Whilst just a callow youth, I would tend to gravitate towards sales jobs because in my mind they were an easy option. My performance was chaotic, but instinctive, so I would tend to produce enough figures to stay in work. Pause here for some festery old motivational sayings:
“He didn’t plan to fail, he failed to plan!”
“Don’t plan to work, work to plan!”
Neither of the above meant a thing to me until I encountered a grizzled old sales manager who realized I was getting along by flying courtesy of the seat of my pants. He gave me a scrap of paper and said, “Every time you leave a call, answer these questions or you’re fired!” I had the plan now and would have to work it. As I am a scatological mess, this little bit of paper changed everything for me and it may help you. It had on it a few simple questions:
1. Did I achieve my chosen goal for this visit? I know that the threat was that I would be fired if I didn’t answer the questions when I left the call but if I hadn’t got a goal when I went in I could hardly answer in the affirmative when I went out. If you are going to visit someone on a mission of persuasion, then have a very clear idea exactly what it is that you want to achieve. It doesn’t even matter if you don’t achieve what you set out to – as long as you have set down what your objective is you can at least judge where you are in relation to it.
In quantum mechanics there is a puzzle called Schrödinger’s Cat which rambles on a bit about isotopes and half life, but the fun bit is that you lock a cat in a box with a potentially lethal bit of nuclear doings. Now, without opening the box, tell me, is the cat dead or alive? See – you can’t be sure, so the dotty professors, to fiddle their results and convince us that the planet grew from a cosmic stone or something, say that the cat is in a state which is both alive and dead – or neither alive or dead. This is, of course, cobblers, but while we give a little chuckle we must face the fact that this is how we tend to live our lives. That lottery ticket in your pocket is the winner until you see the results. That scratch card has as good a chance as any until we scratch it. Don’t look under rocks, don’t look under your teenager’s bed, don’t look at the timbers in the loft, and all will be well with the world. That’s why ‘v. int’ is so comforting, because as long as we can keep that going we don’t have to hear a big fat ‘No’. It’s time for a change. Before you go in, choose and decide a clear goal and then ask clear questions about the progress you are making.
2. What am I learning about this person, this company, this situation? This is the next item on this checklist. Even if you have been saddled with the office boy don’t write the visit off. Just ask those valuable questions, for example, “So who is in charge of this project?” “I notice an office is being redecorated. Is someone getting a promotion?” “What is your company planning to do in that new extension?” Those little nuggets can often be pure gold. A few days later, Derek Pile receives a letter from you congratulating him on becoming a partner and offering him a celebratory lunch. Something else that requires mentioning here – which is, whoever you meet, treat them with respect and deference. That dozy kid may well be the managing partner’s son, the funny old chap on the bicycle you shout abuse at on the way in, is the managing partner. Always bear that in mind – everyone you meet is important.
3. Ask the person you are with what they know about their world in general. “I see the office block next door has been finally let. Who is moving in there?” “Who else in your field is involved in this process?” In a professional environment I tend to write everything down. This may, or may not, seem obvious but it is actually very rare. We somehow believe that reading and writing makes us look incompetent or inattentive when actually the reverse is true. I have a bit of an issue with people who smoke pipes. When you address them they start this tapping, scratching, lighting, and puffing thing which seems to orchestrate the conversation to their choice of timing. That has the result of enraging me because I feel it is a sort of bullying, but in a much more gentle and subtle way writing things down can give that same control without the irritation. “They are doing what? Wow! Let me just make a note of that. Can you spell that for me please?” That note-taking alters the pace, shows genuine interest, and will be so useful later.
4. If you got every outcome you planned for and if you repeated that meeting, what would you do to improve your performance, is the final question you need to ask yourself. There is always something and this means that you just get better and better at persuading.
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