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In sales, there are no second chances. If you screw up a call, you don’t get a second at-bat -- the damage has been done, and whether you can turn things around depends as much on your prospects as it does on you.

That's why you have to walk into each call completely prepared. Yes, you’re probably juggling dozens of prospects and there’s a lot of information to keep straight between them, but do you think your prospects care about that? (Hint: They don’t.)

Prospects care about the following things: Whether you can help them, that you care about their problems as much as they do, and whether the recommendations you make are feasible and implementable. They don’t care that they’re your fifth call of the day or that you have three other prospects named John.

The list below represents the full spectrum of information you should know before calling or reaching out to a prospect. Miss on any of these points and you might be able to scrape by (the list is split into must-knows and nice-to-knows), but in a profession where you’re singing for your supper, you should always make sure you’ve done everything you can to make your calls a success.

14 Things You Have to Know Before Picking Up the Phone

What You Must Know

1) Your prospect’s name

I wish I didn’t have to say this one. But if you have a high volume of prospects, sometimes your calendar invites will blend together and you’ll accidentally mix up Jessica at 3:30 with Jennifer at 4:00. You might not think it’s a big deal, but your prospects will -- here’s one buyer’s take on what he thought when a sales rep called him the wrong name.

2) Their job title

This one’s a no-brainer too. You should never ask a prospect what they do when a simple LinkedIn search would tell you the answer. Instead, ask them about their company’s organizational structure or what teams they work with to get a sense of how your prospect fits into the larger picture.

3) Their company

Go beyond just what the company name is. What does the business do? Who’s on the executive team? What information can you find on revenue, number of customers, and number of employees? You won’t know everything, but a good rule of thumb is to avoid asking prospects anything you could have easily found out yourself.

4) Their social media profiles

Your prospect’s online presence provides essential context to any conversation. Make sure you check out -- at a minimum -- their LinkedIn and Twitter so you have a better sense of who they are as a person. Check out the LinkedIn groups they post in, and the Twitter interactions they have to see if they’ve mentioned any business pain, asked any questions relevant to your product, or have simply brought up any information that might be useful for you to know.

5) Their career trajectory

It’s useful to understand your prospect’s job history so you have a sense of whether they’ve made similar purchases to your product in the past, how experienced they are in their industry, and whether they’re new to the industry. All these factors will influence how much a prospect can impact a purchase decision, how much education you’ll have to do, and how quickly a decision can be made.

6) Recent company announcements

Did your prospect’s company recently announce Series C funding? A fifth straight quarter of losses? A new product line? You need to know about it if you’re going to appear informed and up-to-date.

7) Common connections

Check your prospect’s network for connections you have in common -- whether it’s former colleagues, current customers, or just mutual friends, a common connection can act as a referral, provide recon on a difficult-to-reach point of contact, or simply serve as a rapport-building conversation point.

8) Their previous interactions with your company

Always search your company’s CRM or marketing automation system for a record of your company’s previous engagement with your prospect. What content have they looked at or converted on? Have they ever spoken with a sales rep before? Even if it’s your first time speaking with a prospect, they might have a long relationship with your brand, and it’s important to know if this is the case so you can pull that context into your conversation.

What’s Nice to Know

1) Recent competitor announcements

Your prospect’s competitors will always be top-of-mind for them. So while bringing up all the innovations their competition has announced in the last three weeks isn’t exactly the tone you want to set on a first call, you should understand the prospect’s competitive landscape so you can speak intelligently about how your product can give them an advantage.

2) Conferences and forums they’ve attended

Like your prospect’s job history, understanding how involved they are in their industry is important context that will shape your interactions with them. If it turns out you’ve been to the same events, it’s also a great rapport-building point.

3) Their hobbies

If you and your prospect have a unique hobby or interest in common, don’t hesitate to bring it up. While it obviously shouldn’t take up a significant chunk of your conversation, a shared interest is a good way to remind your prospect they’re speaking with a human.

Bonus: Must-Knows for Follow-Up Calls

1) What you talked about on your last call

Hopefully, once you’ve engaged a prospect you’re taking notes on every interaction you have in your CRM. (If you haven’t been doing so, start now.) Before you speak with any prospect, always pull up your previous interactions so you know what you’ve already covered and refresh yourself on important details that may have slipped your mind.

2) How this call will drive the sales process forward

Every call needs a purpose -- your time (and your prospect’s time) is too precious to squander on a pointless chat. You should have a clear objective for each call and a predefined next step based on the information you gather during it.

3) Your agenda for the call

Agenda-setting is a vital skill. Your prospects know less than you do, so you need to drive the call forward without appearing overbearing or controlling. That’s where agenda-setting comes in -- it allows you to define a logical flow for the call with your prospect’s buy-in. Check out this post from HubSpot VP of sales Pete Caputa for more tips on successfully setting a sales call agenda and mistakes to avoid.

What do you make sure you know before you call a prospect? Let us know in the comments below.

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Originally published Jul 13, 2016 8:18:05 AM, updated July 28 2017

Topics:

Sales Prospecting