Do You Conduct Pre-Call Preparation Like Abraham Lincoln?


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President Abraham Lincoln was a masterful sales person. What was his secret? It was his ability to plan what he was going to say by thinking like the people he was going to address.

Mr. Lincoln was fond of saying, “When I get ready to talk to people, I spend two thirds of the time thinking what they want to hear and one third thinking about what I want to say.”

If Mr. Lincoln were a commercial sales rep today allocating 1 hour to prepare for a meeting with a customer executive, he would spend 40 minutes putting himself in the shoes of the senior decision maker thinking like an executive. And then, he would spend only 20 minutes planning what he wanted to say.

President Lincoln’s preparation routine raises two important questions for today’s sales people selling at the executive level. First, do you allocate 67% of your precious pre-call preparation time thinking about how your customer executive thinks? And second, do you even know how to think like a customer executive when you’ve never been an executive? Do you understand their unique persona, orientation and mindset, which are very different from analysts, managers, and directors? As Mr. Lincoln said, do you think about what the customer executive wants to hear?

If the answer is ‘no’ to either or both of these questions, you should feel comforted only by the fact that you’re not alone. Most account managers and sales executives we work with spend the majority of their pre-call preparation time polishing their already highly-polished sales pitch. Selling to executives is outside of their comfort zone because they are uncertain what customer executives really want to hear and they don’t want to damage their reputation or credibility pushing the envelope. Perhaps this is why most of their time is spent gilding the sales pitch lily.

Henry Ford is attributed as saying, “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason so few engage in it”. Yet, thinking about what the audience wanted to hear was the secret to President Lincoln’s success delivering the right message to the right audience at the right time. And it could be your little secret if you embraced the pre-call preparation challenge.

I can’t really help you with the personal commitment you need to make to allocate more pre-call planning time to thinking like a customer executive. But I can offer some tips for thinking like a customer executives and predicting what they want to talk about. Here they are:

Tip #1: Customer executives want you to paint a picture with a few broad brush strokes

Executives think big picture and so should you. Plan to paint a big picture and don’t worry about painting outside of the lines. The subject of your painting should be their company, its strategic road trip and how you can shorten, accelerate or fund that journey. Since executives have a countdown clock in their head, it’s important you start painting early and fast in a selling interaction with a customer executive. After your last brush stroke, you want the executive to think, “This person has a high degree of customer business acumen” or industry acumen if the company is private with little information about it. “I get the picture. I see where this interaction is going and how it might benefit me and my company. I’m going to put another nickel in the countdown clock and give this person some more time to see where they go next.”

Tip #2: Customer executives want an informed point of view based on an analysis of their situation

Customer executives love to deal with facts and analyses. And they’re very interested in getting a different perspective on their thinking. Now is not the time to be shy or timid. Since you’ve spent two-thirds of your pre-call preparation thinking like an executive, you should demonstrate the confidence that comes with preparation. But your point of view needs to be supported by an evaluation of the customer’s current situation (operational and financial), business priorities and critical success factors.

Tip #3: Customer executives want to talk about their business priorities and how to accelerate implementation outcomes

Customer executives think more about implementing business priorities than solving business problems. The former keeps them up at night while the latter is delegated down in the organization to people who specialize in problem solving. If you deploy a traditional solution selling approach, you’re likely to get quickly referred to lower-level problem solvers.

Tip #4: Customer executives want a balanced conversation that includes different options and choices

Customer executives think about options and ways to mitigate risk when implementing business priorities. They appreciate when others think the same way. Be prepared to discuss various options and approaches. Share your unique perspective helping others avoid pitfalls and make important choices.

Tips #5: Customer executives want to talk about the impact of change on their organization

Customer executives think about the impact of change on their organization. They look to peers and key people on their team for validation and acceptance. You should anticipate this interest and assertively offer advice for change management associated with your solution.

The next time you sit down to plan a call on your customer executive, think about President Lincoln and his pre-call preparation routine.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jack Dean
As co-founder of FASTpartners LLC, Jack brings extensive technology buying experience as a Fortune500 Chief Financial Officer to the B2B technology sales training industry.He has facilitated client-sponsored business acumen training for 15,000 B2B technology sellers representing 150 global technology companies.Participants in Jack’s business acumen training have produced directly-attributed revenue of over $1 billion (in the 3 months after training) and training engagement ROIs averaging 500%.


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