Bill Lee
Bill Lee Bill Lee

I was involved in sales for four years before I ever received any lessons on how to be an effective salesperson. I look back on those first four years of my sales career and think often about what a good investment it would have been for my old company if they had invested in a sales training program for me.  

While a lot about selling is common sense, the sales profession seems to attract men and women who are gifted in many ways, but lacking in selling basics. One of the typical shortcomings of salespeople lies in their natural unwillingness to plan ahead.  

During my first four years as a salesperson I don't believed I ever planned, not even once. I had my trips laid out so that the geographical parts of my travels were structured and organized, but when it came to what I was going to say and what questions I was going to ask, I was clueless.  

When I changed companies, I began traveling with my boss. He didn't send me to sales training classes, but he did model for me sales behaviors and sales disciplines I had never been exposed to before. One of them was planning and rehearsing before each sales call.  

As he and I drove down the road to our next sales call, he would be reviewing the next customer's or the next prospect's file to familiarize himself with what had occurred on previous calls, what specific products were discussed, what objections had been raised, etc. He would share all of this with me as he discovered it in the file.  

At my old company, if I were traveling with my sales manager, we would drive down the road to our next sales call discussing sports, where we were going to have dinner that night or gossiping about what was going on in the company.  

The first time we thought about what we were going to say to the next customer was right after the words left our mouths…not a very professional way to manage one's career.  

But at my new company, my boss would always say to me, "How about pulling over at the next exit and let's have a cup of coffee and plan our sales call." I'd exit the freeway, find a place that sold coffee and we'd spend twenty to thirty minutes preparing for the call.  

Among the things we'd plan were the following:  

1. Who was going to take the lead on the call; that is, who would open conversation with the customer, who would take notes, etc. What would be our opening comments?  

2. How did we leave the last call on this customer? What was discussed during the last call that needs to be followed up on this call?  

3. At what point would the person taking the lead pass the call to his partner? We would rehearse this step carefully.  

4. What products were we going to discuss? What brands did the customer or prospect currently carry and what obstacles did we anticipate having to overcome?  

5. We would review each key person's name, how to pronounce his or her name, what each key person's title was and what our relationship was with each key person.  

6. What was discussed during the last call? What commitments did we make? Have we lived up to those commitments?  

7. What pricing issues did we anticipate would be discussed? Did we need to make a call to one of our suppliers in advance to make sure we had current pricing?  

Needless to say, this degree of preparation was a lot different than I had experienced at my old company. I was also amazed at how much more we got accomplished on a sales call when we prepared and rehearsed.  

Then immediately following each sales call, we would find a safe place to pull over and we would make good notes about what transpired on the call. What commitments did we make? What insights did we gain? These notes would become invaluable when we made subsequent sales calls on this customer or prospect. In many cases, we would write a thank-you note then and there.  

What can you do to enhance the professionalism on your sales calls?  

In my experience, you can't over-prepare for a sales call. Every minute you spend preparing and planning will pay handsome dividends. Bill Lee is a business consultant, columnist, speaker, and seminar leader who works extensively throughout North America. He also is affiliated withLee Resources, a Greenville, S.C.-based consulting, training and publishing organization.