Prepare or perish Featured

9:01pm EDT August 31, 2011
Prepare or perish

It is a given in the academic world that for a professor to succeed, he or she must publish or perish. In the business world, the admonishment must be prepare or perish. This should be a given, but we all periodically need a mandatory refresher. Consider this it.

We’ve all been there, seen it and, as much as we hate to admit it, done it. The “done it” in this case is when we’ve tried to wing it with little or no preparation and found ourselves in that proverbial prone position, face down with our noses buried in the carpet realizing that the jig is up.

As a leader, you must require your team to take the time and effort to prepare for anything of value — be it a sales call or a major presentation. This doesn’t mean dredging up worthless minutia about what is to be discussed. Instead, preparing means getting the basics down cold, so that whatever is pitched can be done so effectively and convincingly because the presenter had sufficient background on the prospect. There is nothing more annoying than a presenter turning glassy-eyed, with perspiration running down his or her forehead, while he or she grapples to answer a simple question, such as, “Tell me what you think your company can do for mine and what you think of our products.” Without preparation, there are usually three utterances from the presenter in rapid succession: “Uh, uh,” and a final “duh.” The translation is that the presenter didn’t do enough homework and now looks like a fool and, worse yet, made your company look just as bad.

Here is a tale of two cities that I recently experienced. Tale No. 1: A very close business acquaintance and good friend called and asked if his long-lost college roommate could have a 15-minute conversation about how his business might help me. I told my friend, it’s all a matter of who does the asking, and of course, I would speak to his former roommate. At the appointed hour, the call came in, and right off of the bat, once we got past two sentences on the weather, it was obvious the caller had no clue about what my company does. But, because the caller was a friend of my friend, I politely — well, maybe not so politely — told him if he expected to take the conversation past the climate, he would have to do some homework, all the while I was thinking, “This guy is a big time-waster.”

The homework could have been accomplished in no more than 10 minutes by simply going to Google and typing in the name of my company and seeing a complete description of the business. This wannabe super salesman would have then had enough information to get at least to first base with me. Instead he struck out and embarrassed his friend to boot.

Tale No. 2: I received a telephone call from another friend who asked if I would spend a few minutes talking to a recent graduate about job opportunities with my organization. Normally, this is something I avoid like the plague. However, I realize friends are hard to come by, so I consented to the call. A few days later, a young lady reached me and immediately proceeded to tell me about the attributes of my company, how she saw us positioned and what she thought she could do for us. Best yet, she even skipped the two-sentence preliminaries on the weather and current barometric pressure, which saved us both time.

How did this 20-something person not only get my attention but also motivate me to pave the way for her with our HR director? She was well prepared and ready to talk business, unlike the other friend’s bozo college roommate who, though 25-plus years older than the newbie, had no clue of what to say once we got past the temperature.

The tools to prepare are at everyone’s disposal today and are simply phenomenal. With a few clicks of the computer mouse, one can become informed on almost any subject matter in a matter of minutes. God gave us Google and its competitors, and it’s your job to be sure your team uses these types of tools. Make it mandatory that your people be prepared, and make it known that if they aren’t, their career with you may also perish.

MICHAEL FEUER co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at mfeuer@max-wellness.com.

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