By Paul Reilly

“If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” – Zig Ziglar

It is staggering how many salespeople aim for nothing and hit it every time. Less than one-in-ten salespeople routinely plan every sales call.

90% of salespeople don’t plan sales calls. Salespeople tell us they don’t need to plan because they already know what the customer needs. Assuming you know the customer’s needs assumes the customer’s needs never change.

Other salespeople believe they have enough sales experience. They don’t need to plan their call because they have made thousands of sales calls. These are the salespeople that try to wing it. These salespeople believe experience and natural ability trump preparation and planning.

Other salespeople tell us they don’t have time to plan a sales call. However, they have enough time to make another sales call when the unplanned call is unsuccessful. Planning is essential because salespeople’s greatest currency is time. Planning every call ensures the greatest return on your time investment.

Salespeople that don’t plan are the equivalent of a rudderless ship floating aimlessly in the ocean. They go where the current takes them. Their sales calls have no direction; they end up asking the wrong questions. Customers view these individuals as unprofessional.

In Tom Reilly’s top-achiever study, he found that 95% of top achievers routinely plan every sales call versus 10% of the general sales population. Are you preparing like a top achiever or the general sales population?

Preparing for a sales call is a simple process. It is asking yourself a few questions. Ask yourself these pre-call planning questions and set yourself apart from 90% of the general sales population. For sales managers, print this article and ask your salespeople these questions before every joint call.

What do I want to accomplish?

Establish the call objectives. A sales call with no objective is defective. Every call has a purpose. Many salespeople share their objectives with customers. Before your next sales call, send your customer the objectives ahead of time. In the opening, restate your objective and tell the customer why you’re there.

In the customer experience, there are a series of steps that take place. These steps define your sales process. Your objective should focus on achieving the next step in the sales process. For example, if you are qualifying an opportunity, then your objective should be to gather customer information.

What questions am I going to ask?

Develop a list of questions. These questions help guide the needs analysis stage of the sales process. These questions also shape buying criteria and create distance between you and the competitor. Prepare five or six go-to questions to help you guide the conversation. Prepared questions help reduce the amount of close-ended questions you ask the customer.

What are the common needs for this type of customer?

Answering this question helps you take the perspective of the customer. Value-Added Selling is a customer-focused approach. This question helps you focus on the customer’s needs.

Go a step further and ask yourself, “What are the common needs in this industry?” Certain industries have common needs. A general understanding of industry-specific needs positions you as a professional.

What support material do I need?

How many times have you finished a customer interaction by saying, “I’ll send you the information you requested”? Wouldn’t it make more sense to have the information available when the customer makes the request?

Prepare support material before the sales call. This sounds basic, but make sure you have all the collateral material the customer needs. This ranges from catalogs, case studies, testimonials, technical data, demonstration material, etc.

Having the information available when it’s needed also positions you as a professional.

What resistance do I anticipate?

Anticipate customer resistance. Develop a list of objections that would stall the sale. For example, the customer mentions bad timing, lack of budget, new leadership, new software, too many changes, etc. Develop a go-to response to handle this resistance. Ask yourself, “What is the most common type of customer resistance I experience?”And then ask, “How can I help the customer get past this resistance?”

What is the customer call-to-action?

Establish next steps. Every sales call should have an actionable result. For the sale to progress forward, clearly articulate the call-to-action. Establishing the next step isn’t necessarily closing the sale, it’s generating positive momentum. Having a customer call-to-action ensures that you meet your call objectives. Before ending the call, everyone should know what needs to happen next.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Practice the sales call. Practice what you’re going to do and what you’re going to say. Practice gives you confidence. One salesperson explained they practice every team-selling and customer presentation. They practice their presentation to a group of mock customers. The group of mock customers gives feedback, and they practice again. Practice makes perfect.

Pre-call planning is the silver bullet in sales. By planning every sales call, you feel more confident and you are better prepared. Pre-call planning is a habit any salesperson can develop. No matter how rushed you are, how well you know a customer, or how routine the call might be, plan the call.

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