Preparing for your next great sales call

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We are excited. We’ve just opened a new revenue opportunity in a tough economy. We’ve qualified the opportunity and from what we’ve learned this is a real deal, one worth spending some our most valuable resource on, our time.  During the discovery and qualification phone calls we managed to establish a level of rapport.  A certain amount of “bonding” has been achieved. While we and this new prospect have not become good friends, there has developed between us the beginning stages of a professional relationship. Our next step is that all important first face to face meeting.

great sales call

Are we ready?

From experience we know great first meetings set the stage for the rest of the sales cycle. The prospect makes a series of judgments about us and what role she or he will have us play in their process.  We’re getting into the “why we are here and how can you help me” part of the relationship.  At this point being prepared is critically important.

Not too long ago, a salesperson who took the time to “find out about your business” at the beginning of a sales call actually stood apart from his or her competition. Why, because most sales people at that time, started sales calls by unloading information about themselves, their company or their products. You know what that is right? We are the best, our products do this, that and everything else. When they were done “unloading” they’d ask “does any of this fit?” So, the person that started with “tell me about your business” was a refreshing change for most prospects.

Now, we still need to ask questions about specific situations, issues, pains and approaches.  We want to find out a lot about our prospects business but how we go about it has changed.  For the past several years the web has made so much information available that, except in rare cases like calling on a secure government agency, it is almost inexcusable to not know a lot about a prospect, their company and their market.

Let’s take a look at how we might use technology to be well prepared for a sales call.

The first place I’d go to do research is to my company's CRM system.  First, I’d want to see if the company I’m going to meet with has ever done business with my company. If yes, did we do business with this division or department or another, who were the primary contacts, how recent was the last transaction? Are there notes in the system? What might they tell us about the relationship? What did we sell them? Were they a repeat buyer or was there only a single transaction? Were there any service issues that had trouble tickets or help desk actions?  If our CRM is integrated with our Accounting or ERP system we can easily see how long it took to receive payment, or if we are owed any money or if the customer has a credit.

Let’s say our CRM system informed us we had not done business before. Then, we’d want to know if we had made calls on this customer, with whom and for what products and services. How far did we get in a sales cycle?  Was there a presentation, a demonstration, did we generate a proposal?  We could look in our Marketing tab in our CRM to see what material and emails might they have received from us? Were these opened, were links clicked on? If so, what key critical pages were viewed? What was forwarded on?

Lets’ say we have not done any business with our prospect and we have not ever called on them before. Perhaps we’ve done business with other companies in their industry. How would we find out?
We’d look at a CRM field labeled “SIC Code.”  We’d click on the SIC Code fields and see who else in our prospects market segment we’ve done work for. It may be valuable to know if we are working with our prospects competitors and if the work we’ve done can be referenced and to what extent.

After our CRM we’ll check out the person we are meeting with starting with the major Social Networks. Plaxo, Jigsaw & LinkedIn are the most useful in our experience. We’ll use LinkedIn here to look for additional important information. From his profile we can see our prospect is an active LinkedIn user with more than 500 connections.  He’s given & received a lot of recommendations.  We are looking for areas where we or the people we know overlap with our prospect, his work history or his connections. We find this information useful in bonding and rapport building.  It can be really useful and positive to be able to say to our prospect-- “I was preparing for the call and looked at your LinkedIn profile. I saw that you know Gail Smith at Universal Exports.  We know Gail very well too. If we decide to move ahead with one another on this opportunity, I am confident Gail will have good things to say about the work we’ve done for her at Universal Exports.”  That kind of overlap does not happen often, however, when it does, it is powerful.

After reviewing our CRM system and the major social networks, we may wrap up our pre call research by Googling the  prospect company, looking at annual reports (if our prospect is a public company), researching trends of their industry,  their competition, and relevant business journals.

From sources like these we may learn enough to be able to ask a question like: “last year I saw you grew at 25% from PY. I also read some comments from your CEO, that, even in this economy, she expects similar growth this year. That sounds like a tall order, what sort of challenges do you anticipate you’ll encounter going for that type of growth this year?”

We believe that the right amount of research informs the prospect that you are an expert that you are willing to put in the work and you treat his or her time as valuable. In a way, you are communicating during the early phases of a sales engagement that you and your firm have a lot to offer and that he can expect the same thoroughness if they decide to move ahead with your company.

- Bob Neeser, July 22, 2009

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