Being prepared for a sales call is one of the most important things you can do. You should know your product inside and out, have a solid understanding of the customer's needs, and be able to articulate how your product meets those needs. Doing this research ahead of time will not only help you close more deals but will also give you greater confidence in yourself as a sales person.
Being prepared is a two-threaded concept. First, the seller must understand the conditions in which a buyer is or is not a fit for their product or service. No two buyer-needs are identical, and one seller-solution may fill many needs. Finding this alignment starts with assumptions rooted in experience (the seller’s or the information provided to the seller by their employer and colleagues), and is matured by the seller’s engagement with the buyer(s).
Human beings are not quantifiable; a buyer’s interpretation of his or her needs is subject to change throughout a sales cycle. Great Sellers account for this by identifying static properties and using them to model buyer behavior. To unpack this, we will start with the Buyer Profile, the first step in the Selling Process.
In any sales position, the seller must start with a presumption of their ideal customer. If the buyer is a corporation, the seller can quantify a best-fit profile around several attributes such as annual revenue, number of employees, and industry. If the buyer is a person, the seller can quantify a best-fit profile around attributes such as annual income, education level, family size, and vocation.
Great Sellers use these profiles to gather buyer information and determine if they meet customer criteria. For corporations, start with their website and social media accounts before searching more broadly for news coverage and reviews. For individuals, use social media and personal impressions. Great Sellers also need to understand their competition’s strengths and weaknesses to better explain the relative value of their offerings.
The second thread may shock you: most salespeople do not prepare themselves well for prospecting or for internal or client-facing meetings. Remember, most salespeople did not seek a career in sales. They may not have a fundamental understanding of the buying and selling cycles. Therefore, preparation is a difficult exercise for them. By preparing yourself, throughout every stage in the selling cycle, there is a high likelihood you have created an advantage for yourself. To out-prepare your competition puts you in a better position to represent your product or service to your prospect or client.
To be prepared, study your ideal buyer: the industries, markets, externalities that impact them such as the recent and projected economic conditions. Study the individuals who are likely to engage with you: what do CFOs do? What does a VP of IT Infrastructure do? Personalize these suggestions for yourself - expand upon them. This completes the assumptions phase of preparation. Next, the seller must prepare for each stage in the selling cycle:
- Prospect: What are you going to say or write that will be relevant and compelling to the recipient?
- Gain Access / First Meeting: Why do most of your customers buy from you? What questions will you ask to learn if this prospect is a qualified buyer? How will you earn the right to enter the Discovery phase? A post about qualification is coming later.
- Discovery: What have you learned thus far that requires clarification? What is it about the buyer that is unique that also aligns with the capabilities of your product or service?
- Proof of Concept / Demonstration: How will you personalize this to the buyer? What is the value statement you are presenting that underlies the proof of concept?
- Proposal: What is the value statement he buyer has already affirmed alignment with? Why should the buyer sign your contract? Who, specifically, will sign the contract?
- Negotiate: What adjustments are you authorized to make to your proposal? Who do you have to get approval from, if needed?
- Close: Is your product or service ready for the buyer? Do you know when the project will start and what roadblocks are in your way? What contingencies have you planned in case there are issues with implementation/use of your product or service?
Work hard and treat every job in sales a step on the ladder along your career in sales. It is within your control. Any Great Seller will tell you: a sales career can be financially and personally rewarding. The opportunity for a Great Seller to balance his or her career with his or her life may be more flexible than any other career.