Sales Calls: 14 Preparation Tips

An IDC study from last year revealed only one out of six sales professionals were “extremely prepared” for an initial meeting with a customer. 57 percent were either not or only somewhat prepared.

Ouch! Even cutting ourselves some slack this is a pretty poor result for us sales professionals. Clearly we have some making up ground to do here on our pre-meeting prep.

The crazy part about it of course is that you’ve got more information available to us now than ever before via social media and Sales 2.0 tools.

There’s really no excuse for not being prepared for a sales call (meeting). Showing up and “winging it” is just not acceptable to the vast majority of B2B prospects out there. They know you can do your homework so they expect you to do so. Otherwise you could be in for a really quick meeting (ever hear the story of the sales rep that turned up to a CFO’s office and started the meeting by asking “what business are you in?” The CFO handed him the company’s annual report and said come back when you know – this story may be sales lore but illustrates the point.)

So what should we be doing to prepare for a sales call? Here are 14 tips.

1. Have an objective: maybe one of the things I’ve screwed up the most in my sales career but when you think about it rather obvious isn’t it? You need to think about what you want to happen as the result of the meeting. Oftentimes we don’t have enough information going into the meeting to know exactly what objective is achievable so it’s good practice is to have a 2-3 outcomes that work for you. Most of the time in a complex sale “get the deal” is NOT a likely outcome.

2. Confirm who will be there: this one seems to be forgotten quite a lot. Meetings change their flavor dramatically depending on who’s there. Is the CEO coming? Methinks his team will act a little differently. I just heard of a real life case where a CEO was supposed to be at a meeting but canceled last minute due to a crisis. Even though the sales person executed the sales call well the sale only moved forward slightly as the CEO was not present. Your preparation depends heavily on whose coming.

3. Prepare to fight the status quo: kudos to the Great Jill for pointing this key point out to me in SNAP Selling. When you think about real selling today, fighting the status quo is the stiffest competition out there. So many of the opportunities we have in the pipeline seem to go to Neverland. So before any sales meeting how about preparing to fight you toughest competitor: Mr. Status Quo? What arguments do you have that are so compelling that this super-busy prospect will make a change?

4. Research the company: Sales 101 stuff but given the statistic from the research at the beginning of this post worth mentioning. Make sure you do the basics of knowing about their company, visiting their website for goodness sake. It’s happened to little Mr. Expert here that I’m sitting in a sales call and the prospect says “well you probably know that from our website” and I forgot to look!

5. Research the person: also obvious but also not always executed well. You’re selling to the person not to the company. So find out what you can about them personally. Of course spend more time if this is a big opportunity for you and less if it’s a small potato. But do some quick research on the person whenever you can (Google and Linkedin at least.)

6. Anticipate objections and questions: prospects have questions. They may even sound like objections. What do you say to these things? Don’t try to wing it – you will take unnecessary risks by winging it. Go in prepared. Think about the most likely questions and objections you are likely to hear and prepare your responses.

7. Know issues in their industry & about their competition: what are the prevalent issues in the prospect’s industry? What moves are their competition making? What can you learn from their competition that give you insight into what your prospect company may be dealing with?

8. Come in with assumptions: these days not only can you not ask questions like “what business are you in?” but you need to be a consultant that has an overview of the prospect’s market. You need to enter with a statement like “we’ve noticed lots of companies like yours dealing with cash-flow management issues [replace with relevant issue]. Is this affecting you? How are you handling it?”

9. Think about bringing some hope with the “N” in SPIN: can you create a positive experience? If you’ve tried your hand at SPIN questions you’ve probably noticed the most powerful questions are the “N” questions. These are the “positive energy” questions. “What would things be like IF?” These tend to leave your prospect feeling good. As they allow him/her to visualize a better (less stressed) future. So what kind of “N” questions can you come up with for your super-stressed prospect? (BTW these are also the hardest questions to ask so you’ll definitely only pull them off if you prepare them beforehand.)

10. Prepare case studies and testimonials: make sure you have your relevant case studies and testimonials lined up. Keep them in your briefcase until you really need them (hint: use them at the end of the meeting as proof not at the beginning as a “dog and pony show” — you are there to listen.)

11. Bring your ROI information: same here as for case studies: what have you got that supports the ROI on your services/widget? Do you have any actually numbers? $’s speak the loudest but operational metrics are great too. What can you show me about the amount of payoff and payoff time to break even?

12. How about an agenda? Sort of seems radical to many sales people but how about actually having an agenda for your meeting? A lot of your prospects are used to having agendas for well-run internal meetings so why not for your sales call? Agendas help iron out any misunderstandings on the goal for the meeting, saving you valuable time. Plus your prospect will likely be impressed at how professional you are, making you stand out from other sales people – cool.

13. What do they see when they look for you? When your meeting pops up on your prospect’s calendar they might be tempted to remind themselves of who they are meeting with? Will they Google you? Check your Linkedin profile? Probably. What will they find? What picture of you will they have before you even enter their door? Some thoughts on personal branding here and here.

14. Match prep time to the importance of the call: for more important calls spend more time on preparation. As a rule-of-thumb, I’d expect to spend at least one hour preparing for a fairly important one hour sales call, half an hour for a half hour meeting etc. – increase or decrease to taste.

What else do you recommend? What is a waste of time? How much prep do you do or recommend?

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