Getting the edge in professional selling
Terence A. Hockenhull

I recently wrote about setting call objectives and planning a successful outcome to a sales call. The objective, which we agreed should be realistic and achievable, might not necessarily be to close the sale or collect a purchase order. In the larger sale, each call is part of a process which takes the client through steps so he recognizes problems and difficulties he is currently encountering and looks at the value of addressing these problems using the salesman’s products.

Each time a client is visited, an objective should be set for the sales call. This should be written down and consideration must be given as to what needs to be done to make this happen. For example, an objective might be to demonstrate the compatibility of a component in the manufacturing chain. During the sales meeting, this must be proposed and an agreement reached that time can be set aside to have the component fitted and tested. The parameters of the testing can be discussed and agreement reached as to how results might be presented and interpreted. Providing, by the end of the meeting, the client agrees to the matters under discussion, the salesman can walk away and pat himself on the back for successfully achieving his objective. And, of course, congratulate himself for moving one step closer to the sale.

Of course, if he fails to reach the objective, he can review the sales call and determine what he might have done differently to affect the outcome. It goes without saying that if, during the call itself, greater gains can be made with the client, the salesmen should not feel restricted by his original objective but push on to achieve the best possible outcome.

The large corporate sale demands an even more extensive planning strategy. Let’s say that a contract will be awarded in the middle of next year for a major capital purchase. In this case, the sales manager and sales executive involved with the account should sit down for a strategy meeting to determine what needs to be done to secure the sale. This isn’t a simple task by any means. Nonetheless, the resultant gains make it thoroughly worthwhile.

The manager and his sales team should commence the planning process by identifying fixed time points for the sale. In other words, they should work backwards from the date of project completion, taking into account the time it may take to place and order imported equipment, ship, and clear customs, unpack, test, deliver and install. This whole process may take two to three months (or longer) and will clearly indicate when the contract must be closed. This key information must be put into the first draft of the sales plan.

The manager and his team must now decide which client’ departments, groups, and individuals will be involved in the decision making process. Who will make the ultimate decision and how will this be done? Once the personalities have been identified, some thought must be given to the point (or person) of first contact and the order and timings of meetings with other involved parties. Each sales meeting (as I indicated in the first example) must be planned with a specific outcome or objective so that each person involved with the client knows what must be achieved to keep the sale on track.

During the same sales strategy and planning meeting, consideration must be given to the timings of other activities such as securing accreditation or an invitation to bid, preparation of draft and final proposals; demonstrations, field testing, financing, etc. The process shouldn’t be the subject of an abstract discussion; everything discussed and planned should be committed to paper and ideally posted in a prominent place so all involved parties can review the plan from time to time.

The best-laid plans often go astray when a client’s schedule fails to allow a sales meeting to go ahead at the planned time. However, there is still major value in conducting this planning activity because it helps the sales team identify when the sale is coming off the track. When dates for important activities are passed without action, a review and remedial planning will help get the project back on track.

Sales executives often complain that clients rarely, if ever, tell them when a contract has been awarded to a competitor. As a result they consider a contract “active” and continue to expend effort making phone calls and trying to set appointments. Indeed, in some cases, I have heard of salesmen continuing to meet with clients (who are too embarrassed to admit that the business has been awarded to someone else). This is both time-consuming and wasteful and interferes with the salesperson moving on to other more productive accounts and opportunities. The planning process, because it provides a “timeline” for the project allows the salesmen to know when the “sell by” date has been passed and move on to other clients.

Selling is dynamic and things change from day to day. Projects are often extended or canceled. The whole point about project planning is that it provides the sales team with the opportunity to constantly update, adjust and reschedule activities as and when required. Without it, major sales are in grave danger of falling into a series of meetings with the wrong people at the wrong time and important activities are often overlooked. The result is that the business may be lost to the better-prepared competitor company.

Terence A. Hockenhull is a long-term resident of the Philippines. He is an accomplished sales consultant who currently holds an executive sales position with an Italian geotechnical company.