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The Sales Call

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In the last scene of The Wolf of Wall Street, the main character Jordan Belfort (portrayed by Leonardo di Caprio) gets introduced to an audience attending a sales training seminar. But, instead of speaking, Belfort gazes with laser like focus at the group in front of him. He walks to the front row and looks at one of the attendees straight in the eye.

Belfort, knowing that he commands the person’s complete attention, reaches for his inner pocket and retrieves what’s inside. He then brandishes what he took and says to the wide-eyed trainee: “sell me this pen.” The seminar attendee gathers himself and utters about the features of the pen. Belfort listens and then moves to the next trainees; he issues the same challenge. The movie also ends in this manner.

That scene aside from potentially achieving iconic status underscores two things. It emphasizes Jordan Belfort’s supreme abilities as a salesman and highlights the power of a sales pitch. There are lessons to be learned from these two points.

Jordan Belfort is a natural. He can adjust his sales pitch or presentation on the fly. He knows how to inject passion and zeal in every word that comes out of his mouth. He has the skill to make the mundane sound exciting. Not all salespeople have these gifts.

But when it comes to the preparation of sales pitches or sales calls per se, the story is different. Anyone in sales, if committed enough, could execute an effective sales call. The task is achievable. With the right approach, any salesperson can prepare and squeeze the most out of any sales meeting. A salesperson does not have to be a Jordan Belfort to pull this off. I know, because I speak from experience.

The Approach

In my career in sales, I’ve learned that having an established approach can spell the difference between a won and lost deal. For instance, if you’re selling in the B2B market, not having any idea about a potential client-company that you’re meeting for the first time is fatal. You might end up offering your products or services in a vacuum.

So, I don’t wing it. I try not to shoot from the hip nor do I attack half-cocked. I follow a scheme, to wit:

• The Pre-Sales Call Stage;
• The Sale Call Proper; and
• Post-Sales Call

The Game Starts Before It Begins

Some salespeople think that the game begins at the time they meet the lead or the prospective client. They neglect to make the necessary preparation. I have witnessed this mistake in action.

In one of the teams that I managed in the past, I had a teammate who registered the lowest number of average proposals released to clients. Curious about his situation, I accompanied him to a few of his meetings and learned quite a number of things.

My teammate had no problems with his communication skills. He was articulate. Confidence laced every word he uttered. He had more than adequate knowledge about his offerings. So, what was wrong?

I noticed that my teammate kept on discussing without attempting to connect what he was offering to the prospective client’s operations. His pitches were devoid of context. Those listening to him couldn’t identify or find relevance to what he was talking about.

So, after a few meetings, I asked him why he couldn’t link our company’s products to the potential client’s business.

He answered that he did not actually know what the customers did. He didn’t bother doing his research. Boom!

To address his lapses, I asked him to take time in preparing for his sales call. I told him that research about a potential client is key.

He however said that engaging in research could result in having lesser number of meetings.

In response, I asked what’s better: having a lot of sales calls with no proposals being sent, or going on a lesser number of meetings but the rate of sent proposals will go higher? He opted for the latter. And after a few months, my teammate increased his sent proposals rate.

The situation above is one of the errors that salespeople make at the pre-sales call stage. Entrepreneur magazine, in a May 2018 article, actually identifies this as one of the three typical errors that sales people commit. The other two are as follows: (1) they don’t understand the goal of a sales meeting; and (2) they don’t really know who their competitors are. Just imagine the number of sales lost due to fundamental mistakes.

The situation however isn’t as dire as it looks. If a salesperson is mindful, he or she can refrain from committing the errors above. All it takes is discipline.

For example, before meeting a potential client, the salesperson should try to determine the former’s expectations or requirements. This can be done by sending an email or by giving the customer a quick phone call. Doing this allows the salesperson to identify the goal of the impending sales call.

The salesperson, aside from knowing the goals of an upcoming meeting, should also take time in understanding a potential client’s industry. This is crucial if the salesperson is doing business in a B2B market.

The salesperson should ask how his or her client positions itself vis-à-vis its competitors? What are the customers’ plans for the next few years? What are the political, economic, social, technological, legal, and ecological factors affecting it today? These are the questions that a salesperson should answer. Because knowing the responses to these queries will not only provide context to an offering but also help in linking products and services to existing circumstances.

After doing the research, the salesperson should determine whether there is a need to create a presentation material.

If yes, then he or she should practice using it. The salesperson should also think about what he should wear during the meeting. Will formal business attire do, or will casual clothing be enough? The answer to these questions depends on both the preference of the salesperson’s company and the client’s culture.

Assuming the salesperson goes through the initial steps, he or she is presumably ready. And as Sherlock Holmes would say: “The game is afoot.”

Game Time: Sales Call Proper

For a salesperson, the game should start at the time he or she enters the client’s office. That has been my mindset from the beginning of my sales career.

Upon entering, I already try to get a feel of the place. I try to sense whether there is a laidback vibe in the premises, or if it’s too formal. Knowing these things help me adapt to the right approach.

So, if the client’s office has an easygoing feel, then I tweak my language to reflect that. If the customer’s workplace looks formal, then I’ll have to my words should also be like. I also adjust my non-verbal communication as well, e.g., posture, hand gestures, and etc. My advice therefore is to continue to observe until the meeting starts. Because when it does, everything goes up a notch; hyper drive kicks in. The stakes become higher.

Once the client-corporation’s representative’s steps into the room, it is incumbent upon the salesperson to have laser like focus. In my case, I shut everything down. I put anything that can distract me on the side, e.g., my phone is on silent mode, I instruct my team not to call especially if I’m delivering a presentation, and etc.

The salesperson should also try to make the atmosphere and mood less tense. What I do is I try to engage in a bit of small talk. I also attempt cracking a joke if there is a chance. Engaging the client in light banter if the situation presents itself can be helpful. All these are important to establish rapport, especially when trying to make a sale with Filipino-owned companies.

Filipino-owned corporations give a premium on relationship. If a salesperson shows he or she is trustworthy, then the chances of not just getting an initial sale but also capturing repeat business increases. And that is only possible if the professional ties start on the right foot.

Now, once rapport has been established, the sales guy could move on to the most important step of the sales call called probing.

“Probing” as commonly known to salespeople is the act of asking questions to the customer for the purposes of determining the latter’s needs. The process is akin to the Socratic method.

To conduct an effective probing session, the key is to know the correct questions to ask. Research done prior to the start of the sales call is crucial because it provides fodder for the salesperson’s queries.

By the way, some salespeople mistakenly think that delivering a presentation is the most critical part of the sales call. The moment that their clients show up, they turn on their laptops and present. That’s wrong!

Immediately conducting a presentation without even going through the probing process puts the sales guy or business development person front and center of the meeting. The client becomes passive and turns into a bystander.

Remember, the star of the show isn’t the one selling; it is the buyer or customer. It is the client that must do more of the talking.

But, aside from issuing questions, an equally important skill that salespeople should utilize is listening. You’ll be amazed on how some salesmen do not have this basic and indispensable ability. I have in fact witnessed how the inability to listen affects the outcome of a sales call.

One time, I accompanied a colleague in a meeting. She kept on throwing questions to the client —
which was good of course. The problem was that she continued to ask without listening to the client’s response. The questions she issued sounded incongruent to the replies of the customer. The client felt lost and never had the chance to understand how my officemate’s offering could help them.

The lesson therefore is that every salesperson not only should learn how to probe but also spend time in listening to the answers coming from the other side of the table.

After the probing session, the salesperson then, if still necessary, can deliver a presentation. This isn’t mandatory since some sales calls don’t need PowerPoint or Keynote. There are times that the client already understands the pitch without even showing a slide or two.

But, assuming that the salesperson does have to deliver a presentation, then he or she should do so in a quick but impactful manner. The salesperson should provide substance, but not drown the client in too much detail. And of course, those delivering the presentation shouldn’t bore the customer to death.

For those wanting to have benchmarks for their presentations, they can read Jeremy Donavan’s How To Deliver a Ted Talk for starters.

Now, at the conclusion of every presentation or discussion, salespersons should make a pitch. Some do this by asking a metaphorical question, e.g., “Given what you’ve heard and seen this afternoon, do you think there is value to what I offer?” Others take a more direct approach: “I’m confident that what you’ve seen piqued your curiosity. Can I send the proposal tomorrow?”

There is no single approach in making the pitch. What works for one salesperson may not do so for others. The more important task is never to forget issuing that final message prior to concluding the sales call. Don’t leave without telling your potential clients why you met with them in the first place.

Post-Sales Call Activities: What’s Comes Next?

So, you’re done with the meeting. The sales call has been concluded. What’s the next step?

The salesperson must send minutes of the meeting or a summary of what had been discussed. This is admittedly administrative work in nature, but crucial nonetheless. Because the minutes or summary not only puts on record what transpired during the sales call but also reminds the client about any actionable items that it has to accomplish relative to closing the deal.

For example, the client couldn’t commit yet to the transaction because there is a need to consult top management. The minutes should indicate that the salesperson would wait for feedback coming from top management regarding his or her offering.

Aside from sending the minutes, sometimes it’s helpful to give the client a call to say thank you for having the chance to conduct a sales call. This gives the salesperson an opportunity to tie up loose ends or address any concerns that the customer may still possess.

Finally, any salesperson should remember that there is no such thing as absolute certainty in sales. A sales guy may have done everything he possibly could, but due to unforeseen events or Black Swans, the deal won’t push through.

A client’s management team felt the need to change directions, or the one you’ve been speaking to suddenly tendered his or her resignation. There is still after all the element of luck involved.

So, while the sales game isn’t exact science, preparing to the best of one’s abilities still lessens the chances of losing a transaction. I learned that in my career. I like my chances with that mindset.

So, I give my best; I give everything that I’ve got. And if I did that, I can face myself in the mirror everyday and move on. I continue to sell my pen.

Jonee C. Bilasano is a banker by profession and considers writing, corporate strategy, and basketball as his passions.