Why Preparation Is An Essential Part of Sales Success

BY Ron Finklestein
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Sales is simply a game and knowing the rules of the game makes things easy. The intent of this article is to help you improve your sales skills, help you become a better sales leader while growing sales and increasing revenues.

How many times have you gone into a sales meeting without a plan, hoping the prospect would do what you want? More than likely you did not get the desired results. And no, the objective of a sales call is not to always get the sale. Some objectives could include identifying the decision maker, determining the competition, determining the impact of the problem, and so much more.

Without preparation, you are planning to fail.

A recent post on LinkedIn states, “Research says that buyers think that only 13% of sellers are adequately prepared for a sales call.” If this is true, this is a frightening statistic. As a business owner, when someone comes into my office to sell me something and they are not prepared, I stop the meeting as soon as possible and politely escort them to the door. I really do not like it when someone wastes my time.

Success starts with a plan. Every meeting you have with a prospect, suspect or client needs to be well planned. You should always be prepared with a specific reason to meet with your prospect. If you arrive to one of these meetings unprepared, you look unprofessional, or worse, you look incompetent.

How do you prevent that, and look like the pro you are? You need to prepare – and luckily – it does not take long, especially once you do it a few times.

Let me share with you a planning process I take all my clients through. I will overview the process, then break it in to specific action steps.

  • Get the prospects to say yes to your product or service
  • Define the problem (Is there is a problem we can help with?)
  • Define the impact of the problem (Why would they want to fix the problem?)
  • Determine the budget (How much are they willing to spend?)
  • Understand who the decision makers are and their role in the decision-​making process (Who do I need to sell to?)

Step 1. As Stephen Covey said, “Begin with an end in mind.” Or, stated differently, ask yourself, “What outcome do I want from this meeting?” Generally speaking, there are only five outcomes (I am only looking at the most common.) the average sales person wants to achieve. They are:

Let us go back to Step 1. What is the outcome I want to achieve? Let us say I want to understand the problem to see if I can help. The next step is to define the questions to ask.

Step 2: Assuming they told you about a problem they are having before the meeting (or agreed to meet with you), here are some questions to gain both clarity on the problem, and, impact the problem is having:

  • Ask the prospect what they want to get out of the meeting. This both confirms why you are there, and helps ensure you can help them achieve the desired results. If you do not know what they want, how can you ensure the prospect achieves the desired results?
  • How long has this been a problem? If it is a long-​standing problem, we need to know that. If it is a long-​standing problem, I want to know why they did not take action sooner, or why they are taking action now.
  • Why do you want to take action now? This will help you understand the urgency of the prospect.
  • What is the impact if the problem is not fixed? I have heard these types of answers: I will get fired if it is not fixed, nothing significant — I am exploring my options, I cannot make payroll, etc. NOTE: This is where both budget and value is built.
  • What have you tried in the past? I do not want to come back with the same solution they tried in the past, especially if it did not work. I want to know what did not work in the past, and why, so a better solution can be provided this time. If I do come back with a similar solution, I need to be prepared to tell them why this is different from the previous approach.
  • Who is involved in the decision-​making process? I want to know if I am speaking to the right person, the decision maker. If the person is not the decision maker, I need to figure out how to get in front of the appropriate person.
  • Is there any money in the budget to fix this problem? If they do not have any money, is it a real opportunity? Probably not. If there is, you want them to give you an idea of how much they are willing to spend. I do not want to provide a Cadillac solution when they have a VW budget.

The intent behind these questions is to determine if they have money to spend to fix the problem. Do they have the authority to make a buying decision? Is the need great enough for them to take action and to define the time frame in which the decision will be made.

Step 3: Sometimes this information is gathered, and another meeting is required to present the best solution. A great outcome would be to have a follow-​up meeting. Let us assume you acquired the answers you wanted, and it is time to take the next step. A great question to ask the prospect is, “What do you think is a good next step?” If the prospect tells you what they want to do, they have started to buy into you and your selling process.

Additionally, when you help them understand the impact of their problem, you come across as competent and professional. If there is low impact or the impact is less than other challenges they are dealing with, you have enough information to know what to revisit at a later date, or help them understand the power of dealing with the opportunity now.

Step 4. How do I conduct this meeting? I am a big believer in using visuals. It could be a simple PowerPoint (movie, flip chart, etc.), to a well-​structured discussion. Keep in mind your location. If you are meeting in Starbucks, and you are approaching delicate information, maybe a coffee shop is not the best place to have this discussion. The location of the meeting can play a large part in the success of a sales call. When I expect to be talking about the budget, employee problems or impact, I like to get them out of their office, or at least in a private space where we cannot be overheard.

Step 5. What does the agenda look like? Here is a sample agenda that will cover most sales calls:

  • Prior to the meeting, confirm the agenda, location, date, time, reason for the meeting and other materials needed for the meeting.
  • Ask the prospect (customer) why they agreed to meet and what they want to get out of the meeting.
  • Ask the prospect if anything has changed since you last spoke. If so, ask questions to gain clarity on how this will impact your meeting.
  • Share with the prospect what you hope to get out of the meeting. This could be as simple as seeing if there is an opportunity, or getting clarity of a next step (no next step is a good next step.).
  • Ask permission to ask a question. This is important, because you could potentially be asking a question that could be construed as probing. Permission takes the edge off some of the more direct questions as you are exploring both the problem and the problem’s impact.
  • Lastly, I always add a next step. I want everyone to know I am expecting a decision on the next step. Sometimes there is no next step and that is okay. If there is no next step, at least everyone agrees and there is no time wasted in a possible follow-​up. I will ask the prospect this question at the end of the meeting: From your perspective, what do you see as the next step? If they do not offer one, I am ready with what I think is a good next step.

Hopefully, after reading this, you realize how some simple preparation can make the difference between success and failure in the sales call and ultimately how “professional” you look to your prospects and clients.