Back To Basics: The Sales Call

Stop groaning! I can hear you saying “no, please, not that again.” Well, sorry it’s time to review this again. Actually, the other day I was having some one-on-one meetings with a company’s sales reps, and I realized that it was time to review the most important part of the entire sales process, the sales call. 

Think about the thousands of dollars every company spends on getting their salespeople in front of companies who are actually potential customers. The research, the prospecting, the lead generation, the marketing, the branding, the advertising, the social media, the SEO, the newsletters, the sales flashes, the white papers, the trade shows and all the rest all of it to get you, the salesperson, in that seat in front of that customer…feeling the pressure yet? Well, you should. Because in the end it all gets down to you and how you perform in front of that customer. If that sales call goes well, you will get the business. If not well, it’s back to the drawing board.

Are you still of the opinion that the sales call is something that is not worth going over again and again?

Back in the dark ages when I was a young sales manager, I went on a sales call with one of my new salespeople. He was a good guy who would eventually become an outstanding salesperson, one of the tops in our fields. But at this point he was just starting out. And he was very excited about this call because he had worked his way through the initial meetings to the point where we were going to meet his buyer’s boss, which is one of the reasons I was going to be there as well.

We met in a large conference room, just the four of us, and after introductions it was show time for my young salesperson. And to say he was excited and enthusiastic would be an understatement. Man, he was off to the races. Talking faster than he had ever talked before, flipping through that presentation, and flipping those charts with the skill and speed of a Las Vegas Blackjack dealer.

When I looked over at the purchasing manager, I could tell that we had not only lost him, he was getting actually angry. He looked like someone who had expected something great and instead was getting the same old thing. Which is exactly what he said.

“Stop, stop!” he practically shouted at my guy. Then he said, “Man, you guys are all alike, you come in spewing all this crap about you’re the best, how great you are and how you are going to solve all my problems. We just disqualified two of your competitors who stood here a year ago saying the same things you are saying and then nothing changes. They sucked, their quality sucked, they didn’t listen to us when we gave them chance after chance to improve and start giving us what we really wanted. You guys never change.”

My guy was like a deer in the headlights. He froze, but for just a minute,  as he regained his composure  and then I could tell he was about to start making his case trying to convince this old vet that we were different when I interrupted him.

Turning to the purchasing manager, whose name was Chuck, I said. “Sounds like you have been having a pretty rough time of it?”

‘Ya think?” he shouted at me. And then calming down a little bit he said, “Is there anyone, one single company in your industry who is any good at all? Who actually knows what they are doing?”

I took out my pen and notebook and turned to him with undivided attention and asked, “Chuck, before we waste anymore of your time would you mind answering a few questions for me?”

And then for the next hour he and I had a dialogue about what his needs were. What he was looking for in a good supplier. And what it would take to meet his needs and become a good supplier. We actually had a good conversation. A productive conversation that went a long way in allaying his fears and concerns. After a little while my sales guy and his buyer started joining in. and by the end of an hour, we have a very good idea of what it would take to become Chuck’s favorite supplier. Chuck was happy, we were happy. I told him that now that we had all of this information about what he needed and what it would take to service his account, I asked if we could come back next week with a comprehensive plan/proposal (a plan we had created together with them by the way) for handling his needs. 

The only thing Chuck said was, “Can you come sooner than in a week?” Obviously, we got the business and the relationship, which lasted for years. All because we decided to listen to the customer, that’s all. Listening to the customer tells us how to handle the account and win the business. Simple enough right? It’s only common sense.