determines the win or loss but not the single play. Keep moving the ball; keep taking it one step closer to the end zone. Write down your call objective. WRITE IT DOWN. This is so important to your success, you must take the time to really think it through and then WRITE IT DOWN. Another way to determine the call objective is to ask yourself, “At the end of the call, how do I know if I was successful? How do I know if I made progress … if I moved the opportunity forward?”

Plan Your Plays (Tactics)

Back in the days of Gutenberg, I worked in a print shop while going to college. After spending a summer as a material handler and paper loader, I got a promotion to Press Operator Level 1. Actually, it wasn’t a printing press but a 50-bin duplicator that would look like something out of the Dark Ages now. Every Friday before the Saturday game I would spend my shift printing, collating and then handing over the Boise State Broncos (Go Blue!) football game books to the “binders.” These “game books” included everything they had learned, everything they had planned for, everything they were going to use during the game. A lot of time and effort went into creating game books for the team. Doesn’t your career deserve at least as much?

Your very best tactics will come in the form of questions — both questions you want to ask and questions the prospect is likely to ask. List these out, create a few follow up questions to help clarify any points, ensure agreement and continue moving the ball another 10 yards.

Practice

It seems obvious that salespeople (the business athlete) should practice. We talk about role playing. We write about it. We talk about rehearsing. We write about it. But folks, do a few “buddy calls” or “ride alongs” and you may be surprised at how little practice goes into the most important games we play. Sure, we all have a few “overcoming the objections” remarks in our arsenal. We can even answer the, “What’s new at your company?” question, but have we practiced these so that we know whether they work? I am often asked, “How do you handle __________ objection?” And when I turn that around and say, “What have you tried?” fewer than 1 in 20 have a compelling response. Oh — and this is for the five-plus-year sales vets. For newbies, they have the company supplied lame version that no one has fallen for since the last caveman fell off his dinosaur. Rehears, refine, rehearse, refine, rehearse and repeat. Keep doing it until you KNOW it’s right.

Post–Game

Post-game is really nothing more than planning for the next game. As soon after each interaction as possible, be sure to take a few minutes to determine what went 1) As planned, 2) Better than planned 3) Needs improving for next time. Use your post-interaction review as the foundation for the next interaction. Remember, we aren’t throwing long bombs, we are simply marching the ball down the field.

And the game? Well, if you plan appropriately, practice diligently, review the actual game and use that as a basis for the next interaction, you won’t need to worry about keeping score. Your bank account will do that for you.

Brad Roderick is executive vice president of InkCycle Inc. He is an industry veteran with more than 20 years of experience in OEM and aftermarket supplies and more than 25 years of sales and marketing experience. He is an active member of the imaging industry as an author, trainer and speaker focusing in the areas of industry trends, strategy, and sales and marketing. He serves on several boards, including the International Technology Council, and participates in several national organizations, such as the Chief Executive Network. Contact him at broderick@inkcycle.com.