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Sales Call Preparation: The Ultimate Checklist to Cover your Bases

prepare for sales call

richardsonsalestraining1 July 2013Blog

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We all know how difficult it is for your people to get time with buyers these days, so when they get these opportunities, it is essential that your people make the most of them. According to Forrester Research, only 19% of the more than 400 US-based IT and Executive Buyers surveyed believe that meetings with salespeople is valuable and lives up to their expectations.

This data suggests a significant opportunity for selling organisations to improve the quality of these interactions. Effective customer interaction starts with pre-call planning and preparation. Prepared sellers have a better chance of getting the information and commitments they need to create, qualify and advance opportunities. It also demonstrates that they have their act together to the buyer, which helps build the seller’s credibility and trust.

I have pulled together a comprehensive checklist of potential activities and sources for your salespeople to consider. How you prepare really depends on your objectives. The mainstreaming of social media in sales (a.k.a. social selling), the options available, and the potential time your people invest in preparation needs to be tailored appropriately. While preparation is extremely important, there are diminishing returns on certain activities. Preparation is a process, and like all processes, you will benefit by defining the process, training for the process and continuously improving the process. I encourage you to use the list below as a starting point and edit this list based on your selling situation and your call objectives.

Your Strategy

This is a bit of a “chicken and the egg” situation. You may need to iterate through and validate your response to these questions as you uncover more information through the preparation process.

  • Where is the buyer in their decision-making process?
  • Where are you in your selling process?
  • What are your objectives for your call?
  • What information, support, or decisions do you need to achieve your objectives?

What’s going on in the buyer’s company?

Whenever you can tie your capabilities to a company’s strategic initiatives, you stand a better chance of getting executive attention. Focus some of your preparation on creating relevance.

  • Look up the company in your CRM system to see if you have worked with the company, or if anyone in the company has responded to any marketing offers.
  • Google the company’s name, click on a few links to see what’s going on.
  • Have there been any “trigger events”?
  • Google the phrases “<company name> problems” and “<company name> strategy”
  • If the company is publically traded, visit the investor relations site and watch recordings of recent CEO’s analyst presentations.
  • If the company is private equity (PE) owned, visit the PE firms website to learn about their investment strategy and philosophy. Also, identify the Principle at the PR firm responsible for your target company.

What’s going on in the buyer’s industry?

It is my personal belief that if you want your people to be successful selling to sophisticated buyers, they need to develop expertise in the buyer’s industry. Staying current on industry trends should be a continuous process.

  • Look up other companies in the industry in your CRM system to see related work you’ve done
  • Google “Recent challenges in the <insert buyer’s industry> industry”
  • Google “Top issues facing <enter buyer’s role>”
  • Google “Top issues facing <enter buyer’s role> in the < insert buyer’s industry> industry”
  • Google “<insert client’s industry> industry associations”
  • Google “<insert client’s industry> industry study”
  • Google “<McKinsey, Deloitte, BCG, Bain, PWC, KPMG, E&Y…> industry report”

What’s going on in the buyer’s career and life?

It is always better to relate to your buyer on a personal level. We live in a world of information overload, spam email and automated messaging. Mass messaging falls on deaf ears.

  • Link to the buyer on LinkedIn and follow them if they are active on twitter
  • Google “<buyer’s name, title and company>”, and pay attention not only to what is happening in their business life but in their personal life as well
  • See if the buyer has spoken on YouTube or shared presentations on Slide Share
  • See if the buyer is active in associations or has presented at conferences
  • See if the buyer is active on social media or blogs
  • See if you have any mutual connections on LinkedIn, and reach out to any connections you believe would be willing to share insight to help you understand the buyer better

Who else will influence the buying process?

Try to learn, in advance, who will influence the solution and the decision-making process to buy from you. People have a tendency to link to their colleagues on LinkedIn, some of whom you can infer will be influential.

  • See who the buyer is linked to on LinkedIn, people have a tendency to link to colleagues and others in their functional area.
  • Visit each buying influences LinkedIn profile, pay close attention to whether they are linked to any of your competitors, if they are, then that’s a red flag.

Get smarter on the issues

Your people may be about to engage in a conversation that could go beyond their level of comfort and expertise very quickly. They need to get smart fast enough to add value to the conversation, but they can’t lose credibility.

  • Talk to your internal subject matter experts
  • Google “research on <issue of interest>”
  • Google “McKinsey, Deloitte, BCG, Bain, PWC, KPMG, E&Y…> report on <issue of interest>”

Brush-up on your solutions to the issues

Your people need to know how to begin bringing your company’s capabilities together to formulate solutions to potential challenges or opportunities. They also need to know the limitations of your capabilities so that they don’t promise the customer something you can’t deliver.

  • Visit your own website and read how your company is positioning the solutions that you think will be relevant to the buyer
  • How does your solution address the issues that you want to discuss?
  • What objections do you anticipate and how can you proactively resolve them?
  • How do different products and services you offer link together into a comprehensive solution?
  • What additional internal resources should you consider lining up to support your pursuit?

Sharpen your customer conversation skills

All of this great research and preparation won’t deliver results if your people can’t deliver the message to the customer. Encourage them to take the time to practise so that they will be more confident in the moment.

  • Anticipate how the call will play out and find someone to help you practise!
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