Over the summer, a major commercial airline made global headlines because of an error by the pilots in landing at the wrong airport. Not only did these pilots deliver a plane full of paying passengers to a different airport, they “accidentally” landed at a military base.
This significant error could have easily been avoided had the pilots prepared properly for the flight and trusted their instruments. Instead, they decided to ignore the instruments and documents given to them before departure, which explicitly said to avoid the military base near the airport.
Like pilots getting instrument rated to be fully prepared for any situation, there benefits in our industry that can be derived from training and preparation.
I have a good friend who is a commercial pilot. When he was a private pilot instructor, he would always encourage every student to invest the time and money to immediately get their “instrument rating.” As he explained, in the U.S. you can get your private pilot’s license in about a three-month timeframe. This will basically allow you to get up in the air and fly around as you please, providing you comply with airspace restrictions, etc. And although you can fly in poor weather conditions, you should not do so without further training and preparing, i.e. an instrument rating.
While most of our jobs may not be life-threatening or dangerous, this does not discount the importance and benefits derived from training and preparation. When I had my integration company, prior to any new client meetings I would personally scrub the entire showroom from top to bottom and side to side, including the toilets! I did not want to take any chances at blowing the first impression I would give my new potential client.
I would also envision some of the other competitors they may be meeting and how that encounter might go. What if they are interested in the latest technology? What if they have challenging personalities? What if they want a demo? When is the last time my demo equipment was turned on? I knew that failing to prepare for my meeting was like flying into a dark storm with no tools to successfully navigate my way out.
I would prepare as much as possible for every meeting by thinking about the following:
1) With whom am I meeting, and how can I find out more about the person or family? In many cases the introduction would come from a friend, former client, builder, architect, designer, etc. I would ask the referral point person if he or she could tell me anything about the prospective clients that I should know. What are they like? How long have they lived in the area? How many kids, pets, etc.? Do you know what kind of music they listen to? Are there any conversational topics to avoid?
2) What will they want to discuss? I would do my best to read up on industry news on a weekly basis, usually over morning coffee, and of course attend trade shows to stay up to date on the latest technology. I considered continuing education an essential exercise in my profession.
3) How can I best demonstrate the technology available? I would always turn on the system, make sure all remote control batteries were charged and made fresh popcorn prior to the meeting. I ensured all testing, tuning, and preparations had been performed, including cueing up movies scenes for demos, prior to the meeting.
4) Why should they choose me? I would try to make sure they left our meeting with the best possible first impression. I would always try to make suggestions that my competitors may not think of, while also listening far more than talking. Most importantly I would follow up with the potential client and the person who made the referral to thank each of them respectively for their time and the referral. People love to hear how the meeting went after they refer someone to you.
So, what will you do to prepare for your next encounter with a new client? How will you separate yourself the competition? Are you ready to divert a storm?
As Thomas Edison famously said: “success is 90 percent preparation and 10 percent perspiration.”
Pete Baker (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president of The BIG Corp, a sales and marketing representative and consulting firm.