Wind Blown (Issue 593)

In which we are reminded to focus on differences  rather than routine questions when we write our call plans.

Hurricane Sandy has either come ashore or will soon come ashore this morning.  Here in the Boston area, we are expecting to feel her extraordinary high tides and sustained high winds and heavy rain through the day today and into tomorrow.

As the storm has worked its way northward, the news media in Boston have for several days treated us to continuous storm commentary and pictures, warning us about potential severe flooding, power loss, tree damage, and  essential preparations.

Most of us respond to their warnings, of course, but take them with a grain of salt – the news media ALWAYS seem to overblow any storm that heads our way and, after hearing the same message repeated for several days in advance of the storm, the message loses its impact.

In a momentary flight from reality, I had the thought…. The TV commentators’ repeated calls to prepare in advance for the storm reminded me of sales managers’ repeated calls that all of us salespeople prepare in advance for our sales calls and write call plans to avoid fates worse than death – embarrassment, lost opportunities, and the like.

The impact of their repeating and repeating call planning messages (without actually reading and discussing call plans with us) is that, after a while, we salespeople just take it with a grain of salt.  So, we write call plans, but the call plans become habitual, routine.

In my community, we have a “routine” for storm preparation. At the beach, we screw sheets of plywood across windows and doors to protect them from flying debris. Further inland, we rake  leaves to make way for the additional leaves that will blow down during the storm; buy milk, eggs, bread, water, gasoline, and batteries;  put out the flashlights; and so on. It’s a routine.

But, as I write this, I am remembering that the propane gas barbecue we normally have put away for the winter is still sitting out on my deck, exposed to whatever winds the storm brings. If the wind comes from the Northeast, I’m probably good: it is protected by the house. If the storm tracks further inland and the winds come from the southwest, I have more of a problem.  Now, it is a potentially dangerous object that could crash through the sliding glass doors next to which it sits. Too heavy for me to lift. What next? Tie it down? Roll  it inside? Wish I’d thought of that earlier.

The key to effective storm planning is to think about what might be different this time like…my not-yet-stored-for-the-winter grill, for example. And so it is with planning sales calls.

We can rely on routine patterns of questions –  How did you start your business, what’s important to you at this point, how do you see your goals, what are your operating plans, how will that affect your cash flow – without writing calls plans.. they’re routine questions, ask ‘em in our sleep  – and forget to think critically about what’s different or unique about a specific type of business or a particular client in this moment, in these conditions, with these possible opportunities and dangers.

And it’s those DIFFERENCES that we should address in our call plans.

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