Be Willing to Begin Badly [And Here’s Why]

willing to begin badlyMany people are unwilling to begin badly.

"Oh, I could never make calls" they say, "until I get my script down perfectly."

They have to know exactly what to say before they pick up the phone. Unfortunately, this means they never pick it up.

Let me ask you this:

How many times in your life has a conversation turned out precisely the way you had it planned out in your head?

Let's think further on this:

Did you spring into the world fully armed, like Athena? Did you already know how to play a sport? Did you know a martial art? Could you read and write? Drive?

No of course you did not.

And this isn't The Matrix, where you can get an instant upgrade and now "Wooooahhh" know Kung Fu.

Every single thing you have learned to do, from picking up a fork to eat with to writing a business plan, you have begun badly at.

And there's nothing wrong with beginning badly.

In fact, it's PART OF THE PROCESS.

Let's take it to sales, and specifically prospecting calls.

How Being Willing to Begin Badly Can Be Your Prospecting Advantage

In the mid 2000s I was given a metal fabrication shop to run. A turnaround situation. The new owner had changed the name and phone number, so it was essentially starting over. I hadn't heard of "pain points" or "30-second commercials" yet. But we needed business. So I made a list of contractors, builders and architects.

I had no idea what I would say to them. My opening script wasn't very good. But I asked the right questions, and got decision makers on the line.

After a couple hours of calling, I realized the last prospect had said something an earlier decision maker had said--in almost precisely the same words. Both had described a problem I could fix. Using their own industry jargon. Hmmm, I thought. What if other decision makers in this niche are experiencing the same problem?

So on my next call, I changed my approach a bit. Instead of beginning with my original not-so-good opening, I switched to saying that I helped fix the very problem these two previous prospects had described. I used their language. And the result was astonishing.

"That's exactly the problem we're having," he answered. "Tell me more."

The prospect opened up! They began sharing with me the truth of what was going on in their world! We were over that trust hurdle.

I listened as prospects told me over the next week of calls exactly why they hired companies like my fab shop. The same few reasons kept coming up, again and again. At the end of a week, I was able to pare down a list of five or six into two devastatingly effective reasons why they should hire us.

I say devastatingly effective because after I got those together, every single builder, contractor and architect I was able to speak with sent us work. Oh, it might have been a $100 project for custom plasma-cut keychains for the mens and ladies architect office washrooms. But it could also have been an $8000 staircase railing for a high-end new home. Now that was a great 30-second commercial.

Our problems quickly changed. No longer sales-related, they became operational. How would we get all this work done on time (and that was one of the pain points)?

Good thing I have that operations management skillset.

Back to the point. If I had not been willing to begin badly, work with the script I had, I would not have had those conversations that uncovered the effective pain points.

Every time I enter a new marketplace, I have to do it over again. Yes, my guesses are a good deal better today than they were, and of course I know the format of an opening to start a conversation. But it still takes a week or so of consistent cold calling to uncover these industry-specific pain points. You have to talk to the decision makers. You must hear what they say and write it down.

Yesterday, I started a new-to-me niche. Control equipment. Now I worked in the control equipment field for several years, so my guesses are going to be pretty good. But I made some calls and discovered that what I thought was important is not exactly what my prospects in that industry believe is important when it comes to sales training. As managers and leaders, they have a strategic approach to managing their sales staff--and they don't experience the tactical issues I commonly find sales executives believe so necessary to fix. I have already altered my opening to match.

But if I had not been willing to begin badly, I would not have gotten this key to opening the door and having real conversations with prospects. And real conversations are what lead to sales.

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Starting a Sales Conversation Is Like Baking Bread

Starting a sales conversation can be tough. You'll hear people say, "Selling is part art, part science." My experience has made me believe it's far more science.

And the very beginning of selling, starting a conversation, is like the science of chemistry. In fact, it's a lot like baking a loaf of bread.

My background happens to be in operations management. The same discipline Peter Drucker hails from. Continuous improvement, process reengineering, flowcharting, systems analysis and more. My program had a 40% failure rate. It was hell. Really. Double the recommended maximum university courseload. Total commitment. No partying, no time off. All about cutting processes up into little steps, and determining which steps should stay and which should go. And the instructors beat into our thick skulls this maxim:

"To manage we must measure."

To manage we must measure. To understand and be able to control our results, we must have a consistent process.

Take this idea to making a loaf of bread.

This is chemistry. You mix certain ingredients in certain known proportions, and in a certain order. If you don't follow the recipe, your bread doesn't turn out. Fail.

Makes sense, right?

So why, then, when it comes to starting sales conversations do people see a process...and then "get smart"? Decide they can cut out steps in the process where it suits them? Or start flying by the seat of their pants? And believe they'll still get the same result?

To manage we must measure.

If you are taught a consistent sales process for starting conversations, and it works, don't "get smart" about it. Other trainers in other fields tell me about similar experiences: their students learn a method, and then decide they don't need to do steps 1 through 5. They can cut 2 and 4; after all, they don't look necessary for their unique situation.

And then they scream when their bread doesn't rise!

Start messing with the process, especially in a disorganized manner, and you'll get crazy results.

A programmer I worked with some years ago reminded me of this vital point when I was changing some website coding:

"Stop. Change one thing at a time. See what happens."

Yes, I had been running along, trying to get things done quickly by making several alterations at once. And if an unexpected result had appeared, what then? How would I know which change had made that outcome?

The voice of my OpMan program head from a decade and a half before instantly intoned in my still-thick skull, "To manage we must measure." Oh yeah. Whoops.

When you learn a consistent process for starting sales conversations, follow it. Don't change it. There's more going on than you think. Some of it is invisible.

Remember, the two biggest problems I have encountered so-called professional salespeople at companies having are:

1) Inability to get the decision maker available to speak, whether in person or on the phone, and

2) Inability to start a conversation so that there IS a 'rest of the discussion'.

An effective process for beginning sales conversations will accomplish both these things, and more. It will get you over the initial trust hurdle.

The beauty of baking is that you don't even have to understand why the bread rises. You just have to follow the recipe.

A clear parallel to sales training: you don't have to understand why the consistent process to start conversations works. You just have to follow it.

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