By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.
- Benjamin Franklin
We acknowledge that sometimes you can't prepare for a sales call or—hallelujah—a buyer calls you out of the blue. It's reasonable to suggest that, on occasion, sales calls are appropriately deemed 'exploratory discussions'; the kind of discussion in which we just talk and 'see where it goes.'
Take this approach in most sales situations, however, and you'll lose more than your share of sales that you should have won. Interestingly, whether you have a two-thousand- or two-million-dollar price point, to increase your odds of winning new customers, you still need a sales call plan and to know the same essential information before your calls.
How to Plan for a Sales Call: Be Prepared
Six sales call planning questions to answer to prepare for success
Regardless of where you are in the sales process, the following questions provide the foundation for your sales call plan:
What's the buyer’s current situation?
Ask this question to give yourself the lay of the land. Often, your goals for the buyer, the value your products or services can offer the customer, and your action planning for the rest of the sales call come out of your detailed knowledge of the buyer's situation.
If you find that you don't know enough about the situation yet, ask yourself what research you can do before meeting with the buyer so you can:
- Move quickly through tactical situational discovery that can become tedious or bore a buyer, and
- Demonstrate to them that you are the type of professional that does their homework and goes the extra mile to make sure the buyer gets the most value out of each contact with you.
What are my goals for this buyer?
Different goals for your buyers will make for very different sales conversations. Questions you can ask yourself will include:
- Is this the discovery meeting where we get to know each other and build rapport while learning how I might be able to help them?
- Is this a current customer to whom I am introducing a new set of products or services?
- Am I reviewing the results from the previous year with a customer and this is the meeting where I resell my value so the customer stays loyal?
- Am I looking to cross-sell or up-sell currently available products and services because I see where they can add value for the buyer?
- Am I trying to supplant a competitor?
- Is this a current customer where I work in one of their divisions and I’d like to get introductions into the other three divisions where I can also help?
- Is this a buyer with so much potential that I’d be willing to travel on my dime to five cities to visit their branch outlets and their competitors, and then put together a presentation and value proposition so compelling that the buyer resolves to work with us on the spot?
You can add to this list depending upon your own situation. Whatever your sales goals for this buyer, make certain you’re as clear as you can be about those goals before you enter the actual meeting.
What is my desired outcome for this call?
Sounds simple enough, but this question is often overlooked by sellers before they meet with buyers. Among your possible outcomes:
- I want to leave with a promise for an introduction to the other decision makers.
- I want to find out what caused the service breakdown in the past and get the customer to reconsider us in the future.
- I want to clarify exactly what the buyer is trying to do with their new product launch and see where we can be of value so we can move to proposal.
- I want to review our latest proposal and get commitment to move ahead.
Just make sure you start your sales call planning process early enough. Sometimes you need time to investigate just what your desired next outcome should be.
What are my relative strengths?
In every sales situation, various forces are working in your favor. Know what these forces are for this particular situation so you can leverage them to help make the buyer more successful. This will give you increased odds of winning the deal. Some strengths that can help you include:
- We have a relationship with a board member who has the CEO’s ear.
- One of our offices is five miles from the buyer’s main plant.
- We know the buyer is unhappy with their current provider. And we know why.
- The buyers attended a training program our president conducted and wrote a great evaluation.
- The current CFO worked at our firm for three years and still maintains contact with two of our division leaders.
The more specific you can be for the particular situation, the better. Sure, it might be a general advantage that you are a well-known expert in your field with a good reputation, but it's a better advantage to know who you are selling against (if anyone), whether or not you and the buyer went to the same graduate school, whether you've been particularly successful in this industry versus your competitor, or any other specifics that might be working in your favor.
What are my relative vulnerabilities?
This is the corollary to number four above. Maybe you have less experience than the competition. Maybe another company is the incumbent provider and you are the challenger. Maybe you are usually at the higher end of the fee scale.
Knowing what your relative vulnerabilities are will allow you to prepare in advance to either turn them into advantages or at least diminish them as vulnerabilities.
With good preparation and call planning you can have your responses to objections and tough questions at the ready when you need them.
What actions do I need to take before the next call?
We all have to-do lists that help us do what we need to get done. By taking the time to answer questions 1 through 5, your sales call planning to-do list will be as good as it possibly can be because your actions will be:
- Informed by the knowledge of your buyer’s situation
- Guided by your goals for the buyer from a sales perspective
- Built to help you achieve your desired outcomes
- Planned with the knowledge of your relative strengths and vulnerabilities in this particular sales situation
When you plan well, answering these questions, you’ll know exactly what actions you need to take before your call to make it successful.
Tips for Sales Calls
You’ve prepared yourself for the sales call and answered the questions above. Once you’re on the call, be sure to follow these tips.
Establish Your Competence
Your buyer should feel that you have the knowledge and insight to deliver value to them and their business. Your professional capabilities on a sales call reflect on your company as well.
To establish your competence, you need to be able to provide deep insight into your products and services, suggest ideas that are on-target, and ask incisive questions. The ability to speak to a buyer’s needs in the context of your offerings helps demonstrate your competence and builds trust in your abilities.
For phone sales—or any virtual sales—especially, making strong connections with buyers is essential. Make personal connections with buyers early and often but beware of insincerity. There’s a lot to be said about building rapport with buyers. One of our best tips involves listening to their needs and finding common ground.
Your job as a seller is to gain insight into a buyer’s needs and offer a solution. Simply put, you can’t do this if you don’t listen, pay attention, and ask questions with intent.
From there, you need to advocate for an agenda on how to move forward and convey the impact of your solution. Paint a picture of the new reality you’ll help the buyer achieve and leave them excited about working with you.
Learn the Buying Process
Your buyers each come from unique backgrounds and organizations. It’s worth taking time to speak with the buyer on how a purchase decision will be made and take into account their buying process. Follow their process and be sure to attend to each stage.
Once you’ve spoken to a buyer on the phone, it’s on you to continue to move the relationship and buying process forward. Time kills sales. Timely follow up and executing on next steps is essential.
Prioritize your follow-ups in order of importance and add resources to help you keep up with important buyers if you’re having trouble.
Play to Win
Devote all of your energy and attention to doing what you must to win. In many ways, the preparation that goes into a sales call plan culminates here. Set your goals. Check your passion, desire, and commitment levels. Spend time adjusting your plan depending on the changing circumstances of a sale.
Most of all, be prepared and you’ll give yourself the best shot at winning.
Types of Sales Calls
Your sales call plan should differ depending on the circumstances. These three basic types of call require different approaches, though the tips listed above are always applicable.
Though intimidating for some, cold calls can provide a good starting point to establish a relationship. Cold calls require research on your buyer—you should come prepared with background information and an idea of what’s important to them. In general, a good cold call script follows this pattern:
- Introduction: Make a quick introduction and share a brief overview of your company.
- What’s in it for me?: Immediately move to the “What’s in it for me?” and pitch a value-based offer for an introductory meeting.
- Call to action: You’re not going to make a sale on the first call, but you might schedule a 10-, 20-, or 30-minute introductory video conference or phone call to share your valuable insights and expertise.
- Propose time to meet: You close the cold call by asking the buyer to look at a specific time on their calendar.
- Answer questions/respond to objections: Some common cold calling objections can threaten to end a relationship before it begins. However, you can overcome these objections and make saves. This involves engaging with a buyer and asking them to elaborate on their answers, delving into what might be happening at their company, and offering insights into their problems.
Once you book the meeting, you must deliver on the value offer. In the introductory meeting, you actually deliver the best practices, the benchmark research, the findings, or whatever you promised in the cold call.
A warm call is a call to an existing relationship you already have. It could be a follow up to a cold call, a past buyer or opportunity, someone in your network, etc. Warm calls offer an opportunity to explore a buyer’s needs, build a relationship, and offer a solution. Cold calls are all about getting your foot into the door, but warm calls might have different goals you’ll want to consider beforehand.
Maybe you’re trying to supplant a competitor or resell an existing customer. Maybe it’s a long-term lead and you’re calling for an update on their strategic priorities this quarter. In any case, have a specific goal and outcome for your call in mind before picking up the phone or scheduling the meeting.
Whether through a cold call, warm call, or inbound inquiry, ultimately you want your calendar booked with sales calls. These are the calls where you’re uncovering needs, educating buyers with new ideas, strengthening relationships, beating the competition, demonstrating the impact you can have, and working with the buyer to craft the best solutions. Sales are won and lost based on these sales calls.
All the tips outlined in this article and the preparation questions will set you up for success here.
The most successful sellers, the ones who lead masterful sales conversations, show up prepared.