CHAIR FLYING: Winning Sales Through Mission Rehearsal!

Updated: August 17, 2009

I remember my first job interview after leaving the military for a business career. It was for a personal advisor position with an exclusive financial services firm, and the vice president of human resources asked me a critical question: "How do you expect to be successful at selling financial services with absolutely no sales experience?"

My answer was simple - I led men and women into aerial combat in Iraq and they trusted me with their lives. If I could inspire trust in this environment, then I could do the same for my clients. I told her I would prepare for every client meeting and sales proposal with the same attention to detail, discipline, and passion that I used in preparing for my combat missions. Ultimately, my objective was to have my clients trust me, and with trust I could sell anything.

Fortunately, she liked my answer, and I was eventually offered the job. While I turned the job down, I learned a valuable lesson - preparing answers to tough questions and contingency planning for objections before the interview helped me to win! I repeatedly "mission rehearsed" my answers in my mind and to my friends, which gave me the confidence to execute a successful interview.

Before every mission, fighter pilots also mission rehearse. We call it "chair flying" because we mentally fly the mission while in a chair (or any location for that matter). We review every detail of the mission in the simulator and in our minds and we plan for contingencies ("what-if's" such as a missile launch, failed engine, or weather change) prior to the flight. While this takes time, energy, and discipline, it is essential to our success.

The key to chair flying in sales is to envision every outcome. This means actually envisioning not only the perfect sales call, but also common mistakes and then going back to the beginning of the call and ‘re-flying' it. Ask yourself if you performed every procedure (i.e. building rapport, asking for a follow-up meeting) and anticipated every contingency (i.e. price objection, working with a competitor, etc.). The final goal should always be the perfect mission…the closed sale!

How do you prepare for your sales missions?

  • Are you chair flying your sales calls to ensure success?
  • Do you practice different delivery styles and opening/closing statements?
  • Do you have pre-planned answers to standard sales objections?
  • Are you gathering intelligence on your prospect and competitors?
  • Do you envision success in your mind before executing your plan?

Chair flying builds confidence as it reduces your fear of failure and gives you more courage to take risks. So, stop selling by the seat of your pantsSM and start chair flying. Not only will your clients grow to trust you, but you'll also build more trust in the most important wingman in your life…yourself!


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