4 Stages of a Highly Successful Sales Call for Outbound Sales (part 2 of 3)

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Just because someone is a skilled marketer that does not mean that they know how to sell or lead an effective sales call.

Agency principals and new business development professionals with agencies, it turns out, often get little to no training on how to effectively complete large, complex sales. Yet using proven techniques and pre-call planning, you can significantly improve the outcomes of sales calls with prospects.

Understanding the four stages of the sales call and their purpose will help you and the prospect move to a successful outcome.

Sales Call Stage 1: Open

The purpose of an effective opening is to gain the prospect’s agreement for you to ask questions. You are seeking permission to begin a relationship and gain a deeper understanding of the prospect and their business needs.

The opening should include the following:

  • Greet the prospect
  • Build rapport
  • Confirm time allotted for the meeting
  • Introduce yourself and your team members
  • Share your value proposition
  • State the purpose of the call

In the Open stage, it’s tempting to share everything that’s great about your agency and jump right to a solution. But research shows that successful sellers don’t talk about themselves until late in the call. If you begin by talking about yourself or your services too soon, you allow the prospect to start asking the questions and take control.

That said, it’s important to communicate who you are concisely and the purpose of the sales call to establish a basis for asking questions. It’s not the time for a monologue about your agency or solutions.

Research by Gong, a conversation intelligence software company, shows that the best sales calls have a 46:54 talk-to-listen ratio. These calls should be two-way communication with a prospect, not an interrogation.

The Open stage should be brief, 3 minutes at most.

Sales Call Stage 2: Explore

The Explore stage is about uncovering your prospect’s challenges. This is where you build credibility by showing that you understand the prospect’s industry and problems that similar companies are facing. Ideally, you can speak to your agency seeing and hearing the same things from other clients.

The Explore stage is the most critical stage in complex sales.

Your focus in the Explore stage should be to ask the questions that lead the prospect into explicitly identifying a need that you are uniquely positioned to solve.

How will you know when that need is expressed? It’s a matter of keying in on any statement a prospect makes that shows a concern or want that can be satisfied by your agency.

Once you’ve identified a problem or need, ask key questions about the issue, its importance and impact.

By asking thought-provoking and relevant questions, you add considerable value to the relationship. A word of caution, however. Gong’s research found that sales calls were more likely to be a success when only four questions were asked. Each question above four makes a successful call less likely.

Sales Call Stage 3: Demonstrate

Once you have a firm grasp of the company’s needs, it’s time to Demonstrate what you can offer.

At this stage of the sales call, you need to present your agency’s unique point of view. Lay out the business case by showing data, graphs, tables, and charts that quantify the hidden cost of the problem … or the size of the opportunity they’d completely overlooked – make them squirm.

Often, a prospect will push back, saying, “Yeah, but we’re different.” How do you get past that objection? Make it personal. Paint a picture of how other companies similar to the prospect’s went down a similar path by doing the kinds of things they will recognize as familiar steps their company takes.

You’re looking for the reaction: “I never thought of it that way.”

Next is your opportunity to present your agency’s unique solution. Show the prospect how they can make money, save money or reduce risk. The focus needs to be on the solution, not your agency. Don’t tell them to buy your stuff – just how much better life would be if they acted differently.

Sales Call Stage 4: Advance

Ask most people what makes a good salesperson and they’ll say it’s about closing the deal.

In small sales, you often get a commitment to buy or not buy on the first call. In complex sales it’s different. Fewer than 10 percent of calls result in a sale or no-sale decision. If this is the case, how can you define success?

In most complex sales it’s about the Advance, taking deliberate movements forward with commitments that get closer to the win.

What constitutes an advance for agency new business call? It depends on the business and your agency, but typical examples of successful advances are:

  • Scheduling a follow-up meeting to discuss an identified situation or problem
  • Scheduling a demo of your product or service
  • Scheduling a follow-up meeting to review a proposal, case study or work example
  • Securing a referral to another person involved in the decision process

If the sales call doesn’t result in an explicit action that moves the relationship forward, it’s a continuation, not an advance. These calls are unsuccessful, no matter how nice the other party was. Building rapport is not an advance.

Preparation is the key to avoiding a continuation outcome. It involves being clear about the call’s objectives and coming back to those objectives by the call’s conclusion.

Top agencies will plan out these advances and ask questions during the Explore stage that lead the prospect in the direction of the advance-centered objectives.

READ (Part 1 of this 3 part series): Pre-Call Sales Planning

READ (Part 3 of this 3 part series): Post-Call Debrief


Think about your last unsuccessful sales call. Why didn’t it lead to a sale? It’s likely that you failed to frame the call’s purpose, didn’t ask the right questions, didn’t provide a compelling solution positioned through the lens of your agency’s point of view, or focused too much on your agency.

Don’t blame the prospect. Commit to the four stages, and you’ll find your calls are more structured, lead more often to next steps that advance the relationship, and win more new business.

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4 Stages of a Highly Successful Sales Call for Outbound Sales (part 2 of 3)