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Sales Call and Account Planning
Blog / For Sales Pros / Jun 21, 2015 / Posted by Alyson Stone / 3360 

Sales Call and Account Planning

Tips from a Real-Life Buyer

Could this be you or someone you know? A lead comes in, and gets assigned to a salesperson. The salesperson, seeing that it’s a reputable company and potentially a decision-making buyer, decides he’d better make that call right now, without any further preparation.

Freeze frame! As the rep is poised to click on the number and initiate that call, let’s pause for a moment and examine the substantial risk this rep is about to take:

  • He’s going to have just a sliver of time—probably a few seconds—to convince the contact to listen to his pitch.
  • Because of that brief time, every word counts.
  • Because the rep doesn’t have any knowledge of the person on the other end of the line—in fact doesn’t really know if it’s actually the name in front of him on the screen—he’s going in totally blind.
  • The salesperson has no knowledge of that company and its particular issues or pain points, so cannot address them.

With this abject lack of preparation, there’s every possibility that this call or email is going to go exactly nowhere. Is that any way to treat a lead that a company has spent good money obtaining?

Take it from one who knows: this sales rep—and his sales organization—needs to immediately implement a robust call and account planning program.

Advice from a Buyer

I’ve been on the other end of that call more times that I can count. I’ve been a buyer—the exact kind of person that sales rep is reaching out to—in nearly all the positions I’ve held throughout my professional life. I am currently the CMO at Pipeliner Sales and, in other companies, have held numerous positions as head of marketing, have sat squarely in that buyer’s chair.

I’m in a great position to advise you on what works and what doesn’t. I easily represent a cross-section of professional buyers, so I’m here to offer salespeople and sales managers some helpful advice to save us all time and resources.

#1: Who Are You Calling?

A number of years ago, following a change from one company to another (I had been COO of Sorenson Media and had moved on to be CMO and VP of Sales & Marketing at Nimble), I spent about 2 months fielding endless calls and emails addressed to my former company and title.

Along about the 6th or 7th call or email, I began asking right up front: “Do you know who you’re actually calling?” The far majority answered, “Yes, the COO of Sorenson Media.” And that would be the end of that conversation.

Right there I can plainly see that the salesperson cares nothing at all about me or my line of business. They have no clue about my issues or how they might help me. I certainly don’t have the valuable time to waste on someone who doesn’t take even a couple minutes to figure out—prior to the call or email—how their product or service is relevant to me in my role at this company.

The upshot: You’re reaching out to a real person, not a number. Find out who they actually are.

But that in itself isn’t enough. There’s quite a bit more to proper call and account preparation if you’re going to get anywhere with me or just about any other buyer

#2: What Are Their Issues?

Let’s dive below the surface, now. To really be prepared, you need to have at least some basic answers to questions such as:

  • What kind of time should you take with this call?
  • What information do you need to be really prepared?
  • What factors are you taking into account for qualifying the buyer and company?
  • Based on previous successful sales wins (yours and others’) what meaningful information should you provide in the call?

I can think of no better way to help you answer such questions than from my own experience as a buyer—and I have some fantastic examples of both wins and failures.

AdRoll

I recently received a reach from AdRoll, a remarketing company. They knew who we are and what we’re about. Part of the message read:

Hope this finds you well! I specialize on retargeting for B2B tech clients such as Salesforce, Marketo, Yesware, and Toutapp. Would love to find some time next week to talk about your campaign goals and best practices for retargeting.

It was a brief yet very effective message which cleverly included a few of our competitors and similar companies. It certainly got my attention.

I was totally swamped, though, and didn’t get around to answering. The salesperson gently persisted and sent me another email, worded similarly and again including such names. That time I did answer and we set up a phone meeting.

The AdRoll rep obviously knew what had worked, and carried the successful formula over into our call. She focused on services her company was currently providing our biggest competitor. I was listening the whole time.

LinkedIn

Pipeliner CRM—along with many savvy enterprises today—uses social media for both prospecting and selling. In that the #1 platform for social selling is LinkedIn, we have been focused there for a number of years.

Noticing our increased presence on their platform, LinkedIn not long ago targeted Pipeliner as a potential prospect for their sales solution called LinkedIn Sales Navigator. Not being sure of who the final decision-maker would be, they took an educated guess and reached out to our CEO, as well the CMO (myself). We’re both very active on LinkedIn, and before any actual contact was made a LinkedIn salesperson did the smart thing — connecting with me through LinkedIn,  and even liking and sharing some of my posts there.

The first email I received clearly demonstrated the homework they had done with regard to our potential issues and needs. Part of it read:

There are 47 employees from Pipeliner CRM on LinkedIn but only 2% are connected with each other today. As a result, your company is missing an opportunity to leverage over 24,378 mutual connections for the purpose of warm introductions to sales prospects.

In a similar way to AdRoll, it was a brief yet powerful communication. It left little doubt in my mind of how Pipeliner might benefit from their offering.

“Unnamed Company”

Another email I received was from a company I actually respected and had interacted with in the past. But this time was so wide of the mark I immediately deleted it. I’ll spare this company the severe embarrassment of mentioning it by name.

I’m also not going to quote the email, because you’d be bored to tears (as I was). It consisted of 3 very wordy paragraphs, plus a rambling boilerplate following the signature. I was put off just opening that email and being confronted with this wall of text, which I had no time or inclination to pore through.

Even with all its wordy splendor, though, the email didn’t specifically address any of my company’s issues. They had just lumped in every conceivable benefit their product could potentially offer to everyone in the world.

This kind of email is, unfortunately, far more common than the first 2 examples. They never get read.

#3: How Are You Following Up?

Let’s go back to LinkedIn for a moment, and examine the skillful followup. Prior to our initial call the rep actually sent me an agenda for the call:

  • Discuss Growth and Sales Objectives for 2015
  • Discuss Pipeliner CRM’s challenges and goals in prospecting/building new business pipeline
  • High level Overview about how LinkedIn Sales Solutions can help

AdRoll took the same approach.

Having received such an agenda, we knew exactly what to expect in the call and could plan for it ourselves. We saved time on both ends. And (please!) note that the email was, once again, brief and directly to the point.

#4: Who Are You?

Any introductory email you send out obviously must communicate your product and its benefits to that buyer. But at the same time, they also need to have instant knowledge of you and your credibility.

This is a recent development, and a further reason for you to craft great profiles on LinkedIn, Google, Twitter, and other platforms. The recipient of any email you send likely has a tool that displays your online credentials, along with your message. I personally use Rapportive, but there are others available, too, such as FullContact and CharlieApp.

For any email I open, I can instantly view their details on the right sidebar of the email window. Displayed are the social media platforms we have in common, and even any common connections.

This was another major failing of the “unnamed company” cited above. There was absolutely no online picture or profile for that sender. It was yet another reason for me not to communicate—it was clear we had absolutely nothing in common.

#5: Are Your Reps Coordinated?

There was another company that did a great job of gaining my interest—before they made a major mistake. Once they had my interest and a phone meeting was arranged, out of the blue I got an “introductory” email from another rep at the same company, who obviously didn’t know the first rep there was already working the lead. I responded, and the first rep apologized for the error.

But it wasn’t over yet. A third email arrived from someone else entirely, following up on the second, which had already been a blunder in itself. After I responded I could feel their embarrassment all the way to my desk, and almost hear the screaming I’m sure occurred in their offices.

Mistakes like that are not only a totally waste of rep and prospect time, they can easily lose you business. Gone are the days of the “lone wolf” sales rep—today sales is a team sport. Any interaction with any prospect company should be readily visible in CRM. Within Pipeliner CRM  there is even an “org chart” visual that shows interactions and lines of influence of all contacts at a particular company. Such information is invaluable to sales.

What Have We Learned?

checklist2From these examples, the vital importance of call and account planning should be extremely obvious. In summation:

  1. Make sure the person you are calling is actually the person you are trying to reach.
  2. Make sure (or at least have a well-educated guess) that the person you are calling is a decision-maker or at least an influencer for a purchase of your product.
  3. Through social media, lay some groundwork for connection.
  4. Do some investigation and find out how your product might fit in and solve some issues at the company.
  5. Make your first communication brief and direct. Use what you’ve learned through your initial research to make that communication as powerful as possible. Do the same with any follow-up.
  6. Prior to meetings, send along a suggested agenda.
  7. Make sure you have a visible and credible online presence.

A final note: It makes sense to use a CRM solution that shows all rep activity to everyone who might be contacting leads—and make sure they check it. Of course, we think the perfect CRM for rep coordination is Pipeliner CRM. Get your free trial of Pipeliner CRM now.

    About Author

    A wordsmith all her life, Alyson is typing as fast as she can.

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