"If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there."

I'm a map guy. I love maps. To be sure, GPS is a wonderful (if not somewhat annoying) invention that probably does a better job of getting you from point A to point B. Nevertheless, I have a hard time giving up my trusty Rand McNally which I can hold in my two hands.

Just as you would not begin to cook a meal you've never prepared without having a plan to prepare and cook it (aka a recipe), you should never show up to a sales call without a plan to conduct it. At a minimum, your call preparation for a prospect meeting should include the following:

* Call objectives (primary and secondary)
* What you need to learn
* What you want the prospect to know
* What resistance you can expect
* What you want the prospect to do after the meeting
* Trial closes you will use

Let's discuss each of these in turn, and how they contribute to a successful call.

Call objectives(s) - What is it you want to accomplish in this meeting? What else (notice the plural - objectives) is an acceptable objective if the first one cannot be met (for example, if your objective was to make a good impression on the decision maker, but the decision-maker didn't show up)? Be sure your objective is realistic (if yours is not a 1-call close, don't set "closing a deal" as an objective if it's your first meeting. However, if it's your third, it might very well be.)

What you need to learn - Information is the currency of successful selling. When combined with skill, and personal attributes, you'll win more deals than you won't. Determine in advance what you need to know about this prospect in order to compete and win. Some of the questions to which you'll want answers are: Who is involved in the process, and who will ultimately make the decision? Against whom are you competing? What are the prospect's issues, what have they tried in order to address them? Why haven't those efforts been successful? Why do they need what you sell? Why now? How will they select a vendor - on what bases will you be evaluated? How much are they expecting to pay, and are you in the ballpark?

What you want the prospect to know - What's going to make this prospect stand up and take notice? You offer a top-notch product/service that has a great many features that provide a great many benefits. But will all of them be important and/or relevant to this prospect? Be prepared to discuss or present those features that provide the benefits your prospect needs. Also, know your company's Unique Selling Proposition, and make every effort to work it into your discussion or presentation. If what the prospect has told you is important to you doesn't provide an opportunity to naturally bring do so, find a way to make it important.

What resistance can you expect? And how will you handle it? Unless you're new to sales, you've been selling long enough to know the most common objections (today known as FAQs) prospects toss out at you. So there's no reason not to be able to handle them smoothly - if you prepare ahead of time. The best preparation I know for handling resistance is to practice it in role plays in the safety of your office. Making mistakes there won't cost you a deal - making them in the field can.

What do you want the prospect to do after the meeting? Most of us walk away from a meeting with a list of things we've agreed to do for the prospect in order to advance the sale. How many of us leave the prospect with their own list of things to do in order to advance the sale (their purchase). Prospects need direction - they will rarely take a proactive step to move a sale forward. Plan in advance what you want the prospect to do after you leave their premises - and by when. Be sure you gain agreement on both counts, otherwise, you know what will happen - nothing.

Trial closes you will use - Prepare questions you will ask to take the prospect's temperature. "So how does that sound?" "Is this about what you were expecting?" "Make sense to meet again, and invite your VP of Marketing?


There are enough wrong turns to be taken on the road to sales success without us adding more. Thorough preparation will minimize the likelihood that you'll inadvertently take one of them. Develop the habit of planning your calls before going on them. Know where you want to go, plan on how you'll get there - and you'll find yourself more often than not arriving at your destination. Which in the end is more closed business. If you'd like to receive my version of a call planning guide, e-mail me at craig@sales-solutions.biz and you'll receive it within 24 hours.

Good selling!
Good selling!

Author's Bio: 

Sales Solutions founder Craig James has over 15 years' experience in sales and sales management, primarily in technology and software. He's helped dozens of sales people, business owners, and entrepreneurs sharpen their selling skills and close more business, faster.

For more, visit http://www.sales-solutions.biz/bio.shtml