The life of a sales professional is a busy one, juggling prospecting activities, managing your sales funnel, traveling, growing existing customers, and handling administrative demands. Many sales professionals have the chance to earn a very high income, because if they get all of this right, it should absolutely be rewarded – this is NOT easy work.
What do I know for sure about human behavior? The longer we do anything, the less likely we are to step back, take a few needed moments to prepare, or practice. Think about it this way. How many things do we do each day that if we were asked to do them differently, we would just get angry? Would you be angry if you were made to drive on the left side of the road? Would you get angry if you were told to text with one hand only and the letters on the keyboard were in different places? Would you get mad if Starbucks changed the names of their drinks to ENGLISH and not Starbuckian and had all new drink options on the list? The answer to each question is likely YES.
Look at NFL coaches on the sidelines. They have on their headsets and are holding a huge laminated document that has something very important on it… the game plan with many options, depending upon what they are facing at that particular moment. Why? Because they are prepared and have already spent the time to get ready for the game.
How can we instill this game planning discipline in our sellers, whether they are new or seasoned?
Let's first look at why so many sales professionals show up and “wing it.” You, the sales pro, have probably been doing this for 24 years. You know how these sales calls go and what customers want. There is no reason for you to spend priceless moments actually thinking through how to execute this sales call. Just let it flow and rely upon your experience.
Sounds good, right? Wrong! Depending upon the size of the opportunity, this can be a little wrong or a BIG WRONG.
What should the sales leader do? We have to give sales reps something useful and brief that prepares them for success. The longer the process, the less likely it will ever get used. That is just pure and simple human nature. What should be included? The good news is that regardless of whether you are selling helicopter parts or cat treats, the basics of preparation are exactly the same.
- Who are we meeting with? We must consider if we have the ultimate decision maker, an influencer, or an implementer. What we bring and plan to ask is different based on who we have across the table. One size does not fit all.
- What are we planning to ask/discover? We must have an actual list of areas that need to be explored AND the actual questions we plan to ask. DO NOT try to make the questions up on the fly, as it will not be as effective.
- What questions/obstacles can we expect? In most cases, even with new prospects, sellers can predict what questions/obstacles they might be asked with a high degree of accuracy. This simple exercise allows you time to prepare what you might ask or say when the time arises.
- What are we going to present? At some point in the sales call, you will likely have to present something. Whether it is a detailed PowerPoint, a brochure, or a simple outline, you should have a high command of the material and the words you plan to spill in the meeting.
- What are the clients’ possible motivations to act? You may not always get a compelling event to gain momentum, but your research and knowledge of the industry or vertical can lead you to some possible motivations for the client to make a decision.
- Who could you be competing against? What are your unique value propositions when selling against competition? Depending upon the industry in which you sell, there could be a long list of named competitors. Remember to also consider that you may be competing against internal resources (do it yourself) or even “do nothing” as an option.
- How will you leave the sales call or advance the process? With a little planning, you can at least prepare a plan of attack that initiates positive momentum in the sales process. Do not leave the sales call without a firm next step of some kind, and you should plan for what those could be.
- What is your PLAN B, if the time you were promised is cut in half? You can’t just simply talk faster. You need to plan for what to do, and that can include things like: present less, ask more, reschedule, optimize the time by only doing discovery, present the bare minimum – but in a planned way.
- What roles do SME’s (subject matter experts) or others participating play on the sales call? You should have a clear plan of who does what, who speaks when, what questions are asked by specific people, and who presents specific parts of the solution. The more well planned this is, the more the client can tell that you have your act together.
- Are there any past issues or circumstances that could haunt the sales call? You need to research if any bones exist in the closet that could kill the sales call. Even “new” prospects may have had some type of negative experience with your company that could destroy progress. Remember that sometimes the client may think they bought from your company in the past, even when they haven’t and take it out on you. You obviously can’t plan for this, unless you can read tea leaves.
The best way for me to illuminate this further is to share a really positive experience I had while coaching in the field. I pulled up to a very large energy and chemical company in the Houston market with a relatively new sales rep. We had trained the sales team (including this rep) on pre-call planning and put the tools in place to help them plan more effectively. Having arrived early to the sales call, we took the time to once again run the drills.
This was a discovery style meeting, since the rep had not been to this company before. The rep was entering the company through a referral from his neighbor. Here are the headlines of the planning and the outcomes:
- We did not have a clear picture to whom the contact reported, but we knew from her title that she was likely not the ultimate decision maker.
- We had a well-developed list of discovery questions, since we had not been here before.
- The company had no history with the firm we were representing.
- We knew they were using three competitors for a variety of services.
- We had a basic “capabilities” presentation prepared.
- We knew the goal was to learn as much as we could and uncover the real decision makers, if possible – this might only be a steppingstone.
- We expected they would have some “already have a vendor for that” objections.
- We knew that two of the current vendors were very small companies and couldn’t scale, if the work grew significantly. Our advantages would be scale and references.
- We had a PLAN B in case the contact’s boss was in the building and could unexpectedly meet with us (a more formal presentation in the bag).
- We quickly found out this was not the decision maker and turned the sales call to only discovery topics.
- We uncovered the real decision makers and the decision process.
- We were able to find out how they buy (process) and the requirements imposed by procurement.
- We learned a great deal about upcoming events that represented opportunity.
- We ditched the presentation all together and just learned what we could. This was not the decision maker, and there was no need to waste words.
- We earned some help to reach the real decision maker from this contact, since she was a direct referral.
- The MOST valuable pre-call planning tool was the list of discovery questions. We used the whole list we planned prior to the meeting while with this contact.
- We learned more about current suppliers and needed the key differentiators in this meeting. The contact brought-up that they already had numerous providers. The “scale” angle was needed and paid off when it came up.
- We identified a clear next step – the contact would broker an invitation to her boss, the primary decision maker, and even told us the key topics to address, given her preferences and requirements.
The lessons are clear. Planning goes a LONG way. Your experience counts, but nothing replaces the benefits of prior preparation for sales calls. Prior preparation promotes positive performance!