Put bluntly, preparation is the first and most important element in winning more business. Without preparation, one can almost predict that you will fail.
Let’s look at one quick example: a highly successful managing director at an investment bank attributes his success to his detailed preparation. He tells his team members that they literally should know “what they (the client) had for breakfast.” Being prepared means doing your homework and learning all you can about your potential client. Being prepared means being thoroughly grounded in your ideas and your formal or draft proposal. Being prepared means knowing more than just what is on each page of a document. Preparing means learning enough to know what you are talking about.
Preparing means finding out:
- What does your client need?
- How and by whom will the decision be made at the client company?
- What types of presentations do the client company decision makers prefer? What are their preferences for sales presentations: proposals, slides, technical details, focus on the big picture?
- Who will be at the meeting, and what can you find out about them? Even if they are not decision makers, they will be asked for their opinion. If any people show up at the meeting that you did not know where coming, get their names and find out about them as soon as the meeting is over.
- What is your idea, product, or your service? What is your competition?
- What do you want to achieve? What measurable objective will you have reached to let you know you have reached your goals? To the degree possible, quantify the objective.
- How will you reach your goals? What is your overall strategy? What are your tactics for carrying out your strategy?
- What are your fallback positions for each potential issue?
- Whom do you want to bring with you from your company? Who else will work on the project preparation and follow-up? Who has to sign off on any contracts?
- What are the logistics? Where and when will the meeting take place? When does the formal proposal get submitted to the client?
- How much time do you have to prepare? How long will you have to present your proposal to the client?
- What written material do you need for the presentation? Did you need to send a proposal to the client before the meeting? Even if you only need to send one in after the meeting, it will be useful to have a draft ready beforehand. This gives you a document to edit with the results of the meeting and send back to the client relatively quickly. Writing the proposal also gives you a disciplined way of organizing your thoughts on the project.
Being prepared means you know your client and what your client needs. You know what your company can offer and can place it in context of what the client needs and of the general market for what you and the client do.
You know your main idea or project and your measurable objectives to represent the ideas or products. You have determined your strategy for meeting the objectives and the tactics for carrying out the strategy. You have found what your competitors are doing and how you might deal with whatever they are doing. But you also know to avoid the temptation to pay too much attention to your competitors at the possible risk of not paying enough attention to your own work. The client wants a good reason to hire you, not a reason not to hire the other guy.
Your team is set, and you know whose approval, or support, you will need within your company.
You are prepared to be flexible. You have fallback positions ready for the major issues. You know that nothing ever goes exactly as planned.
Being prepared means being willing to spend the time to become prepared, far more than the hour or two the presentation lasts. Think of a Major League Baseball relief pitcher. How many hours does it take a relief pitcher, even one as good as the recently retired Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees, to get ready for the fifteen minutes he pitches in a game?
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