Are you dissatisfied with how your last sales discovery call went? Do you often find yourself complaining that the prospect was unqualified or not ready to buy? Maybe you felt great rapport but hung up the phone with no clear next steps. Or maybe you sent follow-up materials and never heard anything back. Without pre-call planning, those outcomes are likely.
Stop blaming the prospect and take responsibility. Pre-call planning helps prevent failure on the call itself, which is often due to one of the following:
- Not enough preparation
- Lack of understanding about what makes an initial call successful
- Too much focus on the agency’s offerings, not the prospect’s business needs
In agency new business, your first call with a prospect is not a pitch or a presentation. It’s a way to establish two-way communication. Business isn’t won on the first call, but through multiple calls that build a relationship and lay a foundation. Each call needs its own objectives and outcomes aimed at moving the sale forward.
To be effective, each call requires pre-call planning that identifies objectives that advance the relationship. To accomplish this, you have to conduct research, share insights from your agency’s unique point of view, and strategically uncover the prospect’s needs by asking the right questions at the right times.
Getting Your Agency READY for the Pre-Call
Pre-call planning is the research process and alignment of stakeholders used in preparation for a sales call to optimize the call’s effectiveness. Agencies should follow the READY framework of pre-call planning to be more successful.
R eview the Research
It’s critical to invest time understanding the prospect’s business. Failing to invest time upfront will greatly affect your success. Research and review takes time, which is why many agencies skip this step.
Understanding the prospect’s business is the first opportunity to differentiate yourself from competitors. It empowers you to ask smart questions and align your services with their needs.
You can collect information from many sources, including:
- Analyst reports
- Annual reports
- Blog posts
- Company website
- Financial press
- Industry media
- Social media
- Speeches and conferences
Along with basic information on the company (employee count, revenue, fiscal close, year founded), you’ll also want information on the prospect (name, position description, past roles, education, volunteer roles). Finally, you need to understand the company’s agency relationships, media spend, media mix, planning and buying periods and creative work.
Prepare a meeting brief in advance for key stakeholders, including everyone who will be on the sales call, your subject matter experts, and senior leadership. The focus will be on reviewing the research, defining roles for call participants, and agreeing on the questions to ask.
E stablish Your Value Proposition
You want to set your agency apart by providing interesting and new insights that get the prospect thinking about new possibilities. You need to provide new perspectives that will address the most critical needs in a compelling and resonant way. This includes clearly and concisely articulating the value your agency brings to the prospect.
Today’s enterprise-level decision-makers are busy. They expect you to have an idea of the impact you can make and share that with them on the first call. At this level, they won’t take time to do a needs assessment.
Establishing your value proposition should be a focus of the pre-call planning. You’ll need an understanding of the following:
- What challenges is the company facing?
- How can your agency impact these challenges?
- How is your solution different than other agencies?
- How can you prove this?
To develop your value proposition use this formula:
Value Proposition = Business Driver + Movement + Proof
The pre-call work should shape what these value propositions are and how to present them effectively.
A ffirm the Desired Meeting Outcomes
Your team needs to be on the same page about the desired outcome of the call and make sure to plan for the call with that outcome in mind.
Here are a few examples of possible outcomes:
- Schedule a follow-up meeting to discuss an identified situation or problem
- Schedule a demo of your product or service
- Schedule a follow-up meeting to review a proposal, case study or work example
- Secure a referral to another person involved in the decision process
D etermine Your Questions
Asking the right questions of your prospect will get you the information you need to make informed and appropriate suggestions about solutions.
While you never want it to feel like you are reading from a script, you should prepare questions ahead of time that will advance the conversation. Use open-ended questions, and be prepared with follow-ups. But don’t be afraid to deviate from your list if the situation calls for it.
These questions should focus on gaining information about problems and gaps, the business impact of existing solutions and the payoff of making an agency change.
How many questions?
Gong, a conversation intelligence software solution for sales teams, analyzed conversations with executives at mid-sized and large companies. Surprisingly, their research shows that successful initial sales calls include only four questions on average. Unsuccessful calls have eight.
This means you need to be aware that after a few questions, your odds of success decrease with each additional query. That means asking the right questions is critical. Here are a few examples.
- Issue-related questions
- What’s the central issue you’re hoping to tackle?
- How long has it been going on?
- What have you tried to do to solve it?
- Impact-related questions
- What happens if you don’t solve this?
- How do your employees and customers see this affecting them?
- Importance-related questions
- Compared to other things on your plate, how important is it to solve this issue right now? Why?
- What’s your timeframe for fixing this?
- Who would notice most if it didn’t get done?
- Results-related questions
- What baseline results are you looking for to determine if the work is worthwhile?
- What would it look like if we were wildly successful together?
- How would the results show up on your balance sheet?
- Other-related questions
- Who else needs to be involved?
- Who will get the most benefit from the solution we’ve discussed?
- Who will be the most vocal support and the loudest opponent?
Y our Speaking Roles
Once you’ve reviewed the information, it’s time to assign roles for the call. This step eliminates confusion about who is quarterbacking, who is asking questions, and who is taking notes.
Consider assigning a chairperson, who’s responsible for ensuring the meeting achieves its objectives and helps the group reaches decisions efficiently. The chairperson resolves issues and ensures everyone is clear on the will of the meeting, even if not everyone agrees with it.
The chairperson is responsible for making sure the research is reviewed and the value proposition is clear. This work should then inform who needs to attend the actual call and what part they will play according to the four stages of a successful sales call.
The chairperson should open the call, explain its purpose and gain the prospect’s agreement on outcomes. Others might ask questions or deliver the value proposition. The chairperson should close the call after agreeing on next steps that advance the sale forward.
The Value of Getting READY
Consider again that last frustrating and unsuccessful sales discovery call. Are you going to keep lying to yourself that the lead was unqualified, or are you going to take responsibility for the call’s failure?
Imagine how differently it would have been for you and your team if the READY framework had been applied. READY provides your team with confidence and ensures you end every call with clarity.
If you’re ready to take to responsibility, implement the READY framework for your next five sales calls. After the fifth, evaluate their outcomes and compare to your other most recent calls. You will find your team conducting the calls more harmoniously, asking better questions, getting better answers, and advancing a greater percentage of calls toward new business wins.