Modern sales are not about persuading people to do things they don’t want to do. It’s about helping people and guiding prospects with a predictable process. It’s about being forthcoming with information and seeking to understand a prospective client’s situation and needs. It’s about providing valuable insights throughout the entire sales process and the future engagement processes. Modern sales help customers avoid bad decisions and pitfalls and set expectations to clear the confusion. Setting timelines and determining the next steps serve to bring more clarity to any situation.
In short, today’s sales is about having a plan.
4 Levels of Sales Planning or Plans
There are four levels of sales planning or types of plans: call plans, opportunity plans, account plans, and segment/territory plans.
1. Call Plans: Call plans are one-to-one interactions of any type: phone calls, video conversations, face-to-face meetings, etc.
2. Opportunity Plans: Opportunity plans focus on winning specific pursuits. It applies more to complex business-to-business sales that involve many moving parts, different stakeholders, many decision-makers, etc.
3. Account plans focus activities around single client accounts to grow in importance and grow your relationship with them. These plans help preserve and increase revenue and trust with our most important client accounts. “clients” may include individual consumers, families, internal customers or departments, or entire organizations. If your clients are organizations, then you tend to have much more complex sales.
The term “client” can also apply to partners, centers of influence, collaborators, or any type of organization with which you need to develop and deepen relationships, yielding potentially increased referrals. Account plans provide new opportunities with existing clients, close faster with less effort, and reduce sales costs.
4. Segment/Territory Plans: Segment or territory plans grow similar groups of clients or client types across an area of focus or a particular experience or expertise that you have.
The balance of this article speaks specifically to call plans: what they are, what they are not, their elements, and the simple process of a call plan.
Call Planning: An Expanded Definition
Call planning makes the most of the high-stakes conversations we have a one-on-one with prospective clients.
A call plan is a quick, simple way to prepare for a meaningful conversation. It’s a great way to build your confidence, a tool to be used for most, but not all, of your sales conversations. Its framework changes over time: some of your earlier conversations will have different content than your later discussions.
A call plan is not a way to force your schedule on the person at the other end of the line. It’s not a tool to prepare for an exhaustive, boring monologue about yourself. Most importantly, it’s not a waste of your time. It’s a critical piece of being successful in the sale.
The 6 Elements of a Call Plan
An effective call plan includes the following:
- A few reasonable objectives
- Primary research and background information about the other party
- The call agenda
- A handful of questions to ask
- A client success story
- Next steps!
A Few Reasonable Objectives for the Conversation
Closing and contracting new businesses takes time and effort. Clients simply do not agree to “close” in the first go-around and not before they are ready. If you push too hard before they are ready, you might lose the client altogether.
This is not surprising. Usually, each time you call a new prospect, the aim is to finish the call, complete this step in your sales process, and move to the next step. When planning for the initial conversation, you both look to “qualify” each other by determining if there is a mutual “fit.” Once you pass this, the following conversation is a “discovery call” in which both parties dig a bit deeper. During the discovery call, you ask open-ended questions to determine what the client needs from you; you probe to uncover wishes, goals, dreams, and desires. You also reveal how your insights and solutions can resolve their needs.
Discovery calls are longer and the conversations more meaningful as you genuinely try to understand what your client wants. Discovery calls keep the momentum going, so it’s essential to set a realistic objective for the call, gaining sufficient information to propose an approach to working together.
Basic Research and Background Information About the Other Party
Doing basic research and getting a little background info about your client makes good sense: it will help you understand more about the people and their company.
Going unprepared for the conversation is one of the biggest blunders you can make during the sale. So, where do you find that information? Look for news that people publish about themselves. A person’s LinkedIn profile is an excellent place to start. You will find details of their education, work experience, skills, communities they are part of, etc. This information will help you to establish both a personal and professional connection. So, check your clients’ LinkedIn profiles and do not hesitate to tell them about it.
The Call Agenda
There is a difference between running the conversation and letting the conversation run you. If you don’t set the pace of the conversation and decide the goals and talking points you want to cover, you are missing an opportunity.
A sales call plan should have only three or four points to cover. Present this to the client before the meeting or right before you start. By doing this, everyone knows where the discussion is heading and where they are most likely to end. Be prepared for short deviations during the meeting; just bring the conversation back to the agenda. How you run the meeting is a crucial indicator of your skills as a consultant.
A Handful of Questions to Ask
All “good” salespeople are known for their ability to talk; the specific point is how much one talks. Anyone who can’t stop talking and doesn’t allow the other person to share their inputs is not doing a good job. A good salesperson knows how to uncover needs and problems and drive the conversation with a clear objective.
Ask questions, but also know when to keep quiet and let the client do the talking. Open-ended questions help to uncover the needs and challenges that your clients face. Prepare a list of about five critical questions and take time to frame these questions. Proper phrasing should elicit much-needed information about your client, reflect your curiosity and interest, and establish rapport.
Most importantly, allow your clients to talk about themselves and listen to them when they speak.
A Client Success Story
As you move through that initial call, the potential client will eventually ask about you and the work you do. Rather than going into a rant about all the nuances of your work, be ready with a short, relatable story. Explaining your work through the lens of your existing client relationships is a far more effective way to make your expertise relevant to a new prospect.
The following story framework serves well:
- The situation (your client’s)
- The problem (your client’s needs and challenges)
- The work you did to resolve the problems/challenges (the most important details)
- The outcome of your solution (what your client achieved).
The most challenging part of the story is to come up with outcomes and results. The summary forces you to figure out what really worked and what didn’t.
Agree on Next Steps!
Do not let the meeting end without clarity and agreement on what comes next in the sales process. All your hard work will mean nothing if you don’t know what will happen after the call.
Be ready for the next step at least five minutes before the meeting ends. Be specific in your “ask,” and make sure to set a date and time for your next meeting. If the client hesitates, give an alternate time and date. When presented with an option between dates, the possibility of walking out with a confirmed meeting date is very high. Be persistent about this: anything short of finalizing the next meeting date is a failure.
The Simple Process of Call Planning
- Schedule a call with your prospective client. Don’t just outline a hypothetical call plan with someone to whom you might talk someday. Schedule it on the calendar.
- Take 20 to 30 minutes to develop the calling plan with a partner. Two people working through a plan instead of one is always better, as it makes you come up with better questions to ask, explore the situation a bit more, and have more clarity.
- While on the call, stick to the plan and be sure to set the next steps. It is vital because all too often, we have these great call plans with a half dozen great questions that we failed to cover. And we get confused.
- Take notes and make changes for future calls. Take notes to record insights, assess what we did during that call, and make changes to improve the next call.
For more on-call planning, check out the online learning session on Sales Planning I led for Value Scout. To learn more about me and how I can help you grow your consulting or exit planning practice, visit WainwrightInsight.com.