Pre-call planning. As all sales managers know, there are tons of reasons why sales reps tend to avoid it like the plague. “I don’t do scripts”, “I’m best when I’m spontaneous” or “I can spend my time much more effectively doing other things” are all in the chorus. Then there’s, “It’s just a waste of time” or “Don’t worry – I got it. I’m good!”. Behavior profiling aside, it does seem that many people drawn to selling have an aversion to pre-call planning. Of course, this isn’t true of all sales reps but even with the availability of electronic tools and apps to streamline the process, many still view planning as a waste of time. They simply don’t believe in it.
Studies, as we might guess, show that pre-call planning increases the likelihood of success, citing factors like the value of research into the individual prospect, the power of specific objectives and the importance of understanding where the account is in the buying journey. It certainly makes sense that these fundamentals strengthen our preparation for actual sales calls, be they in person, over the phone or via the many electronic platforms now available such as Go-To-Meeting. In the complex world of enterprise selling, though, pre-call planning has an even more critical and collaborative purpose. For in selling to major accounts, both the stakes and the stakeholders take us up a level.
Enterprise accounts are marketplaces in and of themselves, creating unique selling challenges far beyond what’s faced with small and medium-sized businesses. And these challenges demand that sales teams bring nothing but their very best to pursuits and to each specific sales call. Yes, I did say teams, as in team selling.
Pre-call planning in enterprise selling involves much more than just the tasks often side-stepped by individual sales reps in smaller deals. It’s about the critical activities that should touch and be touched by the entire selling team. As I mentioned, the enterprise selling stakes are higher, certainly because the size of the accounts and the opportunities warrants greater focus. But there’s another impactful element that involves the very marrow of team selling itself. For pre-call planning in major account pursuits is the charter not only of sales but of the entire pursuit team assembled to win the deal. This typically involves sales, sales management, executive leadership, finance, marketing, legal and any other relevant organizational functions connected to the account or the opportunity. And while this organizational collaboration is indicative of the popular “Everybody Sells” theme, it only works if “Everybody Communicates”.
The need for communication in team selling applies to other planning areas as well. Market, territory, and account planning, of course, become more effective in organizations committed to true team selling. The broader and more varied input generated by cross-functional teams provides more substance. But long enterprise pursuits are typified by high volumes of individual touch points between buying team and selling team members. And the results of each of these countless scheduled interactions could and should have an impact on whether the ultimate business is won. As such, pre-call planning becomes a survival skill in enterprise selling and provides the vehicle for the team collaboration that increases the likelihood of success in every one of those many interactions.
In major account pursuits, for example, sales reps often have calls with contracts or procurement representatives from the prospect organization. Sharing digitally the pre-call plans preceding these interactions generates valuable feedback from organizational selling team members, who are prepared and eager to provide constructive ideas. Finance, legal or even the selling organization’s own procurement group can weigh in with insightful feedback regarding the most pointed questions to ask and the best way to position responses. For sales reps to act as lone wolves and prepare call plans for such meetings without seeking learned input is simply missing a major opportunity to use ammunition already in your belt. And in significant enterprise pursuits, you can’t neglect any opportunity to build competitive advantage. The stakes are too high and the competition is too sophisticated. And the socializing of pre-call plans can generate more than just suggestions. For your teammates who are subject matter experts can offer to join the calls either in person or remotely, bringing their valuable expertise to the table. Additionally, this exposes the prospect to the depth and breadth of your organization’s capability, imparting a vision of the holistic value that you will bring to the partnership after the deal is won. Most importantly, it increases your chances of winning.
Nat Turner’s famous quote captures the essence of the value of pre-call planning in enterprise pursuits. “Communication is the bridge between confusion and clarity”. And the bridge, if I may, to major account successes. Pre-call planning. Keep it short, sweet and client-focused. But in enterprise pursuits, don’t ever keep it to yourself.