Are You “Cleared to Sell?”
“You’re cleared for takeoff.” By the time an airline pilot receives that confirmation from the control tower, you can bet that a pre-flight safety checklist has been performed. The goal: for every takeoff, a corresponding landing at the intended destination. These days, if both of my checked items are disgorged at baggage claim upon arrival, I’ll call that customer delight!
We expect that the pilots are checking the right things pre-flight. But what if instead pilots were primarily concerned with whether each occupied seat has a functional entertainment system, and how many paper napkins were stowed in first class? Your flight to San Francisco would land in San Diego—on one working engine and three blown tires. And that would be on a good day. At least you would have enough napkins to soak up whatever slopped onto the table tray from your in-fight cocktail.
Checklists are valuable for reducing risks. They ensure consistency and thoroughness in completing routine tasks. We depend on them because as humans, we are prone to distractions, and we don’t remember everything.
Unfortunately, when checklists reinforce inconsequential – or even stupid – things, they just get in the way. When it comes to mitigating risks, such checklists become liabilities. We wind up ignoring them, or making other mistakes because we’re not focused on what produces the outcomes we want.
Here’s a shining example of such a checklist, gleaned from one I recently found online:
1. What is the prospect’s current situation?
2. What are my business development goals for this client or prospective client?
3. What is my desired next outcome?
4. What are my relative strengths?
5. What are my relative vulnerabilities?
6. What actions do I need to take before the next call?
What’s missing? Well, for starters, questions about the prospect’s needs, wants, desires, objectives, and goals. Great if you think you know the actions you want to take before your next call (#6), but with this checklist, how would you know how things look to your prospect? That knowledge deficiency puts you in a deep hole. The selling equivalent waiting until starting your takeoff roll to assess whether your wing flaps operate.
Business developers can reduce the possibility of failure by using client-oriented pre-call checklists that focus on learning, and above all, that ensure a prospect’s needs and objectives will be met. When that occurs, the likelihood you’ll reach the next step in your process are measurably improved.
Here’s an example of a client-oriented pre-call checklist. Each item can be answered with yes, no, or not sure:
1. I know the outcome or result my prospect is seeking from this meeting. You must have at least a clue.
2. I am bringing knowledge and resources that my prospect will value right now. If you don’t demonstrate that you have something useful or valuable to share, you probably won’t be invited back. It doesn’t matter how good your questions were, or how much time you spent listening.
3. I know what needs to be learned. Both for you, and your prospect. Ensures that you are prepared to ask the right questions and that you don’t waste time throwing conversational spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.
4. I have situational awareness. Not the same as knowing everything you can about your prospect. This gives you context for the meeting – should there be one – and that you can adapt.
5. I have visualized the successful outcomes for this opportunity—for my prospect and for me. You must have this for every call. Visualizing a successful result ensures that you take the right actions to achieve it. Ask anyone who has achieved a medal in the Olympics.
6. I have planned for what I will do if something unexpected happens during the meeting. You can’t plan for every contingency, but every checklist must consider what could go wrong, such as the demo that doesn’t work flawlessly or fielding a question that you don’t know how to answer.
7. I am 100% mentally present. Answering “no” to this item means you’re not ready to make the call.
Whether your activity involves meeting with a prospect for the first time, or further into the buying process, this checklist increases the chance that you don’t crash, and that you reach the right destination.