Compensate for Lack of Experience with Preparation E. Michael Shays Perhaps the greatest reason sales are lost is lack of preparation. Years of experience may give you all the preparation you need, but if the client represents a new industry or new opportunity for you, learn as much about the company as possible before the first meeting. It would be arrogant not to. If you can’t learn about the company, at least learn about the industry. A consultant once was asked to visit the subsidiary of the old American Telephone & Telegraph company that main¬tained the undersea telephone cables owned jointly by AT&T, Canadian Bell, and several European telecom companies. Because he knew nothing about the subsidiary, he searched the business press in vain for information. A call to his wife sent her to their local com¬munity public library, where she unearthed a junior high school–level book about undersea cables. It was a quick read with large type and lots of pictures. But it gave the consultant a conversa¬tional knowledge of cables, how they were laid, and most important, how they might be repaired. This enabled him to listen to the client with understanding, ask relevant questions, and propose a course of action. At one point, the client observed that the consultant must have worked in this industry before, but the consultant admit¬ted he had just read a short book from the library the previous night. That suited the client fine. It indicated the level of commitment the con¬sultant would give the client if he were retained. The consultant left with an agreement to put together a team to deal with the client’s problem. It isn’t always that simple, of course. Sometimes you need to know a great deal about the company before expos¬ing your lack of experi¬ence to the president or other top manager. One professional charged with the task of developing assignments at a billion-dollar corporation going through a major transition knew that his knowledge of the company was clearly inade¬quate. Instead of visiting the chief executive offi¬cer immediately, he conducted a series of low-risk interviews up the chain of command to learn about the company and its chief concerns. After each progressive interview the professional became more prepared for the next. By the time he visited the CEO, he was able to respond intelligently and helpfully to the company’s needs. Even before that visit, by the eleventh interview word had gotten around that the consultant knew something about the company’s problems and he became the interviewee in a corporate training video dealing with managing transitions. His preparation resulted in more than 30 separate assignments over the next five years. * * * E. MICHAEL SHAYS CMC (firstname.lastname@example.org) is President of EMS Network, International, an association of senior consultants helping clients faced with conflict, transition, stagnation, and management dilemmas.