Silver Linings Playbook: Where You Start Your Sales Career is Not Where You Finish:
Early Career Advice from a CEO Who Started His Career Cold Calling
The third installment
In this installment #3, we will cover some of the basic early stages of the sales process like making phone calls, call objectives, follow-up and the first meeting. The advice I offer in this and subsequent installments assume corporate sales. In particular, this includes B2B sales of consumable products or services and capital goods. The typical sales cycle is months or years versus days (i.e. sales cycle is the average time it takes to go from introduction to a sale).
In the first and second installment, dated May/5/2017 and June/7/2017, I covered the major steps for success in the inside sales process and briefly touched on sales visits. The third installment digs a little deeper into selling and sales visits. I outline: a) phone call follow up, b) first meeting preparation, and c) and d) first customer visit: observing and the office visit.
Remember, the sales process is old, and while emails and the internet are fantastic tools, people still like to do business with people. Customers enjoy knowing someone who cares about them, provided we make it easy and helpful. The salesperson has to work extra hard to become a valuable part of the process, and it requires organization and planning. The ultimate goal is to become an integral part of a customer’s product development, pricing, objectives, and forecasting. The long-term rewards are worth all the effort! I know colleagues who achieve great success and all of them identified their silver linings with thought out and systematic approaches.
a) Phone call up: My previous installment discussed cold calling, and missed some advice on a big question: when is a prospective client a lost cause, or when is the lead dead? In this case, I am addressing phone calls to new prospects (i.e. cold calls). My system starts with a kick-off point, a letter or an email with product information. I wait a few days after it is sent and place a call. If I leave three succinct messages every other day, and there is no response, the lead is probably dead. Depending on my workload, I may send a follow-up email. Usually there are more opportunities out there and I don’t waste much more time…move on!
b) Meeting # 1 preparation: Most meetings are set a few days or a few weeks in advance. It is important to confirm with your point of contact (POC) the date and time for the meeting and send along an email reminder. It is your job to keep the meeting, and ALWAYS confirm with your POC one or two days ahead of time. Next, study the company website etc. and identify your objectives. I get many people who solicit me as a CEO, and I am shocked when someone does not know my product line and delivers a general “canned” pitch. Given the incredible access to information, it is irresponsible to show up unprepared, or worse to show up and the POC forgot the meeting. If you plan to succeed, plan ahead, value your time and the prospect’s time.
Lastly, did you dress professionally? Do you have your business cards, samples, literature, pens, and a tablet for note taking? You never know the environment you will encounter, you may end up in front ten people! So, remember these fundamentals and be ready for all possibilities.
c) Observations at the first visit: You should learn a lot when you visit a client location, provided you pay close attention. Company images reflect their culture. I always make note of the building, the lobby and the cars. What does it tell you? If the building is poorly maintained and the lobby is a mess, it is worth noting. On the other hand, if the lobby looks like a modern architectural wonder, it might be a good idea to prepare for different type visit. The first example may not be an omen of disaster, and the second example may not mean the money flows out easily. The important thing is the message it conveys. The low budget office tells you the business does not emphasize image, while the extravagant office means they emphasize marketing and imagery. In my experience, your first impression will impact the business relationship and buying philosophy.
d) The office visit: Many meeting start or end in someone’s office or a conference room. Both places offer a wealth of opportunity to learn. Offices provide a treasure trove of insight. As an example, some people place college degrees and logos on their walls alongside pictures of family and hobbies. Conversely, some offices are minimalist and all business - the desk is perfectly organized and the walls are pretty empty of anything personal. In either case, this usually offers insight into a person’s perception of work. In my experience, the personalized office typically means the person wants visitors to know their life, while the minimalist office is usually a person who is more reserved. Of course, there are many exceptions to any rule. In either case, you never want to get too personal on a first visit. This visit is for introduction, a few questions, and observation. For me, I have a lot of things on my wall, but I get bothered by people who immediately delve into personal things. I consider it inappropriate on a first visit.
Note: There are many sales psychology books and articles on the subject of assessing personalities through the sales process all over the stores and the internet. I enjoy them and they helped learn the nuances of interpersonal business relationships.
A final suggestion of mine includes a harmless and humorous part of my process. I always ask to use the restroom at the start of a call or during the call. It usually gives me a chance to see more of the working area of the company and observe the place. I also gather my thoughts. Note: I also use the restroom, if nature calls!
A physical sales call is the most costly and the time-consuming part of the job. Therefore, it needs to be taken seriously because you and your company will be judged. Remember, practice makes perfect, and you will eventually become comfortable with your own sales style. Enjoy the process and good luck!
My next installment will delve into the sales pitch and the questions.