One of the many things I learned from years of flying my plane is the concept of “staying ahead of the plane.”

Picture this: It’s 11:00 at night, raining heavily, ceilings at 200 feet, wind gusting to 25 knots. You’re flying a single-engine Cessna into Martha’s Vineyard airport. You can’t see anything outside the airplane.  You have an instrument approach plate attached to your steering yoke (click on graphic for full-size view). That graphical representation of a procedure tells you precisely what you need to know to get the plane (gracefully) on the ground. You have your instruments to make certain you are in compliance with what the FAA has determined to be the safest route to the runway.

For a single pilot, there is a lot to do. An awful lot to do. Assuming you have the skills, the experience, the focus, and a plan so you know every step along the way, you are “ahead of the plane.” You can anticipate what might go wrong—however minor—and then be prepared if it happens.

As I’ve said before there are many parallels between flying a plane and pursuing a sales opportunity.

The point I’m about to make is not intended to be a sales methodology or process or the basis of one.  I’d just like to share with you some questions that, when answered, will enable you to be strategically “ahead of the sale.” I hope you can see that a formal, documented sales process will account for capturing these and other critical data.

These are the kinds of questions that should be asked again and again during the course of managing a previously qualified opportunity.

  • What are the 3 next steps to advance my position in the account? How am I going to execute them?
  • What are 3 ways each of my competitors will attempt to advance their position, and what am I going to do about those?
  • With which 3 people in the account must I build relationships with so that they will influence a decision in my favor. What’s my plan once I identify those people?
  • Based on my understanding of the customer’s business what 3 areas will I based my education of them with regard to a new or better way to achieve their goals and objectives?
  • What are 3 key financial benefits the customer will receive as a result of my product or service? Who in their company cares? Whose compensation is based on achieving that financial improvement?
  • What are my customer’s 3 most important buying criteria, where do I stand versus my competition, and what am I going to do as a result of having this information?
  • What are the next 3 questions I need answers to in order to take or maintain the lead?
  • What 3 things will the customer request from me next and what will my response be?
  • What 3 things are going on in the customer’s world that might affect the selling opportunity, and what am I going to do about it?
  • What 3 things about my company would hurt my chances if the customer learned about them from my competitor, and what am I going to do to mitigate that risk?
  • What 3 things about my customer’s corporate culture must I be aware of?
  • What are the 3 objections each of my contacts will likely raise (or be thinking) and what am I going to do about them?
  • What are 3 things that could cause me to lose the sale today, and what am I going to do to prevent any of them from having that effect?

And the list goes on.

Do you see my point here? This is stuff you need to know to effectively compete, if not win a medium to large size opportunity. Staying ahead of the sale means that have a plan, you’ve answered these questions, and are therefore well on your way to winning that sale.