Module 9: The Power of Preparation

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Smart Preparation

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SMART Preparation

Make Your Objectives SMART
You are setting your goals for your next meeting with your customer. You know it will primarily be an information-gathering session you need to know more before you can propose a workable, specific solution. However, if you go into the meeting with a vague plan like “I want to find out more about my prospect’s business,” you won’t accomplish much. [1] Instead, you might come up: “By the end of this meeting, I want to know who my prospect’s current vendors are, what issues he faces, and what priorities he has for future purchases.” This objective is SMART.

Instead, you might come up: “By the end of this meeting, I want to know who my prospect’s current vendors are, what issues he faces with this vendor’s services, and what priorities he has for future purchases.” This objective, like all effective precall objectives, is SMART.

That is, the goal is Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-bound. [2]

SMART objectives give you the power to sell strategically by setting goals you can achieve.

Another powerful tool is the simple act of putting your goals down in writing. Not only are you likely to make a stronger commitment to your goals when you have them on paper, but you will also be able to use your written goals for reference later on-even during the sales call if you need to. [3]


The goal should clearly define which actions you want your customer to take, what information you hope to convey, and/or what information you hope to learn from your sales call.

In the example cited by Gary Duncan, the salesperson is setting out to gather three specific pieces of information.


You want to be able to measure the results of your efforts so that you’ll know at the end of your sales call how close you came to achieving what you set out to do.

This will help you strategize about which actions to take next.


If a goal is actionable or attainable, it’s something you can actually do. It might involve asking questions, explaining something, or suggesting something. Whatever the case, it should be something on which you have the ability to act.

In some instances, the actionable goal might be as simple as closing the sale: “By the end of the meeting, I plan to convince my prospect to sign a contract.”


If you set your goal too high or try to move your sales process along too quickly, you will only be setting yourself up for disappointment and failure. Ask yourself, “What can I reasonably hope to accomplish given the current situation with my prospect?”

If you want to get appointments with ten top people in the organization during your first contact with the company, or if you intend to close a major account by your first call, you will probably not be able to achieve this.


Not only should you know what you hope to achieve, but you should also know when you hope to have it accomplished. In the example objective, your time frame is “by the end of the sales call.”

Other times, you might set a specific date-for example, “Get the prospect to agree to schedule a face-to-face meeting by the 15th of May.”

Presentation Preparation
Once you’ve done your research, brainstormed your solution, and set your SMART objectives, you’ve got a good foundation to move forward. The only homework left to do is planning your sales presentation.

Even if you have a stellar solution to offer, and your objectives are clearly defined, you can’t make your sales pitch hoping to just wing it. A well-planned presentation can often be the thing that makes or breaks a sale. If your customer sees you as well prepared, you will go far in earning his trust and respect.

Prioritize Your Agenda
Your presentation should be well organized.

Think about how you want to lead in, when you will introduce key information in your presentation, and when you will use product demonstrations. Not only will prioritizing your agenda give you a strategic edge, but it will also help your customer to see that you are organized. Bring copies of your agenda to distribute at the beginning of the meeting so that your customers can follow along with you as you give your presentation.

When Tom Szaky, CEO of the garden products company TerraCycle, gives a sales presentation, he prepares by drawing up an agenda that prioritizes the information he wants to convey and arranging it in a strategic order.

For example, Szaky knows that if he presents his product near the beginning of the presentation, his customers will make their buying decision before they know what makes TerraCycle unique, so he starts off all of his presentations by talking about the features that set his company apart. [4]

Cris Cavanaugh, now a CustomerCentric selling affiliate, learned the hard way that assuming in selling is not a good thing. He was asked by a customer to do a presentation at a conference.

Cavanaugh accepted and gave a confident presentation. He failed miserably because the audience was not as well educated on the topic. [5]

Personalize It
At this phase in the preapproach you should have some knowledge about your contacts in the company, and you should understand the company’s particular culture and priorities.

As you plan your presentation, you can use this knowledge to tailor your approach to your prospect. What tone will you set for the presentation? Would the prospect respond well to humor during the presentation? Are you presenting to a group of busy executives who would value an efficient, no-nonsense approach? Think about the level of formality your customers will expect. This will dictate how you dress, how you speak, and how you design your visual aids and demonstrations.

When Tom Szaky gives a presentation to buyers from Wal-Mart (one of his biggest customers), he dresses casually, perhaps wearing a corduroy jacket, a John Deere cap, and frayed shoes. [4]

Wal-Mart presents itself as a no-frills company, and this attitude carries over into its corporate culture. Understanding this aspect of the company and the contacts with whom he’s working-representatives from the garden department-Szaky adapts his approach to match.

Prepare Illustrations
People respond best to things they can see and experience for themselves. Your sales presentation won’t be complete without:

product demonstrations
visual aids

These inspire your customers and help them see the value of your product first hand. As you develop this aspect of your presentation, consider slides or handouts that will reinforce key points. Consider the things that will best help this particular customer visualize your solution as a winning one.

For example, in one presentation to Wal-Mart buyers, Szaky displayed a binder full of newspaper clippings in which TerraCycle had helped Wal-Mart generate positive publicity. He also used a short video and brought in a live plant grown with his potting mix.

In addition, because his contact at the company had asked to see what the product might look like on the sales floor, Szaky brought in a merchandising mockup to help his buyers visualize TerraCycle’s potting mix in their stores. [6]

Practice, Practice
Finally, once you’ve created your presentation, practice it.

Practice in front of a mirror, deliver the presentation to family members and colleagues (if you can get a willing audience!), and run over your agenda until you know it inside and out. [7]You want the presentation to come off smoothly, but you also want it to seem natural. Even experienced salespeople like Tom Szaky practice a presentation-perfecting their pacing and delivery and making sure they know their stuff-before going into a sales call. [8]

First Impressions
“You only get one chance to make a first impression.” This is a saying you’ve probably heard many times before. First impressions are quickly formed, difficult to change, and can have a lasting effect. [10]

Think of a first date, your first day of high school or college, or any job interview you have gone into. You were probably nervous because you knew the importance of making a good first impression. Similarly, the sales approach is the most intimidating point of the process for many salespeople because they know the decision to buy or not can often start with this initial contact.

The approach is your first phone call to your prospect, the moment on the sales floor where you walk over to a new customer and say, “That’s our newest model, and it has one terabyte of capacity. Do you record a lot of videos or music?” or your first visit to a target business when you ask to set up a meeting with your prospect.

You’ve done your research, your planning, and your preparation, but the approach is where the rubber meets the road.


It is important to know exactly what you want to accomplish when you go into a sales meeting.

The goals for your sales call should be specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound: SMART.

Setting SMART goals will help you direct your approach, take action, and measure the results of your sales call.

As you plan your sales presentation, keep four things in mind:

Prioritize and organize your agenda.

Personalize the presentation to match your customer’s needs and preferences.

Prepare visual aids and product demonstrations to illustrate your point and engage your audience.

Practice your delivery.


Assume you are a financial advisor and you are meeting with a prospect for the first time. Identify a SMART objective that you would set prior to your first meeting.

If you were the salesperson for Red Bull and you were calling on a major grocery store chain, identify three potential illustrations that you could use during your presentation.

[1] Skills Connection, “How to Get Better Results from your Sales Meetings,” video, March 3, 2008, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1P6bU1efZbI (accessed July 15, 2009).

[2] Virtual Strategist, “How to Set SMART Goals,” video, M3 Planning, October 17, 2008,http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uThBb3kGf4k (accessed July 15, 2009).

[3] Roy Chitwood, “Every Sales Call Must Have a Clear Objective,” Puget Sound Business Journal, September 26,1997,http://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/stories/1997/09/29/smallb3.html?page=2 (accessed July 15, 2009).

[4] Stephanie Clifford, “Practice, Practice” Inc., February 2007,http://www.inc.com/magazine/20070201/features-sales-performance-szaky.html(accessed July 15, 2009).

[5] Stephanie Clifford, “Practice, Practice” Inc., February 2007,http://www.inc.com/magazine/20070201/features-sales-performance-szaky.html(accessed July 15, 2009).

[6] “Approach Every Presentation as If It Were Your First,” Selling Power Presentations eNewsletter, February 20, 2006,http://www.sellingpower.com/content/newsletter/issue.php?pc=569 (accessed March 16, 2010).

[7] Stephanie Clifford, “Practice, Practice” Inc., February 2007,http://www.inc.com/magazine/20070201/features-sales-performance-szaky.html(accessed July 15, 2009).

[8] Lahle Wolfe, “How Do You Practice Your Sales Presentation?” online discussion board, About.com, June 11, 2008, http://sales.about.com/b/2008/06/11/how-do-you-practice-your-sales-presentation.htm#gB3 (accessed July 15, 2009).

[9] Stephanie Clifford, “Practice, Practice” Inc., February 2007,http://www.inc.com/magazine/20070201/features-sales-performance-szaky.html(accessed July 15, 2009).

[10] BNET Health Care Industry, “Social Perception,” BNET, March 2001,http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_g2699/is_0003/ai_2699000324/?tag=content;col1(accessed May 16, 2010).