Back to Basics: The 13 Most Important Things to Remember on a Sales Call

This week’s blog comes to us from Peter Adler with Seneca Creek Consulting, a nationally recognized sales and marketing consulting company based in Washington, D.C., that works with IT and engineering companies interested in expanding or entering the Federal government marketplace.

Whether you’re a seasoned salesman or a junior up-and-comer, there are number of important things to remember before, during and after a sales call.  Over the years, I have developed a checklist because – let’s face it – we’re all human and we do forget things from time to time.

This is not meant to be inclusive, but rather to keep you organized so you come across as a sales professional.

There is a great deal of preparatory work required prior to going on a sales call, such as properly qualifying your prospect; understanding your prospective customer’s needs; and having a solution or two to a known problem.

Let’s assume you’ve done your homework and are prepared for the call.  Now what’s important is to make sure you show up on time and are prepared.  Remember that your primary job is to listen and to be professional before, during and after the call. To accomplish that, here are some important things to remember.

Preparation

  • Confirm your meeting the day before.  Sometimes things come up with busy executives that are beyond their control.
  • Make sure you have enough business cards, a pen and a professional-looking notebook to jot down notes.
  • Come prepared with questions.  Write them down in your notebook. This will demonstrate to the prospect that you respect his/her time and you have an agenda.
  • Always dress professionally.  Ladies, that means a business suit. Guys, that’s a suit and tie.

The Call

  • If you are meeting more than one person, write down everyone’s name and remember them at the conclusion of the call. When you’re listening and speaking, look everyone in the eye.  Don’t leave anyone out of the discussion.
  • Demonstrate your knowledge of the organization right from the beginning.  You can usually get some good late-breaking news from your prospect’s website.  This will further demonstrate your interest in their business.
  • Ask questions and listen.  Stay away from questions that require a yes or no answer.
  • Always seek guidance from your prospect.  You may determine early on that your prospect is not the right person after all.  Instead of ending the meeting early, ask for guidance on whom to speak with, or ask if the prospect will introduce you to the right person.
  • If the prospect asks a question you don’t know the answer to, by all means tell him/her you don’t know but will get back to them with the answer.
  • Be polite; never interrupt your prospect.  You are there to have a discussion.  Don’t tell him/her something they are not interested in. Remember, the prospect doesn’t want to hear about your company. They want to hear how you are going to solve a perceived problem.
  • Thank everyone by name for their time.  Remember, it doesn’t cost anything to say “thank you.”

After the Call

  • Send a handwritten thank you note. A handwritten note will set you apart from everyone else that sends emails or doesn’t bother to send anything at all.
  • Follow up with an email and action plan, if appropriate.

In conclusion, remember that buying decisions are emotional decisions first, objective decisions second.  Think about what will appeal to the prospect from a personal perspective (what is in it for them), not just an organizational perspective.

Finally, if you have a PowerPoint or corporate brochure, leave it in your briefcase.  People don’t buy from pitches and brochures, they buy from people.  It’s relationships that sell, not paper.  It’s better to leave it behind at the conclusion of the call.

Creative Questions to Speed the Sales Process

The right questions do more than just help identify a prospect’s needs; they can set the tone for the entire customer relationship.  That’s why simply asking “what can I do for you?” isn’t enough.

The basic who, what, when, where, how and why questions will no doubt yield some of the information you need to move a prospect down the sales path. But when you inject a little creativity into your queries, the process can be accelerated significantly.

Finding out what your prospects and customers need requires conversation. And conversation comes much easier when you’ve got the right questions leading the way.  A good question will not only yield answers, it will open the door to a true dialogue upon which a lasting and mutually beneficial relationship can be built.

Here are a few suggestions that may help you get your creative question juices flowing:

  • What are the challenges to your vision?
  • If you could only change one thing in your operation, what would that be?
  • What aspects of your business keep you awake at night?
  • What is it that you want to make happen to transform the way you work?
  • What do you need or want to know about our product that would allow you to make an informed purchasing decision today?

Remember that a good question isn’t just about finding an answer; it is about getting to know your client better. Find out what is important to them so you can determine if and how you can meet their needs.

Negotiate relationships, not sales

I’ve been involved in my fair share of negotiations over the years, some ending in contracts, some not. Along the way, I’ve picked up a few tricks that can help close deals, or at the very least leave both companies on good terms and the door open for future opportunities.

I’ve said many times that the most important thing to do in any negotiation is to listen to your prospect so you can truly understand their needs.  That is the only way to know how you can meet those needs—within their means.  You can’t do business with someone that doesn’t have a need, nor can you sell to someone who doesn’t have the means to buy.

Beyond that, here are a few other suggestions to amp up your negotiations:

  • View negotiations as the start of a relationship: Determine upfront what both parties want out of the relationship and make sure you can meet those expectations. As with any relationship, some give and take is required. Be open to compromise – on anything but your integrity.
  • Instill confidence and trust: Concentrate your negotiation efforts on building trust and confidence by putting the prospect’s best interests first, even if it means you don’t make an immediate deal. No one will work with someone they cannot trust. When trust is established, business will follow.
  • Be more than a seller: Let the prospect know that you value them as more than just a possible buyer. No one wants to feel that they’re just another cog in the deal-making machine. Make it clear that you’re interested in something more mutually beneficial than just a one-off sale by demonstrating that their success is as important to you as it is to them.

In short, take the time to cultivate a relationship rather than negotiate a sale. The long-term payoff of repeat business and referrals will be worth the short-term investment of time it takes to get there.