Being an outside sales person for Palo Alto Software, I am keenly aware of the process that other sales people use when trying to sell to us.

This week, a company contacted me to try and get our advertising dollars for their magazine and website. The meeting was cursed before it even began.

Here’s why:

  • A 6-page proposal, with pricing, was sent to me for review just 10 minutes prior to the call.
  • The proposal addressed marketing activities for one of our old products, not our current product.
  • The address on the cover sheet was for our former office that we vacated 2 years ago.
  • With the exception of me, the proposal was sent to the wrong people within our company.

First impressions are everything. So is getting the details right.

Preparation is the single most important action in designing a successful sales call. Time is precious to your audience. Respect this time and set yourself up for a win by making sure you are considering the following processes:

1. Find out everything you can about the company you are selling to

While this may seem fundamental, it is surprising how often it is overlooked. With this age of technology, there is just no excuse. This will benefit you for the obvious reasons, but it can also be a way to find out interesting  information that can help you gain affection from the get-go.

For example, I was Googling a company and found out that they had just been awarded Insurance Company of the Year. It went over very well that I began my sales call offering my congratulations. It shows that you are plugged in—and care. Additionally, a message is sent that you are on top of it, giving them an early indication of what the quality of  your service might be like.

2. Find out everything about their current supplier

Finding out who they are using is critical. Knowing what sets you apart is even more critical.

3. Find out the reason they are looking to switch vendors (or starting to use one altogether)

I once witnessed a sales call where the sales person jumped right in to call, telling the customer all about the technology his company used, how it was cutting edge and so on.

After 15 minutes, the sales person paused to hear feedback from the customer. At which point the customer said “Yes, I know all that from reading your website. What I really want to know is how experienced and knowledgeable your field investigators are.”

Part of being a good sales person is having a tool belt consisting of all of the components that make up your company, then pulling them out based on the customer’s needs. Tailor your presentation around what is most important to them. You don’t want to hand someone a hammer when they want a screwdriver.

4. Listen first—sell second

This is a mistake made frequently by rookie sales people. They have the idea that they need to jump right in and promote their products—which is not true.

Even if you make all of the preparations listed above, the customer’s situation could have changed the day before the meeting. Give them a chance to reiterative their needs so you can re-focus your pitch if needed.

5. Find out who the decision-maker is

Know this in advance and confirm that they will be at the meeting. Also make sure you know the positions and background of those attending the meeting. Do you have connections with any of them in the business community?  Have they been in their roll for 5 months or for 5 years?

This can be easily ascertained by asking the person with whom you are setting up the meeting. The other benefit of this is knowing what hats will be worn in the meeting room. Is it the HR director and CFO, or the Operations VP and IT manager? Often people that are in not-so-obvious roles related to your sales call will be invited to the meeting.

6. Ascertain what the time frame is for your meeting, and plan accordingly

There is nothing worse than a sales person hijacking your time. Be conscious of this and plan your presentation accordingly. If you only have 30 minutes, skip the fluffy PowerPoint slides.

7. Always ask for the business

This bears repeating: Always ask for the business!

This is the part of the call that can make some sales people uncomfortable. I have had employees tell me that they are afraid of hearing “no” and not knowing how to react to the discomfort that may create.

Think of it as a second chance at selling to the customer. Why are they saying no?  Being able to address the reasons head on has won many a sale. It could just be that they misunderstood a value or benefit your company offers. Maybe it is price, thus giving you a chance to reevaluate your offering.

If their answer is “maybe,” find out what their time frame is for the decision. It is valuable to know so you can produce any take-aways and initiate the proper follow-up.

Knowledge is, well, power. Know your customer, know your products and know how to go in to the meeting locked and loaded to get the sale.

And in case you were wondering, we passed on the advertising opportunity.

Beth Anne WhalenBeth Anne Whalen

Beth Anne Whalen has 13 years of sales, sales management, and marketing experience. She has worked for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, First Advantage Corporation, and Raymond James.