Be Prepared

Lessons learned while trying to photograph a bald eagle

I schlepped through the brush, climbed over a couple of downed trees, all the while watching out for rattlesnakes and other unfriendly critters. My goal was to get within camera range of a bald eagle perched high up on a tree.

Finally, I got in position for a great shot. I’d already taken a few photos but wanted to get closer. The eagle was looking right at me … less than 100 feet away. I carefully composed the picture and pressed the button. 

And … nothing!

My freaking battery was dead. The eagle just sat there, looking down at me as if to say, “Now what dummy? What are you doing down there in the swamp? Go away and let me go back to my hunting.”

OK. No big deal. I’ve been watching this pair of eagles for months and this is the closest I’ve ever got. I suspect the other one is sitting on the nest waiting for the eaglets to hatch. There will be other opportunities … I hope.

Lesson learned: Be Prepared!

Be Prepared is the motto of the Boy Scouts. When Scouting founder, Robert Baden-Powell was asked, “Be prepared for what?” he replied “Why, for any old thing.” He wrote that to be prepared means

“you are always in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your duty.”

Let’s take sales calls. Have you ever been on a sales call where you weren’t prepared? I have, but only once. Not only was I embarrassed, but I also lost any credibility I might have had with the customer. In addition, I lost a great opportunity to do business. That was a very expensive lesson.

Look, one of the hardest parts of selling is getting in front of the right people. Everybody is busy. Our customers today are swamped with calls and requests for meetings. They don’t have time for BS.

Imagine securing an appointment with your dream customer … one whose business could make your entire year. Now imagine walking in and not being prepared. Ouch!

I will happily take the muddy boots, the aches and pains in muscles I’d forgotten I had, the embarrassment of not checking my battery, even the missed bald eagle photo opportunity. To me, anything is better than screwing up a sales call.

I don’t mean not getting an order or a contract. Regardless of how good you are, it’s going to happen from time to time. That outcome is often outside our control.

What I mean is screwing up the sales call by being unprepared … by being lazy or careless, or arrogant. That’s inexcusable and when we do that, we don’t deserve the business.

What do I mean by being prepared? It all depends on the stage of the sales cycle. Let’s assume you’re selling industrial supplies to businesses and it’s your first call on the decision maker. This is what I would do:

  • Do your homework. At a minimum determine this is a real prospect. Make sure they fit the profile of your ideal customer. For instance, if you sell products and services to HVAC dealers, make sure that’s what they do. You’re probably not going to get very far with plumbing contractors.
  • Know something about the company. Obviously, the more knowledge you have, the better you’ll do. You don’t have to spend hours researching them, but you can’t be completely ignorant either.
  • Master a consultative selling process that includes an upfront agreement and a discovery step.
  • Know how to ask questions in a non-threatening way.
  • Be a great listener. Get permission and take notes.
  • Keep an open mind. Not everyone you call on is a prospect.
  • Learn how to ask, “What happens next?”

Notice I didn’t mention hauling a bunch of brochures or having a Power Point presentation on your tablet. Being prepared means knowing your stuff and being able to focus on the needs of the customer.

I’m Oliver Connolly and I help sales managers and owners of small to mid-size companies create a sales force that sells.

Contact me at to set up a quick meeting about how we might work together.

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Oliver Connolly