Ad-libs: Did the dog eat your homework?

Ad-libs: Did the dog eat your homework?

By John Foust
Raleigh, NC

It’s no secret that the more sales people know about their prospects – before they begin a sales presentation – the better their chances for successful outcomes. In advertising, this means learning prospects’ business and marketing histories, identifying major competitors and analyzing what they want to accomplish in their advertising.

Since pre-presentation homework is such a crucial step in the sales process, why don’t more sales people make it a top priority? There are several possible reasons:

1. Impatience. High-energy sales people thrive on the adrenaline of the pitch and are eager to get to the main event. After all, isn’t that where their powers of persuasion come into play? And isn’t that where decisions are made?

Impatience has a big downside. It sends a signal that sales people are (1) unprepared and (2) concerned only about themselves. That’s a negative first impression that is difficult to overcome in a presentation.

2. Overconfidence. This is particularly common with experienced account executives; they feel like they can wing it, instead of spending time gathering information. They have dealt with so many widget dealers that they think they can skip the discovery step.

3. Lack of knowledge and skills. Sales people may skip this step because they don’t know the techniques to gather information. They may not have learned how to ask open-ended questions to encourage prospects to talk. They may be poor listeners. They may not know where to find information (online research, networking, etc.).

4. Research paralysis. Some people are more comfortable with technology than they are with people. Rather than avoid gathering information, they overdo it. You’ll find them at their desks, basking in the glow of their computer monitors, poring over online and database research, surrounded by charts and graphs.

Their mantra is not “Ready, aim, fire.” It’s “Ready, aim, aim.” This approach creates the risk of losing relevant, usable information in a mountain of details.

5. Poor time management. You may be familiar with the time management grid which illustrates four categories: (1) Urgent and Important, (2) Urgent but not Important, (3) Important but not Urgent and (4) not Urgent and not Important. It’s human nature to concentrate on the tasks which are in the urgent category, regardless of their importance. Something shouts “do this now,” and we do it – often without asking ourselves if it can wait.

Good time managers discipline themselves to focus on tasks which are important but not urgent. Preparation time can easily be put on the back burner, but they don’t let that happen.

6. Lack of desire. Every job has its most favorite and least favorite parts. Strong sales people persevere through the parts they don’t like, because they see how those duties fit into the big picture. Weak sales people simply avoid the things they don’t like.

7. Lack of perspective. Too many sales people – veterans as well as rookies – simply don’t realize the importance of research. The message here for them is: knowledge is power. That goes for knowledge of the sales process, as well as knowledge of their prospective advertisers.


John Foust has conducted training programs for thousands of newspaper advertising professionals. Many ad departments are using his training videos to save time and get quick results from in-house training. E-mail for information:

(c) Copyright 2014 by John Foust. All rights reserved.