If you’re familiar with any of my work you know I’m big on advocating for salespeople to perform pre-call preparation before every sales appointment. Today I want to go one step further and discuss crafting a backup plan, because circumstances often change. Football quarterbacks are always prepared with an “audible,” every time they approach the line of scrimmage and see a change in the defense that spoils the play they called in the huddle. And I don’t know anybody that hasn’t heard the line from the Robert Burns’ poem that states, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
This post is lengthier than normal, but I believe it will be worth it to stay the course and keep reading. These three true stories from my past will make the point about your need for a Plan B in your sales career.
During the first week of March in 1960, rather than experiencing the first signs of spring, the entire state of Kentucky was blasted with extremely low temperatures and two snow events within days of one another. I was a 10 year old growing up in Louisville, where we were covered up with a total of 1½ feet of snow between the 2 events, accompanied by single digit temps day after day. When the snow stopped the winds kicked up so much that drifts were swept up around the front of our house so high that exiting and entering our front door was impossible for several days. Our family was a bit panic stricken at being trapped in the house but my dad remained calm and told us not to worry; that he had another plan. His PLAN B was to use the back door until the snow melted and the crisis was over, since he knew the winds came from the west (front), meaning there wouldn’t be any drifts around the back of the house. Dad was correct, and he even went out the back door, came around to the front and snapped a photo of our house showing all that snow drifted up nearly to the gutters! When my sister and I get together and do some reminiscing through the old box of family photos, I smile when I see that old Kodak black & white from the blizzard of 1960.
Fast forward 25 years to the gulf coast of Alabama and now I’m the father with two grade school kids of my own. One day as we were hanging out in the family room we heard a scratching noise coming from the chimney above our fireplace. The flue was closed so we couldn’t see what was causing the sound, but I told the kids my guess was that a bird had fallen down the chimney and was on top of the closed flue and hadn’t figured out how to fly up and out of there. We didn’t think much more about it and went about our business. A couple days later we continued to hear the noises so I figured we needed to open the flue and let the bird drop down on the hearth and then pick it up and relocate it outside. My wife and the kids gathered around, as they wanted to see the bird and be a part of the adventure. I pulled the handle on the flue and oh, did the excitement begin. Instead of a small bird, a beady-eyed flying squirrel plopped down on the hearth. He and I both froze as we stared at one another processing what to do next. I knew I had to call an audible so I quickly closed the glass doors in order to buy a little time to make a plan.
My PLAN B was to ask my wife to grab a blanket as I told her and the kids we would open the doors, toss the blanket over the critter, and grab the blanket bundle and head for the front door, where we would shake the flying squirrel from the blanket and back into the wild. The kids excitedly said, “Awesome,” and my wife, who is an RN, warned me to be very careful because this animal could have rabies. So as my kids each opened one of the glass doors, I lunged forward with the blanket in hand, only to get a blurry glimpse of the creature sailing over my shoulder into the family room. I’m pretty sure the rodent was the only one in the room who didn’t let out a squeal! For the next several minutes we chased this little fellow unsuccessfully through both the family and dining rooms of our house, trying to bag him with the blanket. Finally we got him, but as my wife opened the front door for me to throw the blanket containing this intruder into the front yard, I felt a sharp stick on my left hand. That little joker bit me just as I was evicting him, and BTW the next morning I got a tetanus shot to ensure I wouldn’t morph into a werewolf.
Fast forward again nearly 20 more years, this time to South Georgia in the middle of a drought, which is not unusual for that part of the country. Both kids are adults, the oldest a college grad, and the youngest is close to completing her BS. The good news is we had an irrigation system installed at our home, with the hope that our lawn can outlast these cyclical droughts. The bad news is that a moist, irrigated yard attracts hungry armadillos like a box of Little Debbie cakes charms my grandchildren. If you live north of the Mason-Dixon Line, an armadillo is a nocturnal mammal about 2 feet long, weighing roughly 15 pounds. They are prolific diggers with very sharp claws, feeding on grubs, worms, and beetles that they access by trolling irrigated and manicured lawns like mine. They have no natural predators and live in shells that are impenetrable, yes even to small caliber bullets…oh boy.
After multiple stake outs in shifts all during the night in hopes of putting eyeballs on this creature, my son and daughter, along with their sweethearts, joined my wife and me in taking a blood oath to rid our lawn of this “thing.” We were able to cross paths with him twice, even getting close enough to bash him with a baseball bat and an iron pipe, but both times he just grunted and kicked it into demonstration of his 0-60 speed as he disappeared into the night. After a short “family council meeting” we settled on a PLAN B. Since there were six of us we would spread out and charge the beast in “cattle drive” fashion, hoping to shoo him toward the drainage culvert that ran under our driveway where it intersected the road. We hoped he would figure this would be a safe space, and go there. We then planned to place a trash can on its side up next to the culvert on one end, and then make a bunch of noise at the other end, hoping to get him to show us that 0-60 demo again.
That last night we gathered in a huddle and committed, “Tonight for sure.” We staked out and waited…and waited…and waited. About 2:30am he finally ambled around the corner of our house, scratching and tearing away at the turf, feeding his nasty face with insects from below the sod. When he reached the agreed-upon spot we exercised the PLAN B I described earlier and, believe it or not, the six of us corralled him so that his only “exit” was to duck into the culvert. We knew then it was just a matter of time. We positioned the trash can as described earlier and about a half hour later our “Jericho shout” sent him running through the culvert, out the other end and into the trash can with a dull thud. My son immediately stood the can upright and we immediately began to fill the can with water from the garden hose. When the can became half-full we took turns holding him down underwater with a broom, waiting for him to breathe his last. Seven minutes later he finally stopped moving around and the Robinson’s celebrated.
As Yogi Berra often said, “When you come to a fork in the road; take it.” Salespeople, get your PLAN B on!
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