The most important skill for sales professionals? Making calls. Cold calls or warm leads, hot prospects or chilly receptions, making contact is critical.
Data backs up this enterprise demand for skilled callers. RAIN Group recently found that 82% of buyers say cold calls were the impetus for eventual meetings, but 63% of sales reps say they don’t enjoy making cold calls.
It makes sense: Going in with no prior history and no way to know exactly how prospects will respond is nerve-wracking, and no one likes hearing “No”.
Precall planning offers the chance to both boost prospect receptivity and reduce sales stress. So, here’s what you need to know about the promise of precalls, the importance of planning, and the steps required to boost precall potential.
What are sales precalls?
Sales precalls speak to the process of preparation before making any sales call. They’re important regardless of call type — cold or warm — but are especially helpful if you’ve never connected with the prospect or company before
Precall planning is all about getting ready; doing the research on your target, their market, their current needs and how they’ll likely respond to your call. This is critical to help frame your eventual sales pitch; consider a B2B contact with department specific decision-making power in their organization.
Understanding their specific role and responsibilities lets you craft a sales call approach that speaks to their experience and authority, rather than aiming above their pay grade, in turn reducing the number of steps between initial contact and eventual conversion.
The Importance of Precall Planning
1. Precall planning increases call confidence.
The more you know, the more comfortable you’ll feel when making cold calls. This isn’t to say the work is ever easy. Even the best salespeople struggle with creating connections from scratch.
But, armed with knowledge about the company you’re calling, the person you’re looking for, and your goal for the call, you can boost call confidence and make it easier to think on your feet.
2. Precall planning allows you to prepare for potential roadblocks.
Sales calls rarely go to plan. This is the second big benefit of precall planning: preparing for potential roadblocks. Any solid precall plan should include a brainstorming session about how calls could go off the rails.
From in-depth questions about products or services to concerns around privacy, security, or implementation, sales staff can reduce the stress they feel when roadblocks appear. How? Turn to the familiar sales practice of roleplaying potential interactions before reaching out to prospective clients.
3. Precall planning helps you forge new connections.
While closing a deal is the primary objective of many sales calls, it’s not the only objective. Precall planning is critical to help salespeople better connect with potential prospects — even if these connections don’t lead to conversion.
Why? Consider the following cold call scenario: You reach out, make a connection and deliver a masterful sales pitch. Your prospect seems interested and several more calls happen, followed by a meeting. But that’s as far as it gets, and you later learn that budget issues forced your prospect to pass on your product.
Six months or a year later, client revenues have improved and your prospect is still looking for the solution you pitched. Guess who they call first? By cultivating a connection with customers that extends beyond the sales cycle, it’s possible to pave the way for both short- and long-term success.
7 Steps to Improve Precall Potential
While every call and every client is different, these seven precall planning steps can improve your sales potential before you pick up the phone:
1. Do your prospect research.
First up? Know your audience. This includes research on both the company and your connections. What market does your sales target serve? What are some of their pain points? Who’s your best connection within their enterprise? Who’s a good backup?
Much of this information can be found on corporate websites, but it’s also worth checking corporate and personal social media profiles for more specific data that could help improve sales calls.
2. Understand your competition.
Chances are you’re not the only sales team looking to connect with your prospect. As a result, it’s critical to understand your competition, what they bring to the table, and how successful they’ve been in cold-call sales.
3. Define key goals.
What are you hoping to achieve in your first call? Your fourth? Your seventh? While shooting for the moon is ideal for large-scale strategy sessions, individual sales calls need more focused metrics for success.
For example, the goal of your first call might simply be making contact with your prospect and setting a time for your second call. By breaking down calls into specific steps rather than broad generalizations, you’ll be better equipped to deliver measurable success.
4. Practice active listening.
Many salespeople are knowledgeable, gregarious, and talkative. It makes sense, given the job description. And while these traits are ideal for bridging the gap between cold calls and initial connections, they can prove problematic if prospects can’t get a word in edgewise.
So, what’s your best bet? Improve your active listening. Let prospects set the tone of your discussion, ask open-ended questions, and summarize what they’ve said when they’ve finished speaking to demonstrate that you’re not just calling to sell them something you have. Instead, you’re calling to sell them something they actually need.
5. Prepare for pushback from your prospect.
As noted above, even the best-laid precall plans don’t always pan out. From catching your prospect on a bad day to discovering they’ve just gotten off the phone with your competitor, it pays for salespeople to be prepared for objections.
While it’s not possible to anticipate every question or meet every challenge, sales teams can prepare with a list of common objections and go-to responses. Armed with this kind of sales fallout framework, you can avoid misunderstanding and focus on fostering connection.
6. Find a balance.
Practice, practice, practice. The more work you put into precall planning, the better your outcomes, right? Not quite. While it’s critical to lay the groundwork for corporate conversations, it’s also important to avoid overplanning, since calls that feel more like a script read than back-and-forth conversations will quickly go ice-cold.
Think of precall planning like studying for a test. While you won’t know the questions in advance, the right skills and knowledge can help you figure out the answers in the moment.
7. Get SMART.
The SMART acronym is a great way to define sales call objectives: They should be Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-bound. Before making the call, check your goals against the SMART framework. If they don’t stack up, take a step back, make some adjustments, and then reach out.
Sales calls aren’t easy. From making that first connection to delivering the right pitch to closing the deal, there’s a lot that can go wrong.
And while precall planning can’t guarantee conversion, putting in the time and effort before making the call can help reduce staff stress, boost connective potential, and improve overall sales success.