Although sales people may not do it as often as they should, most would rally around the notion that call planning is a good idea. In this discussion a distinction is made between call planning and account planning. Exploring account planning is a topic that deserves its own discussion and will be postponed for another day. What this post does cover is the two components of call planning – pre-call planning and post-call planning.
Let’s begin with some best practices for pre-call planning.
1. Determine the call objective. The first step in pre-call planning is setting the objective for the call. The objective should be formulated in terms of the commitment desired from the customer that moves the sales cycle forward. Examples include: an appointment with a more senior person, an opportunity to present your solution to the buying committee, or a trial placement of your solution. The appropriate commitment is determined by where you are in the sales cycle and the person with whom you are meeting.
2. Keep it simple. If sales people are asked why they don’t do a better job of pre-call planning, the answers heard most often are “No time” or “Too much paperwork.” Sometimes the complaints are partially justified but when some sales people say “I just do it in my head” – that doesn’t hold water. You have to write stuff down. The key is keep it simple – no format for a pre-call plan should be more than one page or take more than 15 minutes to create.
3. Adopt a standard way of pre-call planning. This idea is correlated with the “keep it simple” notion. Standardizing pre-call planning is a great way to keep it simple and to get better at doing it. Here are six topics that work well as the basis of a pre-call plan:
- Call objective
- Questions you want to ask
- Questions you might be asked
- Points to communicate
- Likely objections
- Possible advances or commitments
4. Rehearse key calls. In a major sale, all calls are not of equal importance. Those one or two key calls during the sales cycle that are most important demand more attention when it comes to pre-call planning. On these calls, top performers not only complete a pre-call plan, they rehearse the call in a role-play with a colleague or sales manager assuming the customer role. Yes, it takes time but this is one of those cases where time is well spent. A small difference in how a specific segment of the call is conducted can make a huge difference in the outcome.
Now let’s turn to post-call planning. Although most sales training programs and sales managers give a fair amount of attention to pre-call planning, post–call planning is often the forgotten country cousin. Yet in a major account, it’s a big deal too. So, let’s take a look at a couple of best practices.
1. Do it now. Perhaps the biggest trap is either not doing it at all or postponing post-call planning so long that it just turns into an exercise of completing a call report form. The best idea is to complete the post-call planning right after the call to ensure nothing falls “between the cracks”. When the call is still fresh in the sales person’s mind it’s easier to decipher what the notes and scribbles penned during the call actually mean. Again 15 minutes should be all that is needed.
2. Assess next steps. Think about what happened on the call and assess what needs to be done next. Analyze how the results of the call might impact the overall account strategy for moving forward. Remember great account strategies are always a work-in-progress.
3. Play it again. One insight that can be gained from post-call planning is determining what went right and what went wrong. Ask the question: “If I could do this call again, what would I do differently?” Since “this call” will probably occur again in another account this brief call assessment should result in the call being executed a little bit better the next time.
Top sales performers are always getting better – call planning is one simple way to execute on that idea. The reason call planning is such a big deal is not just about what you write down or key into your iPad. It’s taking the time to systematically think about what you are about to do and to learn from what you just did. The larger the account, the more important the idea and the greater the payoff.
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