It does not take long to open a sales call, but how you start often determines how you finish. So, salespeople should plan how they open the sales call just as they plan the rest of the call.
A good sales call opening sets the direction for the call and gains the customer’s interest. Just like other aspects of selling, opening has its fair share of myths. So a good place to start at getting opening right is exposing these dubious practices.
Let’s start by debunking …
Myth # 1 – There is set of effective icebreakers that are clever and easy to remember. There are no magic words for opening a sales call. So you cannot memorize a good opening. The opening statement should be tailored to each call because each call has a unique customer and should have a unique purpose.
The key to opening is not about “breaking the ice.” It is about gaining agreement from the customer on a customer-focused purpose for the sales call.
Unfortunately, too many salespeople use the opening as a way to ask a question or two that set the stage for talking about their product. That type of call is destined to failure before it even gets off the ground. Beginning a call with a question like: “I wonder if I could have a few minutes to talk about our new inventory software …” is an example of what not to do – and a classic trap! Why?
No matter what happens next you are probably in trouble. The research is clear – in successful calls buyers talk more than the seller and sellers ask more questions. If you start by talking about your product, regardless of how compelling the start, it is likely the sales call will evolve into a product pitch.
A more effective approach is to open a sales call with something like: “I thought we could begin by talking about the inventory problem you mentioned the last time we met.”
This is a better opening for two reasons: (1) you are asking a question that allows the customer to talk from the beginning of the call, and (2) the call is starting by discussing something of real concern to the customer.
Beyond magic words, there are two other myths to debunk about opening a sales call.
- Just because you have an appointment doesn’t mean it’s still a good time for the sales call. In major accounts, a significant number of the calls are scheduled appointments. The mistake is to open the call without checking whether this is still a good time and a good place. This mistake is particularly memorable, and unfortunately not easily forgotten, when the customer is engaged in critical activities – like when salespeople call on physicians or other hospital clinical staff.
- Building rapport is important, but salespeople can spend too much time doing it. While the appropriate amount of time to spend building rapport varies by culture, this general principal holds: salespeople can be perceived as wasting time when they take too long creating rapport in the opening. Of course rapport is important, but customers are busy and wasting their time is a bad way to start the call. Often short and straight forward wins over long and elaborate,
In many major account calls the salesperson will either know or have previously done business with the customer. So, there is the opportunity for a short personal conversation. Some best practices for this conversation are:
- Limit your personal comments to those areas where you know you are on safe ground. It is a big mistake to get into areas that the customer feels are inappropriate.
- Let the customer do the majority of the talking. This is safe and sets the stage for the main part of the call where you want the customer to do a majority of the talking.
- Particularly with senior management remember they are busy and your time with them is limited and extremely valuable.
One overarching rule to remember is – one size does not fit all. Opening statements must be targeted to each individual and to each call. There is no list of “great” opening statements – to memorize and keep at the ready. Opening statements require pre-call planning just like the rest of the sales call.
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