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

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by Mike on June 18, 2011

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.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Gary S. Hart June 20, 2011 at 3:19 pm

Mike,

You picked the top three targets to prepare for a great first meeting. Who is the “person” we are meeting, why do they think we’re visiting them, and what is our objective(s).

The confusing issue with this fly by the seat of the pants or skirt trend is the massive amount of free articles, ebooks, and webinars already available. Why do you think this great material like your blog is being ignored? – Gary

Reply

Mike June 21, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Gary, great to have you here! Good question. Why? I think the simple answer is laziness. People do what they are used to doing. It takes effort to read, to change to try new things. Winners do that. Most people won’t make the effort. I also believe some of it goes back to the fact that veterans of good economies remember the times they were successful doing the way they are doing it now. Instead of looking in the mirror now that they aren’t as successful, they choose to blame the times or the buyer for lack of success.
-weinberg

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jinan June 21, 2011 at 7:52 am

hi mike,
this is the basics of a sales call. what is the goal? how can one go on a call or phone a prospect with no goal in mind? and what happened to coaching your sales people? what’s the sales manager doing?
jinan

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Mike June 21, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Jinan, I’m with you. it’s a mystery. In all fairness, some smaller and mid-size companies don’t have a full-time sales manager in place. And that is part of the problem. All I can say is that a lot of my consulting time is spent addressing the most basic of sales issues. Everyone wants to talk about complex problems and how to sell to buying committees run by left-handed women when you are the 3rd of 4 competitors presenting. But the truth is that when I pull back the covers, in many mid-size companies today, the fundamentals of new business development are completely being ignored. I see a book coming to address that very issue :)
Mike

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Adam June 23, 2011 at 7:38 pm

Hello Mike I came across your blog and this particular post from Kelley’s post.

After reading it I think it is “Great News” so many sales people are not taking the time to plan their calls. This makes it that much easier for the people taking the time to prepare to standout from the crowd and show their professionalism.

I hope the competition likes Organic.

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Mike June 24, 2011 at 5:55 am

Thanks for linking here Adam. Kelley is great and has been a help and inspiration to me too. I love your perspective and sense of humor. Here’s to competing against organic salespeople!
Mike

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Adam June 24, 2011 at 4:25 pm

Mike,

I can drink to that.

I respect Kelley’s opinions and if he value’s yours as well I need no assurance of your credentials.

I have always thought people are crazy who think sales should be easy, if it was easy everybody would be doing. I like the challenge and the opportunity to stand out from the crowd.

Thanks again Mike and I look forward to actively following your content.

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Steffen June 27, 2011 at 5:26 pm

Hi Mike,

I worked in marketing and consulting for a while and I totally agree with you. Sales is 90% being prepared and 10% talking to the prospect. Many sales people forget that their potential clients many times are well prepared for the sales meeting and so should be the sales person. I hope more are reading this.

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Merry August 2, 2011 at 11:01 am

It’s really glad to read this, Mike, thanks for posting it. I’m currently looking for a way to make a successful sales call and i’m the person that always uses excuses to avoid calling. I do not have a good plan to call and end up with failure which makes me even afraid. But after reading this, i think i wanna stand out from the crowd and be different.

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Sue T August 8, 2011 at 12:50 pm

Couldn’t agree more. Had a great week just after we talked about the same issues and even though I set it up in my mind as I am driving, there are some key notes that you need to make so you ACCOMPLISH that agenda and it takes planning. In short, taking one afternoon before you leave for those calls on the road make for some tremendous results! Good points to make on the questions just to provoke thought. Keep it coming!

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frank rock June 25, 2012 at 3:50 am

hi Mike greetings from Ireland .I have just come across your blog . I think their are a number of reasons why sales manangers dont spend time with their people (not in order of prority):
- nobody ever spent anytime with them when they were salespeople
- organisations have turn the sales manager into a “super” administrtaor
- dont have the skills
- their director or boss doesnt see any value in it either
- sales people fall into the trap of seeing it as micromaning as the concept of coaching is poorly positioned with no consistencty or follow through
- coaching not linked to career development
- mananger ends up “telling” and “rescuing” the call which undermines the salesperson
there my thoughts

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Mike June 25, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Frank,
Great to hear from you. I think you might be my first reader in Ireland! Thanks for the note and sharing your good thoughts. That’s an old post you found, but one of my favorites. My book, which comes out in September, covers the topic extensively.

Looking forward to connecting with you again,
Mike

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