How to Conduct Effective Pre-Call Planning

Sales calls are the beginning of a journey, and like any adventure, you need to be prepared. Remote selling has risen 89% since 2013, and 40% of sales reps cite cold outreach and prospecting as the hardest part of the job. A sales call with no planning is the equivalent of a click-bait headline or a spam email — it’s about you, not the intended recipient. As such it is likely to be ignored.

Top producers know that the effective way to start is with pre-call planning.

Pre-call planning is where you set your objectives, conduct research and gather information to inform your sales strategy. In this stage, you’re preparing not only your presentation but also the questions you want to ask. 

The pre-call plan is an essential component of my process. Preparation is key to closing deals and essential to breakthrough performance. The data on sales outreach points to a harsh conclusion: winging it is a success killer. Prospects can tell when you aren’t prepared. You don’t know who their top competitors are? Can’t profile their customer? Good luck getting the next meeting.

Learn more about the elements of a pre-call plan and how you can apply them. And then use our pre-call planning checklist to keep yourself on track.

Develop Your Outcome Objective

Before any sales call, you need to define what success looks like for you after the call. The ultimate objective is a signed contract — but if some calls are more preliminary or exploratory, you need to plan accordingly. 

When determining your objective, ask yourself: 

  • Is it discovery, a referral or a signed contract? 
  • What is the one thing that you want that potential client to know about you and your company, product or solution?
  • How does this call push you closer to your overall sales goal?
  • What are the next logical steps forward in the decision cycle (or the post-sale cycle)?
  • What do those steps look like to each party? How do they differ?

Create A Clear Profile of the Decision-Maker

You must enter every call knowing who the key decision-makers are and why they took this meeting. Not having this information is a disservice to everyone involved. By creating a profile of the key decision-makers, you’ll understand what they are looking to get out of the call and who they are as people. 

Prospects spend more of their time doing their own research, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want personal interaction. In fact, 60% of prospects want to connect with a salesperson during the consideration stage. 

By researching these key people before your call, you’re better prepared to elevate the call and build a rapport that will only help the business relationship. You’ll know about their outside interests, their connections, who they follow, who they compete with and much more.  

I typically send LinkedIn invitations as a follow-up to my first meeting (not before). That action moves the relationship forward and gives me another opportunity to connect outside of routine business processes.

Compile Your Questions 

If you don’t have questions ready before your call, you aren’t going to move forward. You must build open-ended questions from a position of intelligence. These questions will stem from the outcome objective you established in the first step and are always prepared in advance.

Why are questions important? They help you gain clarity, show curiosity and understand more about a prospect’s needs and challenges — all of which move the conversation toward the outcome objective you’ve already set. The best sellers know that asking questions that engage the heart and minds of prospective buyers contribute to better call outcomes. 

Prepare to Show Quantitative and Qualitative Value

Prospects don’t buy on price. However, they will default to price when value and experience are not there. Your challenge, and opportunity, is elevating the value that your product or service will provide. You need to show prospects why your solution is the one that will solve their challenges in the most efficient way, with the greatest quality control, or in a way their competitors can’t match. Your best differentiation opportunity is to frame the pitch around your customer’s unique needs and their desired outcome.

People will remember how they were treated and how they felt during these calls. So while you’re addressing what makes you different and how it makes your offer better, your focus needs to remain squarely on their needs and the value you bring to them.  

Reinforce Your Position Of Expertise

Being prepared with an authentic, differentiated and compelling solution is an essential step in your pre-call planning system. This position aligns with the customer outcome and is compelling enough to mandate more investigation and, eventually, a movement to change. 

How do you achieve this position of demonstrated value? Ask yourself: 

  • Do you understand your market’s pain points?
  • Do you understand the nature of the risk your customers perceive if choosing you?
  • Do you understand how your offer draws on your company’s competencies and capabilities to deliver value?

While these are only a few questions out of the many on the value proposition checklist, they can get the process started well before you jump on the call.

Substantiate Your Ability to Deliver

The proof is always in the doing. It’s one thing to say that you can do X, Y and Z, but you have to back it up. You have to show how you’ll deliver solutions and results — and how you’ll keep doing it. 

Look at who else is achieving your desired results. How do your capabilities, dependability and results stand apart? This is where case studies and testimonials are great ways to quickly prove the concept you’re selling. 

Another option is to have a brand evangelist to tell your story for you. A brand evangelist is a customer who loves your product or service so much that they share their positive experiences with others. 

Use every tool at your disposal to showcase your accomplishments and help prospects see how they, too, can benefit from your services if they move forward in the sales journey.

Be Challenge Ready

Challenges, and objections in the sales process, are a good thing! Top producers welcome challenges and objections because that means the customer is becoming interested. 

Top producers recognize challenges as an opportunity to elevate understanding, align expectations and move a call to a commitment. The best way to overcome objections is to anticipate them. This is another area where the pre-call research you’ve done has very real, tangible effects. 

When you’re investigating why a prospect is interested in your products and services, you’re also looking at why they rejected other offers and what could be holding them back now.

Embrace the challenge and the potential that are inherent in objections. When you handle adversity with poise, potential customers will see how you’ll deal with the challenges they currently face.

Prepare to Earn the Commitment

When you understand your objective and complete the other preparation steps above, you’ll be ready to determine the shared commitment. A quality call starts and ends with earning a shared commitment to advance. Sometimes that’s a signed contract; other times, it’s continuing through the sales journey. 

Sales preparation will be the difference between success and failure. Salespeople can prepare for impact by doing the research, crafting a pre-call plan and engaging directly with buyer resistance. Preparation is the ultimate competitive advantage in the sales world.

Ryan Estis: Bestselling Author, Founding Partner ImpactEleven, Former Fortune 500 Chief Revenue Officer and globally recognized Sales and Leadership expert

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