Transitions (Issue 577)

In which we are reminded to include transitions in our pre-call planning.

“Turn, turn, turn, TRANSITION,” exhorted TV commentator (and former Olympic Gold medalist swimmer) Rowdy Gaines.

We were watching a replay of the last turn in the stirring, exhilarating race between the two best male swimmers in the world, Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, who went stroke for stroke, inches apart,  through the first three pool lengths of the four length, 200 meter individual medley race.

Phelps led at every turn and, in his last turn and push off, extended his lead just slightly, enough to win the race by nine hundredths of a second.

Gaines went on to describe how important it is to prepare for turns and then transition –  smooth, deliberate, powerful push offs – into the next length, not staying under the water too long.

In Olympic trial events from the balance beams to the track relays, “transition” – passage from one activity or stage to another –  seemed to be the word of the day. Good transitions, good out outcomes.  Awkward or mistimed transitions, bad outcomes.

Yes, there are differences between racing and sales calls, and also many similarities.  There are starts, middles, and closes… and also transitions.

Transitions into ‘business’ conversation from small talk. Transitions from discussions of goals and objectives into conversation about specific issues. Transitions from issues into discussion about ideas and possible strategies. Transitions from strategies to agreements. Transitions from agreements to next steps.

Practicing transitions is a critical element of training, whether for a track relay, a swimming race, or a sales call.  Swimmers practice turns.  Relay runners practice the baton pass. Gymnasts practice connecting their elements to each other.

Most Call Plan forms focus sellers on the questions they want to ask and the points they want to make – the elements – NOT on the transitions, even ‘though smooth transitions and connections between sales call elements are critical to maintaining flow and momentum.

For example,  suppose we heard in a sales call: “You mentioned a moment ago that you’re planning to add staff in two locations. That seems like a critical initiative to meet the goals you described earlier in the conversation. Perhaps this would be a good time to dive deeper into staffing and other important initiatives you have in mind for this year.”

Very nice, yes?

At first glance, this transition appears to be spontaneous, based completely on conversation in the moment.  But, au contraire, mes amis.  The transition written in a Call Plan could have been “Now that I understand your goals, I’d like to hear more about the specific initiatives you have in mind for this year.”

In the moment, the seller added context – “you mentioned…planning to add staff….”  and substituted “perhaps this would be a good time to dive deeper into” for “I’d like to hear more about” yet… the basic structure and purpose of the two transitions is the same and could have been planned and practiced ahead of time.

So, yes, yes, write call objectives, important questions based on pre-call research, and critical points to make during calls. And also, script the transitions from one conversation phase to the next, particularly if they are difficult,  so that the elements connect and we maintain flow, focus, and momentum.

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