Last week I finished No Easy Day, the controversial book written by one of the Navy SEALs involved in the bin Laden raid. It was a quick read, and for a few days I was engrossed in the life of a Navy SEAL… reading voraciously about how SEALs become SEALs, how they train, and how they prepare for missions. I think what struck me most was the detailed preparation and practice that was part of their everyday work. While SEALs obviously have vastly different missions than salespeople do, I was struck by the fact that, fundamentally, SEALs follow the same basic preparatory steps that we preach to our clients: understand your objectives, gather intelligence, involve the right talent, create a detailed plan, know and appreciate your role, practice your role, and prepare for each likely scenario.
Of course, in thinking about it, I noticed a few other similarities… SEALs, like the one in this book, are often preparing for missions where they have intelligence but are headed into a great deal of uncertainty and resistance. Hmmm… Sound familiar? Is it a coincidence that the preparatory fundamentals sound the same?
Though salespeople may often feel like they are walking into the lion’s den, we must note that they certainly don’t encounter the same danger as a Navy SEAL. That said, it doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from the best of the best, right?
In reading No Easy Day, I started thinking about the bin Laden raid and how we could apply many of the same principles to a sales pursuit:
- Know your objectives and gather intelligence. The book mentions that one CIA agent had worked for years with the objective of finding bin Laden. Once she had a high degree of certainty about where the target was, comprehensive intelligence was compiled, and a next objective was set: to find and kill/capture bin Laden.
- Involve the right talent. Once the mission had been determined, a team of experienced professionals was identified. Even though they weren’t currently working on the same SEAL team, these experts came together for this critical assignment.
- Create a detailed plan. Once the objectives were set, the team who would be executing the raid analyzed the intelligence and created a detailed plan, incorporating the gathered intelligence along with the experience of each of the participating team members.
- Know and appreciate your role. The author of the book tells that he was initially disappointed to not be on the team raiding the main house, but he quickly re-focused, appreciating that he was part of the team and that his role brought specific value to the team. From that point forward, he committed to executing his role to the best of his ability. Though perhaps it was there, he never mentions any feeling of competitiveness or resentment for others who had different roles.
- Practice your role. Throughout the book, there is a prevailing theme of training and practice. From the time the US entered Afghanistan and Iraq, the author mentions that his job became a routine of deploying, training, and then deploying again. A key message here: the best of the best continue to train. He then talks about the weeks of drills that they ran in order to prepare for the bin Laden raid. Notice that they weren’t completing the plan the night before and skipping the practice in favor of reworking the plan until the last minute. (To my clients… this is where I clear my throat… ahem…)
- Prepare for each likely scenario. We also learn in the book that the team had several contingency plans, and they were adequately staffed and prepared for each one. When the helicopter crashed, an unforeseen scenario, they were able to quickly adjust and successfully complete the mission, due to both their preparation and their training leading up to the mission.
Obviously, life and death situations create an unsurpassed need for superior planning and preparation. A sales effort is by no means life threatening, but we can still learn this key message: diligence before the mission dramatically impacts the probability of mission success.
My colleague, David Szen, has a mantra: “practice speed DOES NOT equal game speed.” I would add this… The next time you are headed into a meeting with your customer, don’t just ask yourself “Am I ready?” Ask yourself, “Am I SEAL ready?”