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Sales Call Planning: Remember the ABCs

By David Jacoby

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According to CSO Insights, less than 50% of first meetings result in second meetings.

One reason for this poor ratio is while a buyer may be willing to meet with the salesperson, the buyer’s actual level of interest in having an in depth sales conversation may in fact be low.

So what can you do to increase the chances of getting a second meeting? Prepare.

Simply put, the more sales call planning you do, the more effective you'll be. Buyers will open up to you if they sense that you've done your homework and adequately prepared for the call.

And creating such openness is absolutely crucial since it means the buyer is receptive to you, willing to talk about his or her situation, and willing to recognize a need for change and potential solutions. The buyer may not initially be aware of the need for a solution, so being open is of the utmost importance.

How much preparation is enough depends on many factors including your industry, type of account you sell to, average deal size, and so forth. For example, an extremely successful salesperson who sells only to very large enterprise accounts once told me that he prepares for every sales call as if he was about to play in the Super Bowl.

In his world, he may go on only 6-7 sales calls per month, but in each call he was likely to meet with the CEO or CFO of each account. In those types of situations, he's expected to develop unique insights and have a highly customized presentation for each meeting. This takes a level of preparation that may not be practical for most salespeople, such as inside salespeople who may speak to many buyers daily.

Depending on the type and complexity of the sale, the amount of pre-call planning can vary. A good rule of thumb is to spend at least 30 minutes researching and preparing for each sales call.

To be properly prepared for a sales call, just remember the ABCs: Account analysis, Build a call objective, Create a call opener:

Account Analysis

All call preparation should start with researching the account. When researching an account, you should focus first on the business by thoroughly reviewing the company’s web site and your CRM if this is a current customer.

Pay particular attention to press releases announcing business results, new initiatives or new senior executives as such events can often be the “trigger” for buying activity. You should also research the person you are meeting with by at a minimum reviewing his or her LinkedIn profile. This can help you identify this person’s level of authority, work history and common interests.

Build a Call Objective

You should develop a call objective for each sales call you make. A call objective is different from an agenda item; it's what you want to accomplish in this meeting. Effective sales call objectives share three characteristics:

  • They're attainable: That means you're being realistic. When creating a call objective, first ask yourself, “Is it possible to accomplish this objective on this call?” For example, closing the sale is not a realistic objective for a first meeting, but qualifying the opportunity or identifying the buyer needs are.
  • They include buyer action: The objective includes a specific action that you want the buyer to take. Think of starting your objective with the statement “As a result of this call, the buyer will…” These represent specific actions that you want the buyer to take that will advance your sale. For example,

“As a result of this meeting, the buyer will introduce me to the decision maker”

“As a result of this meeting, the buyer, will endorse my proposal to his or her management team.”

The key here is to focus on the buyer’s behavior, not your own sales activity.

  • They're measureable: An effective call objective includes detailed information about the action you want the buyer to take so you can measure your progress and accomplishments. This means making sure you have a deadline and the action is time-bound.

Taken together, a sales call objective is the what, when, who, and how much that you think can be accomplished on the sales call.

Create an Opener

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, the average attention span is only eight seconds. That means you have an incredibly short period of time to capture a customer’s attention. Planning your call opener helps you create a strong first impression as you appear more prepared, confident and helps prevent an unfocused sales conversation.

An effective call opener involves three steps:

  • Establishing rapport with the buyer: Establishing rapport increases openness by putting the buyer in a relaxed and open frame of mind.
  • Explaining the reason for the call to the buyer: It should grab the buyer’s attention. This is where your research will pay off. Ideally, the reason will focus on some potential problem the buyer has. The reason for the call is critical to your call opener because it lets the buyer know what to expect and what the person has to gain from meeting with you.
  • Asking for a response: You ask the buyer to respond to your reason for being there to gauge his or her level of interest. This is also the time for the buyer to add to the agenda, modify it, or even express a lack of interest. If you get a positive response from the buyer, you should then immediately ask permission to ask questions in order to identify his or her needs.

When you incorporate the ABC’s steps into your call planning, you'll increase your chances of sales success by creating openness with the buyer. This will give you the opportunity to engage then, learn about their situation and needs, and get a second meeting.

Learn how to ensure sales success and reduce turnover

About David Jacoby

David Jacoby
As a Managing Director at Sales Readiness Group, David helps large B2B sales organizations improve sales performance. Previously, David was a Principal at Linear Partners, a sales consulting firm providing sales strategy, sales operations, talent management, and interim management services to emerging growth companies. In the past, David has served as Vice President of Business Affairs of Xylo, Inc., where he was responsible for the Company's business development, sales operations, legal affairs, and financing activities.

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