Written By: Alice Heiman
What if you could increase your sales by 20% or more by doing one simple thing that requires about 15 minutes prior to making a sales call? Would you do it?
Would you be willing to spend 15 minutes planning, prior to a sales call if you knew it would have a positive impact on your results?
Most of you know that planning will have this type of impact and yet the majority of you don’t do it. Knowing and doing are two different things. Believing is another. If you haven’t seen the impact it’s hard to believe. If you don’t believe, you probably won’t change. You may be getting pretty good results right now without planning. Or maybe you are not. Either way, planning will make “pretty good” into great and “not so good” into better.
Salespeople are famous for winging it. And the best can get good results that way. But flying by the seat of your pants may deliver inconsistent results rather than exponential growth. Why take a chance? Why not do everything you can to insure your results? Try planning.
The business owners and salespeople I work with say to me, “I don’t have time to plan.” Basically, they are saying, “I don’t have time to get better results.”
What??? If the results you are getting are good enough then you won’t change. If you want better results or you want exponential growth, then making a change will be worth it.
Call planning can be quick and easy most of the time. Occasionally, it is more time consuming and intense depending on the nature of the opportunity, complexity and dollar amount. Either way, it is helpful to have a format. I’ve shared the format I use and teach.
Write down all the details. Date, time, place and who is attending. You may be bringing a sales engineer, product manager or another team member with you. Side Note: This really belongs in the Prepare section but it’s critical so I am mentioning it here as well. Figure out who is attending from the prospect company. Surprise visitors can be derailing. Ask in advance to find out who is coming, their title and their role. Get their email address if you can and then send an email to all of them confirming the details of the meeting and the agenda. Always ask if they would like to add anything to the agenda. Then look for them on LinkedIn and Twitter. Connect and interact with their posts by clicking like, commenting or sharing. If they blog, read one of their posts and make a comment.
Figure out where you are in the sales process. If you use a funnel or pipeline you have well-defined stages. For this sales call you are planning, what stage is the opportunity in? Write out the opportunity. To sell ________ to _________ for $_______ by ________. That’s what you are trying to sell but is it what they are trying to buy? Of course, that is what you determine as you move forward in the sales process and you shorten your sales cycle by planning for each meeting.
Determine what you need to do to be prepared besides writing down your call plan. What research do you need to do? Will you look online for news about the company, their growth, see if they are hiring, what awards they’ve won recently, or senior management changes? What connections do you need to make? Are you connected with all the people who will be attending the meeting? Are there key players you should be connected to? What internal resources do you need to gather What do you need to do to prepare the prospects for the meeting and get them in the right frame of mind? Do you have a champion or a coach? Is there one you are developing and should talk with prior to the sales call?
Write down everything you know about the prospect and their goals and their need for your solution. If this is your first call, your research will reveal some things but you may know very little going into the call. If you are prospecting in an account you have done business with in the past you may have more information and your research will reveal more. Spend some time putting yourself in the prospect’s shoes.
Write down your desired outcome for the call. Now write down the desired outcome you believe your prospects have. Are they the same? Of course, you need to have an outcome that matters to you, but you won’t get it unless you focus on what matters to the prospect.
Write out the opening, just the way you are going to say it. After the niceties, how are you going to gain control of the meeting and focus everyone on the agenda? So much time is wasted here and so many meetings spin-off course because this isn’t planned. It’s a simple as, “Thank you all for taking the time to meet about your project. We have an hour together and the purpose of our meeting is to learn how our solution will work for you. We will start by reviewing the project needs and timeline and then discuss how our solution will fit. Is there anything else you’d like to cover?” and BAM you are off to a great start.
Prepare the points on how you are different than the other solutions they may be considering. If you are at the very beginning of the sales process, you won’t have much information to go on. You’ll have to prepare based on what you think they will respond well to. You only need 2 or 3. It’s important to understand how that unique differentiator matters to the prospect and how it will benefit them directly.
Prepare the questions you will ask. Be sure to phrase them in a way that allows you to get the answers you need. If you asked a closed question, it’s because you want a yes or no or a short answer. If you need to understand how they are thinking or feeling you need to prepare to ask an open-ended question that gets them talking. There are 8 questions that have to be answered before you can close a deal. Read that article before you go on.
It’s hard to know exactly what a prospect will object to but if you have been selling for any length of time, you have some ideas. It’s best to be prepared to handle objections.
Write down the appropriate commitment question for the outcome you and the prospect desire. The answer should move the sale forward. You may not use the commitment questions you prepared because the conversation could take you in a different direction than you planned. Be prepared and be flexible.
Don’t forget to agree to and write down the next steps before you leave. I have seen so many deals get stuck because the next steps were not clearly defined and no follow-up meeting was scheduled. Once you’ve asked the commitment question the answer will lead you to the next steps or you can simply ask, “What are our next steps?”
Write them down. Decide on a date they are to be completed and who will be responsible. Then, when you get back to your office, you can send an email summarizing the meeting and clearly stating the next steps and send that to all involved.
I usually say something at the end of the email like, “Here are the actions we all agreed to, if there are any changes, please let me know by 5 p.m. today.”
If they don’t agree to next steps at the meeting, the sale is not moving forward. If you had a good meeting and they still won’t agree to defined next steps, something is wrong. They may say, “We’ll get back to you.” Don’t leave satisfied with that answer.
Say something like, “You seem hesitant to schedule our next meeting, is there more information you need or something I need to know?” You could also ask, “Based on what we discussed, what are your reservations for moving forward?” When you agree on clearly defined next steps, the likelihood is that the sale will move forward.
You decide how much planning needs to be done and when to do it. Take a look at all the opportunities you are working on and the upcoming sales calls you need to make for each and decide what you need to do to prepare. Will flying by the seat of your pants get the results you want or is planning required?
By preparation, I mean more than jotting a few notes on a napkin or thinking it through right before you walk in the door or pick up the phone.
I recommend you do your planning about a week in advance. That way if you realize there are some important contacts or actions that should be taken, you have time to do them. You also may realize you need to do more research or to gather internal resources and that could take time.
On Monday or Tuesday, take a look at your upcoming week – not the week you are on, but the next week. See what sales calls do you have scheduled and determine which need a plan. Keep a block of time on your calendar on Wednesdays to write those call plans. Then review them a few hours or minutes prior to each meeting.
Doing a call plan the hour before an important call is better than not doing it at all but it can cause undue stress, so I recommend you plan to do it a few days in advance.
Alice developed her expertise in sales while at Miller Heiman, Inc before striking out…
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