Plan Your Sales Calls (key word: “Your”) – Part 1

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In many businesses, it’s not easy to secure an appointment with a target prospect. The initial sales call is a big deal. Because we worked so hard to get there, it’s critical that we bring our A-game.

For coaching and content-building purposes, I’ve gone along on a few calls lately as the extra man. I probably learn the most about a sales rep and a client’s business by spending windshield time in a salesperson’s car and then sitting in on sales calls. And as you can imagine, I get to see it all. It’s pretty easy (and fun) to tweak coaching content for a particular client after spending even a couple hours in the field.

I’ve been disturbed lately by a trend that’s more common than you’d think. Salespeople don’t have a planned structure for conducting their calls and, almost no one sets up the call by sharing their agenda or getting the prospect’s input. I’ll tackle planning the call today and setting up the call by sharing the agenda in my next post.

Please Plan Your Call.

Before we exit the car, I like to play surrogate sales manager and ask the rep the standard stuff – nothing tricky:

“Tell me about the person (or people) we are meeting today.”
“Why do they think we’re here?”

“What’s a win for us coming out of this meeting? Tell me what our objective is.”

And then I say something you’d think was a foreign concept by the reactions I’ve been getting. “What’s your plan for the call?” Radical thought, I know.

A few weeks ago, in a city I won’t name to protect the guilty, I got a memorable answer to that last question. The rep told me he doesn’t like to plan his calls because he feels like that comes off as mechanical. “Oh,” I said in response. “So, tell me how this is gonna go then.”  He answered that he likes his calls to be “organic.”  I was amused at the unique application of this overused word and figured I was in for an adventure.

What transpired was pretty predictable. I never felt comfortable during the entire meeting. It was organic alright. It vacillated between the buyer controlling the meeting (since we didn’t attempt to) and the buyer sitting quietly while the salesperson babbled on nervously — and somewhat aimlessly. If I had been working with this client longer, I might have jumped in and attempted to get the airplane out of it’s stall by pushing the nose down and adding power with a few pain or opportunity seeking questions. But I didn’t do that and, honestly, the resulting coaching opportunity outweighed the failure of this one call.

That organic experience heightened my awareness to the prevalence of this larger issue. There are a whole lot of salespeople running around North America conducting sales calls without a plan. Actually, conducting is a poor word choice because many reps aren’t conducting anything. They are on the calls, but clearly they aren’t in control.

So I’m doing what any coach or consultant would do when he sees a big common problem. I keep bringing it up – everywhere I go. And I am truly shocked. Last week I led a sales team meeting for a client and asked this team of 5 seasoned veterans if any one of them had ever been taught how to structure a sales call. Not one said yes. I asked it differently because I didn’t believe their answer. “Did you ever have a manager that went along on calls with you and helped you plan out how to conduct the meeting?”  Same answer – 5 out of 5 said no. This week I did some 1:1 coaching with individual reps at a different client. One successful rep was about to head out for a week on the road. We talked over her strategy for these meetings (which was sound) and then I asked about how she would structure the calls. She had a real good grasp on what she wanted to achieve on the calls, but hadn’t been challenged in a long time to actually plan out and visualize the flow of the call. A few light bulbs went off as we discussed some basic structure and I gave her permission to set up the calls to ensure she achieved her objectives.

Questions to consider:
  • Do you feel like you have permission to plan out and actually conduct your sales calls?
  • Can you visualize the desired flow of a call?
  • Have you ever outlined your ideal sales call from beginning to end?
  • On most of your sales calls, who is control?
  • What percent of the time are you talking vs. the percent the prospect is talking? Why is that?
Salespeople, it’s your meeting. You asked for it, it only makes sense that you should conduct it. A planned sales call doesn’t mean it’s mechanical or rote. It means you are a professional that knows what you are doing.

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