Every salesperson would like to have more appointments with more decision-makers. The reality is, these are relatively rare events—particularly with regard to the C-suite.
So once you do get that all-important meeting set up, how much time do you spend preparing for it? The majority of sales calls are won or lost before the salesperson even steps into the client's office. This is due to the amount of time spent planning for the call. Pre-call planning is one of the most critical steps before any important client meeting. It can take 15 minutes, or even days, depending upon the complexity and importance of the business to your company and goals.
In spite of its critical importance, pre-call planning is a relatively simple endeavor. Here are six steps to incorporate into your own planning process:
1. The first question you should ask yourself is, "When my meeting with the client is over, what is it I want them to decide or agree to?" What statement will you say to gain agreement on moving to the next step? The next step could be another appointment, opening the door to another key contact, getting an order, etc. What next steps will you recommend to the client at the end of the meeting?
2. In order for the client to agree to that next step, what will they have to believe about you, your company, your solution, etc.? What will you do during the conversation to address these areas? During your first call with the client, they need to do most of the talking and you need to be an active listener. But you will need to incorporate key statements to ensure they believe you can be an appropriate provider to them.
3. What are key things that you want to know about the client the most? What questions will you ask? It helps tremendously to have a list prepared before you go in. You'll want to ensure during the meeting that you get a list of their issues and understand which are most important to them. Also, do your homework in researching their company. Don't ask questions that you could have found answers to on their Web site. Use the knowledge you've gained during your research to ask more thought-provoking questions. This will demonstrate to the client that you took the time to prepare for the meeting.
4.What are the potential objections you'll receive, and how will you respond? Whether you've been selling your solution for 20 years or one week, you should have a list of the common objections along with the appropriate response. During the call, you will need to determine if your solution is a fit to the client's problems or not.
Once you've thought through and written out your responses to the above questions, write down the details on how you will execute your call to include the following:
1. Create an agenda for the meeting. Even informal calls need structure to be effective. Having an agenda provides both you and the client the important objectives of the call. Most decision-makers don't have time for idle chit-chat and want someone who won't waste their time. Building relationships with clients starts with this basic element of respecting their time and yours.
2. Prior to the meeting, "pre-condition" the call by sending the client an e-mail letting them know the agenda and the purpose of the call. You can also ask them if they have other objectives they would like to accomplish during the conversation. Give them an opportunity to include others in the meeting who may be critical, or perhaps suggest who you would like to include.
Mary Donato is president of Applied Principles and associate director of the Institute for the Study of Business Markets. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.