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7 simple, effective pre-call planning tips for successful sales calls

Sales Call Planning
1Research the company
2Research the person
3Audit their competitors
4Plan your questions
5Establish your goal
6Time it right
7Don’t over-prepare
Final thoughts

Making a sales call can be intimidating. Persuading a stranger to buy something from you without the benefit of seeing their body language and facial expressions takes skill and practice.

Having an effective call plan helps. Whether it’s a cold call, follow-up call or post-demo catch-up, a little preparation and a handful of simple, effective sales tips can help you turn a phone call into a sale.

In this article, we run through seven effective warm-up steps to take before making your next call.

1. Research the company

One of the most important things a salesperson can do before a call is research the company they’re calling. This should almost always be your starting point.

Research could involve:

  • Browsing their website

  • Double-checking how to pronounce the company name

  • Reading up on their clients and customers

  • Understanding if the company is growing, shrinking or maintaining

  • Noting the company’s values and initiatives

  • Comprehending the issues facing their industry

On company research, Rudy Joggerst, Director of Demand Generation for the sales training and consulting firm Janek Performance Group, says:

Learn about the company’s financials, history of growth, who their previous solution provider was and key players within the organization that may need to be involved in follow-up meetings

Some of this intel, Joggerst says, can be used to build rapport with the prospect during the call. It can also help sales reps devise a proper sales strategy, as well as anticipate likely sales objections and how to overcome them.

2. Research the person

While getting to know the potential client on a macro level is highly valuable, researching the specific person you plan on speaking with is equally important.

When conducting your prospecting research, note down answers to the following:

  • What are the prospect’s fundamental needs?

  • What are their pain points and common objections?

  • What’s their decision-making power?

  • How could you help them?

Jake Dunlap, founder and CEO of the revenue innovation group Skaled, offers more advice:

Prep for the person, not just the company. People typically don’t research the person’'s background and potential biases that they may have, which provide key insights into reasons that they may buy.

Knowing the person’s job history, for example, can be used to frame the entire conversation. As Dunlap explains, if someone has been in the same role for 15 years, they might be looking for proven products that offer security. You can then lean on your case studies and product reliability.

However, if someone has only been in the role for six months and mentions an interest in innovation on their LinkedIn profile, they might be more open to something cutting-edge that offers a competitive advantage.

“People with the exact same title can have completely different preferred communication styles,” Dunlap says.

Check the person’s LinkedIn profile to see their professional history and any other useful details. For example, if the person’s alma mater just won a football game, a simple comment on the game during your sales conversation can show them you’ve done your homework.

This kind of pre-call planning creates great talking points and can help lead to sales success.

3. Audit their competitors

After studying the company and then qualifying and scoping out the point of contact, your last research-oriented task is to audit your prospect’s competitors.

If, for example, your lead is in the cosmetics industry, identify the company’s biggest competitors and determine their unique selling proposition, marketing tactics, pricing strategy and brand image.

This relevant information can help you tailor your solutions and sales pitch depending on the customer’s needs.

Here are some examples:

  • “I noticed that some of your competitors are driving traffic to their website through product posts on Instagram. Have you integrated Instagram and other social media apps into your website?”

  • “Some of the bigger cosmetics companies in your area are sponsoring local fashion events. That might be something to think about.”

  • “One of your closest competitors is neglecting a key demographic. What if you jumped in to fill the void?”

Garrett Mehrguth, CEO of the digital marketing agency Directive Consulting, finds that auditing your lead’s competitors can also help you develop a rapport:

I’ve found that when you talk wisely about a lead’s competitors, they feel like you understand not only their business but also, their industry. That comfort lends itself to better conversations and more deals closing

Use software like Semrush and Moz to audit your competitors. These tools provide unique insight into what your lead’s top competitors are doing, their most important metrics and what the lead can do to overtake them.

4. Plan your questions

Generic cold calling scripts don’t tend to result in effective sales calls, so use your research to plan specific and personalized questions to move your sales conversation forward.

Author and sales trainer Barry Maher advises sales professionals that the right questions don’t just uncover useful information, they get the prospect involved and show “[them] how much you care about understanding [their] needs”.

“The right questions can also demonstrate your expertise and the extent of your specific knowledge of the prospect’s field,” he says.

Sales call scripts and call plan templates can still be useful as a starting point, but don’t rely on them. Use the insight you’ve gained from your pre-call planning and research process to inform the open-ended questions you ask.

5. Establish your goal

In the film Glengarry Glen Ross, the sales methodology is “ABC: always be closing”.

Sure, the overarching goal of any sales force is to make sales, but not every call is meant to end with “Alright, I’ll buy it”. There are different types of sales calls with various call objectives and sales goals.

Dom Matteucci, former account executive at DocSend and now VP of Enterprise Sales at ON24 advises:

The number one tip for pre-call sales planning is understanding what you are trying to get out of the call. Depending on the point in the sales cycle, it could be to understand the prospect’s workflow, propel the deal forward by getting another meeting with a decision-maker or closing the deal.

Without a specific objective, the planning process is nearly impossible. Your call will look entirely different whether your objective is to create new customers there and then, arrange a more in-depth follow-up call or organize a face-to-face meeting.

However, once you establish your ideal outcome, you can begin to understand the steps you need to take to reach it.

6. Time it right

Practicality might tell you to schedule your outreach calls for the top of the hour or in half-hour increments, but here’s an alternative scheduling tactic for you to consider.

For cold calls, Siamac Rezaiezadeh (Director of Product Marketing and former sales leader at GoCardless) suggests calling the prospect at five minutes before the hour. When the prospect picks up, here’s what he says:

"I’m about to run into a meeting and [something] triggered me to get in touch. I think I have a way for you to [achieve desired objective]. As I said, I have a meeting in a minute, can we schedule a 10-minute chat later today at [desired time]?

Unlike the majority of the cold calls a prospect is used to hearing, this type of phone call is short and sweet and almost off the cuff, which lends an unusually authentic, even candid, air to the salesperson.

You’ve piqued their interest with your value proposition and by providing an alternate time to chat, the customer has time to warm up.

“It makes them comfortable that you aren’t a time waster and it forces you to think of the absolute top reason why they should take the call,” Rezaizadeh says.

To increase the likelihood of achieving a same-day chat, Rezaizadeh makes the initial call in the morning, with a suggested call-back time of three to four hours later.

7. Don’t over-prepare

To make a great first impression, it’s worth rehearsing your initial phone call with a sales rep colleague or sales manager to seek feedback on your sales performance. However, it is possible to over-prepare.

Getting to know a potential customer helps you develop a trusting relationship, but you can’t do that if you already think you know everything.

Pindie Dhaliwal, former director of business development at Skyrocket and now product marketing manager at Prezzee, explains:

If you’re over-prepared then you’ll anticipate instead of listening. Your goal should be to create an environment where you allow your prospect or client to share their challenges. To open up. To be real.

If, during your first sales meeting, the prospect feels you’re trying to push them to the next stage of the buying process without properly listening to them, your future calls could go straight to voicemail, ending the sales process.

The best sales calls feel natural, not forced. Building strong relationships with customers can increase their lifetime value.

Final thoughts

Talking on the phone is only half of a successful sales call. The other half is what you do before dialing that number.

When calling a prospect for the first time, research must be the centerpiece of your pre-discovery call procedure. Remember to learn a few things about the specific person you plan on calling and audit your competitors for some helpful insight.

Put that sales call plan and research into action by planning your questions and follow-ups, but do your best to leave some room for spontaneity.

If you feel like shaking things up, call the prospect at five minutes to the hour (you can use your CRM to automate the scheduling). You might be surprised by the results.

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