My son started wrestling a few years ago. If you’re familiar with the sport — and I wasn’t — you’ll know that most wrestlers put on a singlet almost as soon as they are out of diapers, if not sooner. Getting started as a high school freshman means facing a steep learning curve. For my son, that meant having to get in shape and take on match after match with opponents that had 11 years of experience more than he had.
When he first signed up, the coach told him in the matter-of-fact way that lifelong wrestlers tend to talk, “You won’t win a match this season.”
He wasn’t being mean or cruel. He was being objective and wanted my son to have the right expectations.
My son went to practices anyway, and over the last few years he went from never scoring a point to winning the odd match here and there. For someone with so little experience, critics are quick to call these small victories luck. But in wrestling rooms across the country there is often some variation of the saying “Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.”
With the odds stacked against him from day one, the only option my son had was to prepare, prepare, prepare. That way, when the opportunity came to hit a pin, he’d be ready.
In our industry, we might not be staring down an opponent in a singlet, but every sale becomes progressively more challenging as our goals get bigger and bigger. It’s one thing to sell to an individual consumer, but convincing a company with a few hundred employees to switch plans is another challenge entirely. You are good at what you do, but in this scenario you are trying to unseat the reigning champ. You have to convince your prospect to abandon their status quo and make the big change of adopting your proposal.
Preparing for that first meeting is critical. If you enter this sales scenario without a plan and without a set of finely honed tools, you are much less likely to seize the opportunity sitting across the table from you.
To maximize your chances for disrupting the status quo and opening the door to a sale, consider these tips:
Challenge your prospect
Remember that you are unseating the incumbent, and that’s a big deal in the mind of your prospect. To get your prospect to make this sort of change in his or her business, you have to change their thinking. Teach them something about their business or industry that they didn’t know, relative to what you are there to discuss. Reveal a problem that they aren’t addressing and show them how your services can be the solution.
Do your homework
To challenge your prospect in a meaningful way, you will need to have intel to work from beforehand. The obvious places to explore are their website, their social media pages, and any news articles that might have been written about them. From there, you should check your network to see if anyone you know has a connection with the prospect. Ask your staff, check your LinkedIn connections, and ping your professional partners as well. If someone’s cousin’s husband works there, that can crack the door open a little bit farther for you.
Build marketing messages that support your sales process
You should expect your high-value prospects to be savvy individuals, which means that they are likely to do their homework as well. It might not be the same direct conversation as an actual meeting, but your website and your social media presence will say a lot about who you are and what you bring to the table. Take the time to keep those properties up to date and in sync with the dialog you plan to have with your prospects.
Let me channel my son’s wrestling coach: This is hard work that sets the stage for an even more difficult sales process. Taking the time to do your research is a grind the way that lifting weights is a grind. Practicing your sales pitch in an empty room is dull in the way that going for a long run is dull. What ends up mattering most is how you behave when no one is watching, when you are working behind closed doors. The advice I’m sharing here is not some hyperbolic “secret” to easy growth. It’s work.
An effective sales process, however, is built on this sort of preparation. Like a wrestling match, the actual conversation you have with a prospect should be quite short relative to how much work you put in behind the scenes to prepare for the opportunity. If you don’t put in that work, the actual match becomes much more difficult. If you do put in the work, your hand is more likely to get raised in the end.
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