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Pre-Call Planning

The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to prepare to win.

What emphasis do you place on the role of preparation and pre-call planning? Salespeople are often told to plan. Research is then done for a potentially large account analyzing the competition, history, needs, personalities, buying authority, etc. Are the salespeople ready? Is this enough?

Granted, when two or more people are interacting in a sales call, you can’t always anticipate what will transpire. The Buying and Selling Process is complex and dynamic. Because of this, many salespeople shun pre-call planning because they really don’t know what else they can do. They gather a few facts, grab the customer file and “wing it.” Over time, a comfort zone is found. They depend on their personalities, technical expertise, application knowledge and other strengths. These things can work and are required today, but again, is it enough?

The material handling salesperson today is selling solutions. The selling cycle is long and involves many buying team members. Each call is critical and the salesperson must get action for each incremental sales call objective. They must very skillfully get the buyer to want to do what the salesperson wants them to do. Not easy. And it won’t happen very often by accident. The sales professional moves toward the goal (or close) on purpose.

To better understand what is really meant by pre-call planning, let’s first define selling:

Selling is a behavioral interaction through the Selling Process and the Buying Process, empowering the seller to persuade the buyer, systematically and logically, to accept the benefits to satisfy a perceived need or want.

Read that again and digest it!

The Process
There is a Buying Process. With complicated human beings this is not step-by-step nor is it on our time schedule. The buyer ultimately possesses the power to say “yes” or “no.” This leaves the salesperson feeling powerless. We can’t manipulate because we must maintain a long-term relationship. So what will empower us? A systematic and logical Selling Process that is pre-planned.

Salespeople need a Selling Process to design and execute an effective interaction. They must know what they will say and how they will respond. The material handling sales professional plans a prepared approach to attract attention and begin the Buying Process. The approach should be short, customer-centered and designed around the sales call objective. It must be appropriate to the situation, salesperson and customer. The days of “I was in the area” and “I have a few things to show you” are over. Open and closed-ended questions are also pre-planned to effectively discover what a benefit looks like to the customer. What needs do they have? What do they really want? What is their perception?

Analysis must be thought-out and pre-planned before the call in order to build the customer’s interest in themselves, not us!

The active presentation is pre-planned based on benefits and value-added. Here is when the persuasion begins. If the needs and wants discovered in analysis are presented, desire is created in the buyer. Objections are anticipated, and in the pre-plan you develop responses to answer objections.

Most important, the material handling sales professional should pre-plan how he or she will ask for the order, action or commitment. This should be thought-out and designed around the buyer’s personality and the sales call’s objective. This is the ultimate job of the salesperson. Closing sales is all that pays the bills! In the design and execution of each step of this Selling Process, the salesperson should always be closing.

Work your Plan
So, what is pre-call planning? It’s a practical process that answers “What will you say?” and “How will you respond?” so that the strategy in the account is developed into a tactical execution plan. Writing makes you exact. Think it out. Write it out. Be prepared. Plan your work and work your plan.

I think we would all agree that this kind of pre-call planning is valuable. But who has the time to write a bunch of stuff before every call? I agree you don’t need to “write a book” before every call. However, many high-potential calls may require it. If you don’t have time to do it right the first time, when will you find the time to do it over? Quality calls are imperative today. At the very least, the salesperson should quickly pre-plan through the Selling Process and tool out an approach, developing some effective questions, as applied to each particular call with each unique buyer. It’s a discipline that you will find produces results.

Sales leaders, it’s competitive out there. And it’s expected to get tougher. Every call counts. Your job is to keep coaching on the importance of quality calls. In each call, your “season” may be on the line and preparation will assure that each salesperson maximizes every call.

Top Ten Reasons for Pre-Call Planning
We’ve looked at what pre-call planning is and how to do it. However, in order to convince your team (including veterans) to really do this, you must sell them why. Here are ten reasons why you must pre-call plan:

  1. Better message. Better consultative solutions. Accurate thought-out recommendations. Creativity is not just spontaneous.
  2. Shorter calls. Effective use of time. More calls. Focused calls with an objective and execution plan get better results faster.
  3. Respects customers’ time and pressures. Improves relationships.
  4. Less oversights, mistakes and callbacks for needed information.
  5. Better nonverbals conveyed. Less worry and stress.
  6. Professional, high-standard image.
  7. Not dependant upon personality. Not winging it or “seat-of-the-pants.” Founded on skill and effort.
  8. Repeatable. Can develop models for specific industries or markets. Can refine effective cold calls and voice mail messages. A strategy.
  9. Develops good habits. Prevents ruts and carelessness.
  10. Gets the sale!

A famous coach once said: “The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to prepare to win.”

What could happen if each salesperson maximized the effectiveness of each sales call, resulting in closing action for each call objective. As each incremental objective is skillfully closed, your selling cycle is completed by securing long-term business. This can have a significant impact on sales growth and margins.

It’s not easy. But it’s not really a mystery either. Good selling is disciplined execution of the fundamentals. Winners execute fundamentals skillfully by habit.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association
Don Buttrey Meet the Author
Don Buttrey is vice president of marketing for Butler Learning Systems in Dayton, Ohio. Buttrey is the trainer for MHEDA’s Sales Boot Camps.

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