This trap is evident to anyone who has opted to simply “wing it” when making a sales call. Failing to adequately prepare and leaving the specifics of the call ignored means the dialogue will lack the structure, organisation, and clarity of thought required for increasingly complex sales. Here we look at why completing a pre-call planner is critical to success and how to execute that planning with a structured approach.
There are three key elements to preparing for a sales call:
- Know your customer
- Know your fit
- Know your strategy
Know Your Customer
Taking the time to research and organise your thinking around what you know about the customer is critical because it prevents the trap of making assumptions. Without taking this critical first step, sales professionals risk starting the call with irrelevant questions. This outcome can be embarrassing, and it diminishes the customer’s confidence in the sales professional and, eventually, the solution positioned. Some sales professionals may believe they know the customer based on previous research. This thinking can also lead to problems. Businesses and their strategies change often. Research goes out of date fast. Sales professionals need to prepare using recent information. The time and cost required to get the call is significant, and knowing the customer in advance prevents wasting valuable time that could be spent understanding the customer’s core needs.
Knowing the customer means:
- Researching the customer’s goals, vision, challenges, and competitive standing
- Identifying and gathering stakeholder information
- Discovering potential gaps and needs
From the customer’s perspective, if a sales professional cannot be trusted to properly prepare for a sales call, they cannot be trusted to deliver and implement a solution that has far-reaching implications for the stakeholders and decision makers involved.
Know Your Fit
Knowing how your solution fits the customer’s needs is critical when differentiating from competitors. Consider a review of more than 1,600 B2B sales professionals, which shows that “accelerated commoditisation and substitution” are circumventing the dialogue between the sales professional and customer. Knowing the fit in advance prevents this common problem in selling today. While the call will help illuminate the specifics of the fit, it is critical to have some understanding of where the solution is most applicable so that the sales professional can articulate differentiated value early. Knowing the fit does more than qualify the value of the solution from the customer’s perspective — it qualifies the sales professional. As solutions become more sophisticated, they demand more expertise from the sales professional after the sale and through implementation.
Knowing the fit means:
- Identifying opportunities to create differentiated value
- Mapping capabilities to potential needs
- Understanding the solution’s competitive strengths and weaknesses
- Anticipating and preparing responses to objections
- Clarifying internal resource needs
Knowing the fit helps the sales professional bring specificity to the call. As a result, the customer is likely to respond with similarly specific information that equips the sales professional to position the solution in a tailored way.
Know Your Strategy
Knowing your strategy means becoming intentional in the way you plan for the call. This planning involves organizing how the call will flow from opening remarks, to questions, then recommendations, and finally seeking a commitment from the customer. To know your strategy is to know what is included in each of these parts and how to transition between them. These components of the strategy become even more important when selling as a team. Each person must know their role and responsibility on the call. Each team member must be clear on what questions they will ask and how they will ask them. While questions are the primary tool of consultative selling, they should not be viewed as means for navigating the sales call. Questions work when they are organized into a cohesive strategy.
The importance of preparation is seen in some of the most high-stakes professions today. Pilots dutifully follow procedural checklists. Technicians operating complex industrial machinery also follow a checklist. As surgeon and author Atul Gawande explains in his book The Checklist Manifesto, “checklists seem able to defend anyone, even the experienced, against failure in many more tasks than we realized. They provide a kind of cognitive net. They catch mental flaws inherent in all of us — flaws of memory and attention and thoroughness.” However, planning and procedures only work if they are followed every time.
To plan the strategy, the sales professional must:
- Consider where the customer is in the buying process
- Set a primary and secondary call objective
- Plan the call flow
Part of executing a successful strategy is knowing what the chapters of the call are, how long each should be, and how to get from one to the next with a natural, smooth transition. Knowing the customer, knowing the fit, and knowing the strategy each require the other two to work properly.
Once the framework of the call is clear, sales professionals must get specific about the objectives that fit within that framework. Effective objectives adhere to SMART criteria.
- Specific: What needs to happen? What actions will the customer take?
- Measurable: How will you know that you have accomplished the objective?
- Achievable: Can the objective be accomplished? Does it consider where you are in the sales process, the readiness of the customer, and the volume of the work required?
- Relevant: Is the objective appropriate, and does it advance the sale?
- Timed: When will the objective be carried out?