If you accept my premise that "life is sales," one of your fundamental mantras should be "know thy customer" – which is far easier said than done.
Gaining an understanding of your customer requires skills: how to source relevant data (relevant being the operative word), the ability to analyze the data and most importantly, the ability to draw reasonable conclusions about your customer from the data. Beyond the data, it is critical that you also know how to talk to strangers (but more about that tomorrow).
So what does this have to do with reading instructions? Taking a sales approach with the constituents that you hope to get something from, such as federal agencies, venture capital firms, or customers for your product, requires that you read the instructions.
Most people skip instructions. It has been my experience that although some do it out of laziness, most skip the instructions because they believe that they are different and that the instructions don’t apply.
Case in point: If you want to apply for federal funding to support your research and development you have to write a proposal in response to a solicitation (the instructions). It specifies exactly what the agency wants. Yet, it never ceases to amaze me when my clients choose to ignore the instructions and do things their way… and that they’re surprised when they receive critical reviews and are not funded.
Another example of wasting everyone’s time by failing to read the instructions: A venture capital firm will put forth very specific sets of criteria (their instructions) about what opportunities they are interested in considering for funding. Yet they receive countless business plans from entrepreneurs that don’t meet those criteria. If those entrepreneurs read the instructions, they might realize that it’s not that investors are missing their great idea, but rather that investors have specific needs.
This brings me to one of the key elements of closing a sale - tell the customer what they want to hear, not what you want to tell them! How do you begin to understand what the customer wants to hear? Read the instructions!
Check back tomorrow to see what to do if there are no instructions!