Planning Ahead (Issue 517)

In which we are reminded to prepare call questions and responses to likely challenges lest we fallon our faces.

“I should have brought a flashlight,” I muttered as I stumbled to regain my balance.

There’s a stretch of the homeward bike path that is wobbily uneven. And dark,  that night, pitch black, can’t-see-your-hand-in-front-of-your-nose black (our town has shut off most of its street lights to reduce energy costs).  I was on foot,  walking home, having dropped my car at the repair garage about a mile behind me. No sidewalks in this part of town. No street lights.  Just the ice-heaved, tree root-lifted bike path, offset a few feet from  the road. And I walked,  wondering with every step, “Is this when I’m going to twist my ankle and go down?” Remembrances of past injury pain danced lightly through my ankles.

The only relief came from head lights of occasional cars passing from behind so that I could for three or four seconds look down the bike path 50 yards for holes or uneven bits I needed to remember because it would be dark by the time I got there.  And there weren’t  many cars. It was pretty late, and I live in a small town; people go to bed early. So, I’d  walk 30 yards, 50 yards and stop. I couldn’t see anything. I couldn’t remember where the path went. And then a car would pass. Then another 50 yards, sometimes tapping a foot in front of me, feeling for the path. Then, sigh of relief, another illuminating car.

If this walk home had been a sales call, I had a plan… walk home… Mill Road… start at 11:00 pm. But I’d missed a few things, failed to anticipate the darkness, failed to bring a flashlight or resources I needed,  didn’t even have my cell phone with me – I’d  left it in the car.

In some ways, any sales call, and particularly sales calls early in a relationship,  can become “a walk in the dark on the bike path.” Like my walk home,   we begin where there’s light, we can see where we’re going. We set an agenda, we ask about the top of mind issues, and then, we walk down the path into the dark. We don’t know what’s out there. We can’t see into the client’s minds.

And, this, kids, is why we should plan our calls, particularly first calls on prospects. : objectives, questions to ask, relevant information to share, anticipated potential challenges or questions we might be asked and responses.

Transitions and survey questions,  like passing car headlights, provide momentary glimpses into the dark, down the path we can cover.  A question that communicates our understanding of an industry or a company, that asks our client or prospect to reflect, a question like, “As electrical contractors increasingly search for and buy parts and assemblies through the Internet and  as margins on those fall, which of your company’s strengths can you leverage to generate new revenue or better margins?”  Or, “As fashion seems to be shifting, with the twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings, from  buying larger sail boats like these for cruising to smaller boats for single class racing, how will you change your business model?”

And, particularly the challenges and questions.  IF we’re asked a question like, “Why are you charging me fees for these services that you used to give away?”  we need to have confident, relevant answers, strengthened by consistent rehearsal and practice.

Otherwise, we are left to feel our way along the path in the dark, tentative and wary, hoping that we don’t twist our ankles and fall with the next step.

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