Prep for All Your Calls

By Jim Cathcart and Tony Alessandra

If you rely solely on your instincts during a sales call, you’re cheating yourself. Even the most experienced salesperson can’t “wing it” without preparing a solid base of information – and that takes research. With prior preparation, you can customize your call by understanding:

  1. The prospect
  2. The prospect’s needs
  3. Who makes the decisions
  4. Your own reason for the call

Nothing impresses a buyer more than your knowledge of his or her business. First, do your homework and research the buyer’s business. Then, ask specific questions to check your information.

  1. To get a general overview of the company from your client’s point of view, you could say, “Tell me a bit about your business.”
  2. To obtain more specific information to help tailor your presentation, you may probe, “I’ve read that your company is branching out into semi-conductor production. Could you tell me more about that?”
  3. To identify specific problems and opportunities for helping your client, you could ask, “Could you tell me about any special problems with your present product or service?” Remember: Knowledge breeds trust. The more your client believes that you understand the business, the more trust he or she will place in you.

Part of your call preparation should be devoted to uncovering the reasons your product will suit your prospect’s needs. These needs will vary depending upon the position your prospect holds. The chief executive, for instance, will be interested in the long-term goals of the company or in overall sales and profits. Middle managers, however, will base opinions on cost effectiveness. Frontline supervisors will be concerned with installation and operation.

Once you have determined your prospect’s individual needs, you can probe for a “needs gap” where the client’s expectations are not being met. The greater the needs gap, the greater and more immediate is the need for change and the need for your product or service. When you know in advance what these needs are, you can prepare yourself with words and visual proof of how your product or service will meet these needs.

To make the most of your call, you must have an accurate picture of the decision maker and the decision making process. Learn all you can about the prospect, company, and industry. Answer these questions during your call preparation routine:

  1. What are the prospects’ personal styles, idiosyncrasies, and temperaments?
  2. What are their family interests, hobbies, and favorite sports?
  3. Do they buy on opinion or fact – friendship or reciprocity?
  4. What is the present product usage?
  5. What does your competition look like for this account?
  6. What is the volume of business?
  7. What trends in the industry might affect the purchase decision?

The more questions you can answer, the better prepared you’ll be for your sales interview. Also, be sure to talk with the right person – the decision maker. Remember, some company structures require the completion of a long chain of events before a decision can be made. If this is the case, ask your prospect, “Would you give me an idea of your company’s decision making process for a purchase such as this?” If the process involves more than one person, try to arrange to make your presentation to everyone at once.

After you’ve done your basic research, begin to formulate your approach. Every sales call must have a reason. Is this an initial call? Are you giving a presentation? Will you close a deal that has been prepared during a previous call? Knowing what you are shooting for will narrow your focus and allow you to emphasize your main points. Ideally, each call produces tangible evidence that you are making progress with the prospect.

Another technique involves developing a questioning strategy. Use the information you have gathered on the buyer, his or her needs, and the decision making process to decide what questions you will need to ask to gain any data you have not been able to obtain on your own. Organize your questions in a logical order and combine them with the information you are going to give the prospect about your product or service and its benefits. A long string of questions can be annoying. Insightful questions asked at appropriate times will make an excellent impression.

Next, prepare your “proofs.” Do you have testimonials from people the prospect knows and trusts? Are there reports or statistics that will back up your key benefit statements? Is there something about you that is unique – that gives you an advantage over other companies and salespeople? You might say, “In addition to the product, you also get me. I’ll be here to make sure everything runs smoothly and that you realize the full benefits of the product.” You can be your own proof of reliable service after the sale.

Finally, decide on your concluding actions. At the end of the call, do you want more information, a referral, permission to give a demonstration, or the order? Knowing how to end the call will give you the confidence to conclude assertively.