Everyone knows the motto of the Boy Scouts of America … always be prepared. This should be the motto of the sales professional as well. The #1 one area of dysfunction with your average salesperson is preparation, or rather a lack of preparation. There are lots of reasons: no clarity on what they are trying to accomplish in each sales call, no time to prepare (because they are too tied up working on unproductive things); and, the most dangerous reason … the notion they can navigate through a sales call based on their product knowledge and experience.
The problem with relying solely on being an expert is, in the mind of today’s buyer, that’s table stakes. It is their minimum expectation you know your stuff. They expect your competition knows their stuff too! But, it is not why they agreed to take your meeting. They agreed to the meeting because they have something they need or want. Your job, as a sales professional, is to get that out on the table.
Again, you cannot do that by telling them all about you and your stuff; you need to ask them about them and their stuff. It is not likely you will get there without some level of preparation. You need a duplicable process for preparing for every sales call. A series of questions you need to ask and answer internally before the call, to help navigate your prospect, customer, or client through the process of sharing their needs and motivations with you.
The preparation process starts with four simple questions you need to ask and answer before every sales call.
Question Number One: What is my call objective?
By objective I mean, what is it you are trying to uncover, discover, understand, learn, or get your customer to share? What is your call objective? Simple enough, but in my experience working with too many sales people to count, is it is not always an easy question to answer. When I first engage with a client, it is not uncommon to spend time in the field, or on the phone with members of the sales team. These initial calls are primarily a discovery process to gain clarity on what they sell, whom they sell it to, and how it is currently being sold.
Typically, I get paired up with one or more of their top producers. After the initial handshake, business card swap, and introduction I will ask a few questions about the day, who we are going to see, etc. Prior to every sales call, including the very first one, I ask the question “What’s the objective of this call?” The first time I ask the response is typically either, “To sell something,” “Checking in,” “Following Up” or on one occasion “I’m just stopping by.” As of this writing I have been asked to meet a sales rep for a first time ride at a donut shop. Not to get coffee and discuss and plan the day, but to get donuts to bring to customers! That was the plan for the day. The only plan.
In the interest in making the most of every sales call, and for the benefit of all involved (especially the customer), every sales call should have a clear purpose and call objective. A purpose so clear you can write it down. If you cannot write it down you do not have a clear objective. Do not make the call. If you write down the objective of the call, and it sounds silly (like checking in, or dropping off donuts), it is silly. Again, do not make the call. Your customers do not have excessive amounts of free time, so make the most of your time and theirs by having a clear objective to every call!
If you are struggling to define you call objective, one that is not self-centered and salesy, one that the prospect, customer, or client will see as having value, try asking these three additional questions internally to gain clarity on the purpose of your call.
Question Number Two: What is known?
What information is available about the person you want to meet with? What information is available about the company? Information is everywhere; the prospect’s website, LinkedIn profile, company social media platforms, your own CRM system; there is likely tribal knowledge among the people you work with, other customers, etc. The point here is, there is no reason for not doing some level of digging. One of the worst things you can do is ask a new prospect to tell you a little bit about their business. Capture this information, in writing and your CRM.
Question Number Three: What do I need and want to know?
These are the pieces of information you do not know, but need to discover to advance the sales process, or move a one-time customer into a lifetime client. What do you need to know about the person? Their role in the organization? Other responsibilities? How their boss measures them? What they are trying to accomplish? Why it is important to them. As an exercise, you could brainstorm with your manager or colleague and create a “Need to Know List.” You would be amazed how quickly that list can grow. It is the answer to this simple question, “What do I need to know?” that serves as the foundation for creating the questions you will want to ask during your sales call.
Question Number Four: What do I need them to share or admit to me?
What is it that, if a prospect shared it with you, could be solved or provided by your company’s product or service? What do you need your prospect to admit or share with you that only you and your solution can address?
Asking and answering these questions will provide you a clear picture of the purpose of your call, position you as a sales professional, and shorten your sales cycle.