I’m almost ashamed to be writing on the topic of call planning/execution. It is probably the most fundamental skill any sales person must master. Yet, here I am, writing about it, largely because too many do this poorly.
First, I need to define what a “call” is. Again, one never had to do this, we knew “calls” included virtually every interchange with the customer–a meeting, a conversation whether virtually by or by the phone. Calls can be extended to include social media exchanges. I think the one updated concept around call planning may be the need to consider asynchronous interactions. So many of our interactions are now asynchronous, so we have to think about how we manage them for maximum impact.
Too often, we don’t create and execute a plan for a call. Some of you may push back, saying, “Dave, I have my script….” But a script isn’t a call plan. First, they are rarely customized to the victim we on who we inflict the outreach. We have the same script we use for every one we contact. Regardless of the company, their challenges, the position in the organization, their personal interest, we use scripts as “one size fits all.” It turns out “one size rarely fits all.” Second, the script focuses on what we want to talk about, and the things we need to move the customer to the next station on our sales assembly line.
Again, people may say, “We ask people about their needs!” The reality is we are focusing on identifying their needs for our solution and what they know about our solution. Their real needs are different and much broader than our solution. But our scripts are focused on what we need to learn and how we move forward, and, unless the customer is near the end of their buying process, they are rarely relevant to them.
When we think about an effective call plan, we need to think about the following:
- What does the customer need to accomplish in the interaction? Even if this is our first interaction, we should know enough from previous interactions with others, from our research about their company, and from our research on the individual, to identify 2-3 primary focus areas. And if we can’t, then we aren’t prepared for the call. If we are later in the process, we need to think about what are the key things they need to accomplish in the interaction that enable them to move as far through their process as possible.
- What do we need to accomplish in this interaction? What do we need to learn, what does the customer need to learn, what do we need to do to help the customer move forward in their process? While we may think about these, the context is always about our product. Yet, that’s the smallest part of what both we and the customer need to learn. We need to look more broadly about what they are trying to achieve, where they are in the process of achieving this, and what things we must do, together, to move forward, successfully.
- Are we and the customer in “sync” or aligned in our expectations and goals for the interaction. If we aren’t we and the customer will fail. As a not so extreme example, too often I see sellers trying to close the deal and the customer may still be very early in their discovery process. (While it was done some time ago, we did research with a client and several deals. We found for every “stage” of misalignment, the probability of winning declined by 15-20%.)
- Are we and the customer prepared to achieve these things? Even if we and the customer know what we want to achieve, if we aren’t prepared to do the work, we waste our time. It means we have to add additional meetings to the process. If we are seeking to understand certain data, have we let the customer know this, so they can be prepared in the interaction. If we know the customer is expecting to learn certain things, are we prepared to address them in ways meaningful to the customer? Do we and the customer have the right people involved, in order to achieve our shared goals?
- Are we and the customer being aggressive in establishing our goals for the meeting? Too often, we design our interactions (if we do design our interactions) to achieve one thing. For example, we may focus on qualifying and nothing else. We create interaction after interaction, because we’ve failed to think several steps ahead and we’ve failed to help the customer think several steps ahead. We need to think about how we design each interaction to maximize how we use our time and achieve our shared goals.
- At the end of each interaction, are we and the customer agreed that we have achieved what we hoped to achieve? Have we agreed on what to do and scheduled the next interaction?
Now, I know some of you may be thinking, “Dave, that takes a lot of time and work!” But think of the alternative, we waste our time and the customer’s time in meeting after meeting, call after call, because we are wandering through the process. Part of the problem is our mindset around volumes of activity, and not how we accomplish more in each activity. Neither the customer, nor we have the time or desire to waste time in meetings that don’t enable us to move forward. We create great value with each customer when we are purposeful and value each other’s time.
Afterword: While I don’t have the answer to this, as customers increasingly leverage “digital interactions,” we need to think of how we apply these same principles into those digital interactions. Fortunately, many of the AI/ML based tools enable us to start thinking about maximizing the impact of each digital interaction with our customers.
Afterword: We waste too much time in internal meetings and interactions. We should apply the same principles to those.