RAB Research Archive

Stop Making Stupid Mistakes



October 30, 1935 — Dayton, Ohio. Military members gathered for what the Defense Department called a "live demonstration" of the capabilities of the next-generation bomber. In short, they were "shopping" and had invited manufacturers to come "pitch" them. Boeing Corporation was among those seeking the contract.

For many, inviting others was a mere formality. Boeing's new Model 299 would be the hands-down winner. A reporter from Seattle called the plane a "Flying Fortress." It could carry five times the number of bombs that army specifications called for. It flew faster than previous bombers, and nearly twice as far. The plane taxied onto the runway with an impressive 103-foot wingspan and four engines — it was a magnificent beast in motion.

Major Ployer P. Hill pushed the throttle levers forward. Speed increased; the plane lifted off the runway climbing to just past 300 feet. It stalled, slouched to the right, and came crashing down in a fiery mess. Two of the five crew members died, including Major Hill.

The investigation revealed nothing mechanical had gone wrong. Pilot error was cited as the reason for the crash. Major Hill forgot to release the locking mechanism on the rudder and elevator controls during takeoff. This error caused the Army to go with a much simpler design by Douglas and considered the Boeing plane too difficult for any pilot to fly.

Boeing nearly went bankrupt. A group of test pilots was brought in to solve the problem. Given the complexity of the aircraft, they decided on a simple approach: the pilot's checklist. Atul Gawande, in his book, The Checklist Manifesto, credits this story as the origin of "the checklist."

What does flying a B-17 have to do with selling? Selling today is far more complex. Channels of communication are exploding; information access is beyond our ability to contain. Just as flying a plane is both as fundamental and yet much more complex and complicated than when Wilbur and Orville — or Boeing, for that matter — first took flight — selling today requires the same attention to minute details. Salespeople need a system to remind them of the basics and simplify the complexity of the sales process.

If you're like me, you've walked away from more than a few meetings with clients, and said, "Darn it, why didn't I remember to..." A checklist helps prevent that. Because checklists are so important in a variety of professions, from flying planes to performing brain surgery, you can easily find or create checklists for your sales process.

At RAB, we have a Pre-Contact Checklist. These are critical things you should do before having ANY contact with a client or prospect. If you'd like a copy of the checklist, email me at jeff.schmidt@rab.com.

Jeff Schmidt is the SVP of Professional Development. You can reach him at Jeff.Schmidt@RAB.com. You can also connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Source: Jeff Schmidt, RAB





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