Getting The Edge In Professional Selling
Terence A. Hockenhull

I AM A great advocate of sales call planning. As they say, “Prior preparation prevents poor performance!” Yet few salespeople take the time to think about the call before making a visit. Even worse, they fail to set any objective for their call. While I acknowledge that selling is highly dynamic, it will always be difficult to predict what will be achieved during the course of a sales call if no objective is set. Planning to reach a specific objective will go a long way towards achieving desired results.

The first thing to consider is the status of the client. Is this a new customer who is being visited for the first time or a client who has been seen many times over previous months and has used your products or services in the past? When was the last meeting? What were you trying to sell the customer? How did he react to the sale presentation? Will you be meeting the same person again?

Let’s deal with the objective first of all. The salesperson should think about what can realistically be achieved during the course of the sales meeting. I would suggest that closing a major sale with a first-time customer during the first visit is highly unlikely and thus, would not be an appropriate objective. But knowing what he expects to achieve by the end of the call will help him plan what he needs to do next in order to move the sale towards a successful conclusion. This might be gathering necessary information through research, preparation of documentation and product literature that might be required during the call and, most importantly, setting a specific goal to achieve by the end of call.

Let’s say that a salesman has identified a client from a prospecting and qualifying exercise. He knows, based on his knowledge of other clients in similar situations or businesses, that there is the possibility of selling his products to this client. The salesman may tell himself that he is going to see the client to sell his product (the closest many salespeople get to setting an objective). All well and good if the product can be realistically sold during the first meeting. However, when selling high-value products or services, professional salespeople agree that securing a contract or purchase order entails making many calls over a number of weeks (or months). The salesman may have to deal with a number of involved parties throughout the sale, each of who needs to give his approval or endorsement for the sale to come to a fruitful and successful conclusion. Setting the call objective, “to sell products to the client” in a case such as this, will fail to contribute anything to the outcome or indeed, provide the salesman with any direction about what needs to be done during and after the sales meeting.

The salesmen’s experience will tell him what he can expect to achieve during the first call and perhaps more importantly, what will happen next in the sales process. For example, he might decide that it is necessary for him to use the sales call to introduce his company, gather additional information about the client, and establish who is involved in the decision making process. The salesman should be thinking, “During this sales call, I need to gather information about the products currently in place and help the client identify the need for replacement. I must find out which departments and individuals hold a controlling interest in any replacement program and arrange to conduct a site inspection to determine what equipment is actually used for.” This will help to determine the next logical step in the process. It might be to secure permission to conduct the site visit or a schedule for a meeting with another involved party. The call can now be planned in greater detail giving consideration to the questions that must be asked and answered and any pre-call research.

Planning sales calls and setting realistic and achievable objectives is a key to successful selling. Fail to plan; plan to fail!

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.