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Sales Call Planning: What to Know Before Every Sales Call

Written by Mike Schultz
President, RAIN Group

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 prospect 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 to do the same basic planning and know the same essential information before your sales calls.

Here are six sales call planning questions you can answer for yourself before every sales call that will help prepare you for success:

  1. What is the prospect's current situation? Ask this question to give yourself the lay of the land. Often your goals for the customer, 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 prospect'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 prospect so you can 1) move quickly through tactical situational discovery that can become tedious or bore a prospect, and 2) demonstrate to them that you are the type of professional that does his homework and goes the extra mile to make sure the prospect gets the most value out of each contact with you.

  2. What are my goals for this customer or prospect? Different goals for your customers 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?
    • 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 trying to supplant a competitor?
    • Is this a current customer where I work in one of their divisions and I would like to get introductions into the other three divisions where I can also help?

    We are sure you can add to this list depending upon your own situation. Whatever your business development goals for this buyer, make certain you are as clear as you can be about those goals before you enter the actual meeting.

  3. What is my desired next outcome? Sounds simple enough, but this question is so often overlooked by professionals before they meet with customers or prospects. Our advice: if you don't know what you want to get out of your meeting with them, don't get out of the (proverbial) car (credit to Mack Hannan and his book If You Don't Have a Plan, Stay in the Car).

    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.

  4. What are my relative strengths? In every sales situation various forces are working in your favor. Know what these forces are for this particular customer or prospect situation so you can leverage them to help make the customer more successful. This will give you increased odds of winning the deal.

    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 prospect went to the same graduate school, whether you've been particularly successful in this industry vs. your competitor, or any other specifics that might be working in your favor.

  5. 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.

  6. 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 customer's situation
    • Guided by your goals for the customer 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

The most successful sellers, the ones who lead masterful sales conversations, show up... prepared.

RECOMMENDED READING >> 5 Things You Must Do in Every First Sales Conversation

Topics: Sales Conversations