July 08, 2009

Sales Meetings: How Much Preparation Are Salespeople Doing?

Busy sales people admit that it can be a struggle to find the time to prepare fully for each and every sales meetings with customer, or prospects. However, even though they may have had 100 similar meetings, they recognise that each call, to be successful, requires its own level of preparation.

With this in mind we asked a number of salespeople about the lengths they go to in preparing for customer meetings and put the details down to act as a guide.

The need to qualify the lead.

The preparation and planning for a successful sales call starts with the sourcing and screening of sales leads. Selling time is expensive, so there is no point in wasting it on meeting with companies that are not really interested in, or cannot afford your product. It takes only a few basic questions, or a little homework, to confirm that your sales lead is worth a sales call and that the person you are planning to meet is in fact the right person.

Research prior to the call
Your effectiveness in matching your company’s solution to the prospects needs, demonstrating your professionalism and generally making an impression on the prospect can be greatly increased by researching the company in advance of your visit. That means getting information on the company, its products and its industry, from the following sources:
Google and the company’s website
Your company’s own sales database
Colleagues, friends and contacts
The prospect's annual report and company accounts if relevant
Trade and professional associations

What information will be useful to you in preparing for, as well as during, your sales call? Well, that you will know best, but here is a checklist:
What size are they? How long are they in business?
What products, or services do they offer? What is the core technology?
What are their markets and who are their customers?
Do they compete on price? Quality? Service? Delivery?
What are the key opportunities and challenges facing the company and its industry?
How are they performing at the moment? What is their financial situation?
What is their organisational structure and who are the key people in the company?
Who is likely to be involved in the purchase decision and what are they like?
What recent events (product launches, recent appointments, etc.) have taken place in the company?
Who do they presently buy from? What are their procedures with respect to suppliers? What are the like to deal with? Do they pay on time?
What past work has your company done that is specifically relevant?

In scheduling the appointment, arrange the time to fit with any travel time required and plan your route to allow you to combine sales calls and maximise the effectiveness of your trip.

Planning the call

The sales call is your time to shine and you would stand on your head if it would get your customer to buy. You have got somewhere between a half an hour and forty five minutes to tell about your company, and how its products and services are better than the competition. So how do you plan to do it?

Well, lets back track for a moment. You have been presented with an opportunity to meet and find out from the customer about his business and its needs. It would be a pity to waste it talking endlessly about our company and its products.

The best sales people spend a lot more time listening rather than talking, particularly at the early stages of the sales process. They find out what the customer wants and then they show the customer how their company is best suited to meeting the need. Those who are too busy talking haven’t a chance.

Setting Objectives

Knowing the purpose of the sales call and communicating how you feel the call can be most beneficial to the customer is an important part of the appointment setting process. It prevents a mismatch of expectations and helps you ensure you know exactly who you are going to meet, what they will expect you to do and how long it should take. It will allow you to determine if you need to be accompanied by a colleague, such as if you are presenting to a large group, or to a very technical audience.

It is important to have objectives for your sales call. These should be a little more specific than getting the deal. For example, if it is the first meeting with the potential customer the objectives are likely to include:

To gather the key pieces of information from the customer so as to establish their needs, prequalify the opportunity, etc.
To ensure you understand the organisations’ buying process – who is likely to be involved in the decision, is there a budget allocation for the purchase and the likely time scale.
Position your company and its solution in a manner that differentiates it from competitors (e.g. communicating 5 key points about your company and its solution)
Agree how you will help the buyer learn more about your company and its solution and set out a specific next step if there is interest on both sides
Build some rapport with the buyer, as a first step in gaining his confidence

Setting these objectives is key to managing your own expectations, as well as those of your colleagues. It also takes the pressure off, because you are recognising the sales call as the first step in a sales process, as opposed to the beginning and the end of it. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was any high value solution sold in one sales call, or a hurriedly prepared proposal. Although sometimes we stumble on a buyer who is just about to make a purchase decision, there is no wham, bang boom in the complex sales.

Know your stuff

Buyers often complain that sales people are often lacking in industry, or even product knowledge. So, you are not fully prepared unless the buyer is likely to perceive you as an expert in your product and its role in his business, or industry. That means you can expertly advise potential customers, from a position of knowledge regarding your solutions, as well as their business and industry.

You are fully prepared when you are able to ask the right questions and confidently answer questions asked in turn. To ensure that this is the case, write down a list of your own questions (this will act as a useful checklist during the sales call), as well as the questions you anticipate will be asked of you (or a list of the questions you would want answered if you were the buyer). Rehearse how you will answer questions when asked and in particular how you will deal with any objections that may arise.

Preparing Your Sales Kit

Before the sales call make sure any sales aids, samples, or demos are ready to hand, highly presentable and in perfect working order. It is almost impossible to recover from a failed demo, so careful planning, staging and rehearsal is vital. It is almost impossible to take and use another sales person’s sales presentation, without first familiarising yourself with it and tailoring it to your own unique style of communication.

To be fully prepared get the following ready:
an up-to-date price list (or indicative pricing)
a brochure detailing the solution and benefits, or even better a white paper that is relevant
features and testimonials
details of relevant projects, or customers
up to date business cards and sales material
an investment & return model.

Preparing Your Presentation
Based on the information you have gathered on the prospect, the industry, your product and its competitors tailor your sales presentation, or message to the customer’s business. For example, make sure the examples / success stories and customers you highlight are relevant to the buyer’s industry.

Then when you have finished preparing your sales presentation (if you are using one), cut the number of slides in half (it should be no more than 8-10 key slides), print it off (in case you run out of time, or your laptop battery fails) and only use it at the end of the sales call after you have listened to the buyer talk about his needs, concerns, etc.

Remember, a sales presentation is not ideal in many cases. That is because many salespeople hide behind their sales presentations, while buyers are bored with the length and sameness of power point presentations. Remember the real purpose of the sales visit is to ask questions, explore needs and discuss possible solutions. Some slides will help reinforce this process, but long presentations clearly hinder it.

And finally…

The next piece of preparation is obvious - arrive early and un-phased to the sales call. Then visualise a successful outcome to the call. Finally, before you greet the potential customer, drop your shoulders a little, be yourself and smile. All these preparations will surely maximise your chances of success.

1 comment:

Alexander said...

great post, I have my own comapany and the info was a real help. Thank you.