May 14, 2020 • Podcast

How do I plan sales calls during tough and uncertain times?

Paul shares ten questions to prepare you for a sales call in tough and uncertain times. 

Show Notes:

Apparently, growing marijuana is more important that growing sales!

“Ninety percent of your competitors are NOT doing this…” Planning is your greatest opportunity to differentiate yourself.

These ten questions will help you prepare more effectively.

“A sales call with no objective is defective.” Value-added sellers act on purpose with a purpose.

Be prepared to share good news with your customer or prospect. “People are hungry for hope.”

“In the future, buyers focus on outcomes. Since buyers are focused on tomorrow’s outcomes, they’re not focused on what they have to sacrifice today.”

“If you want to be successful, you have to do the things your competition isn’t willing to do.”


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How do I plan sales calls during tough and uncertain times?

(Transcribed from podcast)

On today’s episode, we’re going to talk about preparing for the tough times sales call. Call preparation is absolutely critical whether we’re in good economic times, or poor economic times. Either way, we’ve got to make sure that we are prepared. I’m going to share some ideas—some insights—on that today.

Quick shout out to our sponsor, Andrea and her team at The Creative Impostor Studio. Again, if you’re thinking about starting a podcast, it’s a great way to connect with your audience, whoever that might be, your internal team within your own organization. It could also be your customers who you’re trying to connect with at a deeper level. Right now, this is an opportune time to make that leap to try it out. Reach out to Andrea and her team at The Creative Impostor Studio. They do a great job.

Also, other sponsorship—Value-Added Selling. We’ve got our latest edition of Value-Added Selling. It’s available on Amazon, which I think is funny, because we actually have a whole chapter in the book dedicated to selling against Amazon. It continues to do well. In fact, the other day, it reached number two on Amazon’s bestsellers list in sales and marketing books. What was interesting, the book that beat out Value-Added Selling was called The Cannabis Grow Bible (how you can grow marijuana plants). I think that speaks to where peoples’ priorities are these days. I can’t say that I blame them [chuckles]. But anyway, check it out. We’ve got a lot of great content in there. It’s pretty much your go-to guide. It’s a book that every salesperson should have on their shelf.

With that being said, let’s get into today’s question. How do I prepare for the tough times sales call? I mentioned Value-Added Selling. I wanted to share just a piece of research from the book. Several years ago, when we did a study on top-achieving salespeople, we looked at their behaviors, what they do, the things that separate them from the rest of the pack. And planning was one of those key areas.

Now get this. The general sales population will plan 10 percent of their sales calls. You think about that for a moment. Just everyday salespeople—regular salespeople—they are only planning 10 percent of their calls. That is disturbing. Think about how unprofessional it is not to plan and to prepare. So, there’s a 90 percent chance that your competitors aren’t planning their sales calls. I think this presents an opportunity for us.

When we compare the general sales population to the top achievers, it’s a much different story. Our research shows that top-achieving salespeople plan 95 percent of their sales calls. Ninety-five percent! I have to believe that they are on to something. They know something. They realize that planning and preparing is absolutely critical.

Earlier this week, we had Sam Richter on the show, and he talked about how you can prepare. He gave you some tools and ideas. Check out that episode if you have not checked it out already. Sam provided some great resources.

But what we’re going to do now is put this into action. I’ve created a tool for The Q and A Sales Podcast community. This tool is how you prepare for the tough times sales call. It’s available for download on the website. We just added a download section on the website. Check that out. There, you can download this tool. So make sure you download the tough time call planning guide. This call planning guide is a collection of ten questions that you should think about, ask yourself, before you pick up that phone or before you meet with that customer face-to-face, virtually, over the phone, wherever it might be.

The first question is critical. What is my call objective? A sales call with no objective is defective, so there has to be a reason for your call. The objective, that’s why you’re calling them, why you’re reaching out to them. Everything else is going to funnel towards that objective. We’re in sales, so our objective is to sell. We get that. That almost goes without saying. However, there are little things that need to happen on the way to that sale that will ultimately lead to the culmination of that sale. We call those small wins. Along the path to success, there are going to be a series of small wins that will lead to the culmination of that sale. Your goal is to figure out what small wins you need to achieve.

For example, maybe your first small win is getting the buyer to agree to a demo. Maybe that’s your call objective today. You need to gather information from a few key decision makers. Maybe that’s your objective today. You’re going to have small wins that will be your primary objective.

There’s also a secondary objective. This secondary objective should be on every single interaction, and that is create value for the person that you’re meeting with at every single interaction, every single touch point, whether it’s a voicemail, whether it’s an email. Whether it is that voice-to-voice or face-to-face meeting, you have to create value for the other person. That’s what separates you from all the other salespeople. We have to create value. That covers call objectives. Again, a call with no objective is defective.

The second question: How will I demonstrate support on this call? During these tough and uncertain times, it’s critical that we show our support to the prospect, to the customer. I would encourage you to go back and audit all the value-added services that you have for your customers and prospects during these tough times, and make sure that you mentioned that. Make sure that you are sharing that with your customers. Again, you have to answer that question, How will I support the customer on this call?

The third question, and we’ve talked about this before: How can I be a merchant of hope on this call? During these tough and uncertain times, in the midst of all this Coronavirus pandemic, we have to share good news. We have to be a positive resource for information for our customers. Before you pick up that phone, make sure you can find one piece of good news that you can share with that customer. Your goal is to lift them up, because right now, people are hungry for hope, and you’ve got to have an extra helping to give them. So again, How can I be a merchant of hope on this call?

Number four: How are you going to stretch this decision maker’s time horizon? I remember we talked about time horizon earlier. Stretching the time horizon means getting the buyer to think into the future. We want to ask some questions that cause the buyer to look towards the future. They can be questions like this:

Mr. Customer, how do you see things changing once we pick up here? Or,

Let’s fast forward a few months from now when the economy is back up and running. What are going to be your priorities at that point?

Asking questions that cause the buyer to think long term will help transport them into the future. In the future, buyers focus more on outcomes—what they gain versus what they have to sacrifice to attain it. We want the buyer to think long term. And, by the way, long term in the future is a more positive environment than the environment that we’re currently in. So, if the present is too depressing, hey, transport them to the future. That’s what we mean by stretching that time horizon.

Number five: What is my probing objective? You go back and think about your call objective. For example, let’s say the first objective, your primary objective for this call, is to gather information on the buyer’s needs. Okay. Well, let’s look at question number five then. What is my probing objective? That means all of our questions should be geared towards uncovering that information. Think about the questions you’re going to ask that decision maker, that buyer. I want to be clear here, this is not a script that we’re developing. We’re not developing a list of scripted questions. Instead, view it as a guide where you’re talking to the customer. These questions are to encourage just a good information exchange. So, get a list of questions.

Point [question] number six: What is my presentation objective? Although you’re going to build a solution and present something based on your customer’s needs, you also have to have an idea of what you’re going to be presenting. When you’re building out that presentation, and you’re giving yourself some talking points, you want to organize your thoughts. As you’re presenting, think about how your solution will impact that buyer—what they’re going to gain from it. That’s what your presentation objective really is. It’s about presenting the solution to that customer and how it’s going to impact them.

Question number seven: What obstacles do I anticipate? If you’re in sales, you’re going to hear objections. That’s just part of what we do. In fact, some would argue that the selling doesn’t really happen until you do experience that first objection, because up until that point, you’re just taking an order. Overcoming objections is critical. During this tough time, it’s important to think about some of the resistance that you’re going to experience. Whether it’s a buyer saying, “The timing just isn’t right,” or, “We just don’t have a budget right now,” you can anticipate these objections without creating an objection.

So think about the objections that you’re hearing lately. What are they? What’s the common theme? Is it about timing, budget, price? Whatever it might be, think of those common objections. And once you experience them enough, you can now overcome them. You can come up with a rebuttal to whatever their objection might be. If a customer says, “The timing just isn’t right,” we can say, “I understand the timing is not right, but right now we do have more time than we normally do have. So we might not make a decision today, but at least we can open up the discussion. We can analyze the different ideas, and then once things pick up, we can find a way to move forward.” Once you hear a number of objections, then you can overcome them.

Question number eight: How would you describe the overall health of this business before the tough time? Some companies are better positioned financially to handle this tough time, to weather this storm. Now, those companies that have a better financial position are going to try to take advantage of this opportunity. They might do that by investing in more inventory, expanding their operation, hiring more people. Those are the types of companies we want to latch onto during this tough time. Because they have money to spend, we can use this as an opportunity to build relationships. I would take those customers and put them towards the top of the list.

Question number nine: How has the specific industry been impacted by this tough time? During these tough times, some industries are doing better. The companies that manufacture pajamas, they’re doing pretty good. Toilet paper, hand sanitizer, alcohol, those companies are doing well. And apparently, the cannabis industry is doing well too, based on the book sales. But some industries are doing better.

In fact, I was talking to one of my clients the other day, and some of the schools that they sell to (schools are a big target for them on automation in various things). They said many of their schools are now upgrading and doing things that they couldn’t do before because schools are empty. That’s an opportunity area. So think about that and just be aware of how the specific industry has been impacted that you’re calling into.

Finally, question number 10: What action do I want from the prospect at the end of this call? Whether you’re talking to an existing customer or a brand new prospect, there has to be a call-to-action: to send you information, to agree to a follow up call. Whatever action you want from the customer at the end of the call, use that. Make sure you write that down so you can check on that before you end that meeting. If you’re trying to meet with them again, get the date on the calendar while you’re there with the customer, either screen to screen, or voice to voice.

Those are the tips. Again, ten questions to ask yourself during this tough time.

I recently shared this with a group on a virtual webinar, and we talked about pre-call planning, and one salesperson said, “That seems like a lot of questions just for one sales call. Do we need to do that on every single sales call?” My response was, “Of course you don’t. You don’t need to do it every single time. Just on those calls that you want to be successful.”

If you want to make a bunch of lousy, crappy sales calls, then don’t worry about it. You don’t need to plan it. Wing it. Right? But if you want to be successful, you have to do the things that your competitors aren’t willing to do. And since 90 percent of your peers in sales are not willing to prepare for that sales call, I think this is one of your greatest opportunities. Make sure that you seize it.

Make it a big day.

(Check out the Downloads tab above to get the Tough Times Pre-call Planning Guide)

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