The will to win must be great, but the will to prepare to win must be greater.

Pat Summitt

I never met Pat Summitt, but I feel in many ways she impacted my life, my career, and my leadership aspirations.  So many of the opportunities I enjoy today are because of courageous trailblazers like Pat. I loved her style, her fearlessness, and the way she won.  But more than that, I admired her absolute willingness to prepare to win.  No shortcuts.  She knew that what made winners was preparation.

The “win” is so often the end goal, right?  Winning is the high-fiving glory after all of the hard work to get there. This is especially true in the sales profession.

When we see a high-performing sales professional or leader who’s successful, it’s so easy to chalk it up to being an overnight success, getting a lucky break, or having the best territory.  To be fair, sometimes that is the case.  But more often than not, we’re seeing the end results of what are likely hours, weeks, months, and sometimes years of preparation.  What we don’t see?  Their will to prepare to win:  the execution of daily habits and impactful sales activities, when they know that no one is watching.

Why Does Preparation Matter?

Our customers are leveraging the power of preparation and research in their initiatives more than ever.  In a CXO Talk, sales strategist and previous Distinguished Gartner Analyst Tiffani Bova shared that internal research is happening more frequently in our customer sets. That’s followed by even more collaboration across business units, before (not alongside of) talking with a partner or a vendor.  In fact, the customer is taking themselves a good way through the buying journey before engaging with you as a seller. Furthermore, you’re probably low on their priority list as a valued disruptor and thought leader (read: transactional seller).  Yikes.

Unless, that is, you become an indispensable part of their process.

Preparation differentiates you.  It differentiates you when it becomes part of how you sell, because you’re willing to do something that many of your peers and competitors aren’t willing to do.  It elevates you as a thought leader, making you more valuable to your customers and prospective customers.  It accelerates your sales cycle, because you can qualify the best opportunities from those that will languish.

Winning and preparation can’t be separated.  Long-term, valuable wins in today’s sales environment don’t happen without preparation.  Preparation will make you a winner, regardless of what’s happening around you, in your organization, or in your customer set.

What are some of the best ways to become more prepared?

Below is a quick list of some of the practices and habits I’ve found helpful in becoming more prepared, and winning more high-value opportunities:

  • From a mindset perspective, preparation is part of my process; it’s part of the sales cycle.
  • For every client interaction, I set my intention and goals for the conversation, meeting, email, etc.  I conduct research before every interaction, even if it’s just 15 minutes, so that I’m not walking into a meeting cold.  I take lots of notes in every meeting.  In fact 79% of executives think you aren’t paying attention in meetings if you aren’t taking notes.
  • Going wide and deep within an organization in my research conversations.  When I make the effort to learn as many aspects of an organization as I can, I’m becoming a strategic resource, and I’m better prepared for opportunities.
  • Continual learning through reading, podcasts, conversations, and my network.  The more I connect myself with these resources (and going beyond just sales and business topics), the more prepared I am to connect with my prospects and clients. The more I can also give back to and serve my network.
  • Asking great questions.  I come into every meeting with at least 3 open ended questions.  Part of asking great questions is also active listening, picking up on cues, and redirecting to another question to dig deeper.  At the end of each meeting, I ask if there is anyone else I can connect with to continue learning about the organization.
  • Attending events or getting experiences out of my usual space.  I try to pick at least one event or experience a year that is outside of my usual space of sales, leadership, learning, or entrepreneurship.  This might be a personal retreat or an interesting conference.  It could be as simple as visiting a new place in my city, or reading a book in a different genre.
  • Conducting regular forums provides valuable research and relationship building opportunities.  I’ve done this quarterly for a number of years, and it’s a difference maker.  Forums bring people together in a way that allows them to learn from one another and has positioned me as a trusted strategic resource.

Leverage these preparation techniques to become indispensable to your customers, so that they’re thinking of you first (and early) as part of their buying process.

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