I’ve written often about the importance and benefit of planning, whether it is for a sales call or a presentation. The discipline of planning allows you to refine what you want to say so that you can be more efficient and effective. Most salespeople get this, but even so, getting them to plan can be very difficult. Being fully aware of that, I’m going to crawl even further out on to that limb and propose yet another step. In this article, I’d like to focus on the step between the plan and its execution, the one that is probably most neglected by sales professionals, either because of a surplus of self-confidence or a deficit of time.
I can hear you thinking already: “Why should I rehearse? I’m an experienced professional, and I’ve done this many times before. I don’t want to sound scripted.”
The rehearsal step is most often skipped for three reasons. The reason most often given is the least valid: you don’t have time. That answer is totally unacceptable and unworthy of a true professional. Your time in front of high-level decision makers is the most highly leveraged use of your time that you can have. If you don’t have time to make sure you’re at your best, how do you find time for all the other things you do in your work life? Besides, if you don’t care enough to rehearse, why should they care enough to listen?
The second reason is complacency. Maybe it’s an established customer that has been with you for a while, or you think your offer is so good that it can’t fail. Trust me, it can. No matter how strongly positioned you think you are, a little healthy paranoia never hurt any sales professional.
The third reason is that you think you’re better on your feet. You haven’t gotten to where you are by being slow on the uptake; you know you can do well in unscripted situations. You may actually be right: you can do well in unscripted situations. But you can always do better when you have planned and rehearsed.
There’s also a technical factor at work: there is simply a difference between writing and speaking. If you’ve actually planned your presentation or your sales call, good for you, but don’t stop there. Things always sound different than they look on paper. . Until you’ve actually said something out loud, you just don’t know for sure how it’s going to sound, and how it’s going to come across to your listeners.
I learned this the hard way one time when I prepared a value proposition for a VP of Sales. It looked great on paper, full of some of the latest multi-syllable buzzwords, including methodology, productivity, etc. When I got the guy on the phone and delivered my masterpiece, there was a brief pause on the other end, and finally he said, “I didn’t understand a word you just said.”
I laughed, and replied, “I can improve your sales by 20%.”
He said, “THAT I can understand,” and he ended up granting me an appointment.
When you write, you tend to use bigger words, and longer sentences. This looks good on paper, but sounds a little off when you speak. That’s why rehearsing what you’re going to say can make you sound more natural. Actors rehearse for weeks so they can come across as if they’re not acting.
Rehearsing has two additional benefits. If you’re prone to jitters, it can help calm your nerves, because you’ve done it before. Also, if you do it soon enough, it prepares your mind for new ideas. How many times have you thought of the best thing to say after it was too late? By rehearsing with enough lead time, it’s amazing how many times better ways to say it will pop into your mind.
Aircraft builders put far more care and precision in designing a new plane than anyone does planning a customer call or presentation, but they don’t skip the test flights before putting real passengers on it. If you don’t want to crash and burn, test-fly your presentation a few times—when all it costs is time.