You can play the sales game a lot of ways. You can even specialize in the “exploratory surgery” style of selling, which relies on luck and quick thinking over in depth research. If this is your preferred plan of attack, sooner or later — probably sooner — you’ll be confronted with a sales misfire that would have succeeded if you’d only checked a little deeper, understood the competition a little better, or taken the time to suss out an alternative selling option before you set foot on the prospect’s premises.

Tips for More Effective Sales Calls

One potential problem with sales planning is that a few of the traits that make a great salesperson, personability, a quick wit, and a competitive nature, can be hard to find in a methodical, detail oriented, planner’s personality. These characteristics aren’t mutually exclusive, but they sure might look that way sometimes. It doesn’t matter if you’re the top seller in your company, an accomplished reader of body language, or a quick shuffle expert with the best line of patter in the business, sales planning is relevant; it makes a difference:

Know the competition – If you’ve been in sales for a while, you probably know almost as much about a competitor’s brand as you do about the brand you’re selling. That’s no accident. Customers shop their sales — these days more than ever. If you can’t compare features and offer insights into the relative cost and expected useful life of a competitor’s consumable items, for instance, don’t be surprised if the prospect turns his back on you. Take a tip from the old timers, and educate yourself. That way you can step into the role of consultant, which is a very nice place from which to pitch your products.

Have a goal – Touching base with a customer just because you’re in the area is a pretty feeble reason to make a sales call. Sure, you want to make the most of a road trip, and face time is always valuable, but recognize that many decision makers are operating under increased pressure to perform these days. If you don’t have something to offer today, don’t waste their time. If you do have something to offer or share, have all the supporting material (and any authorizations) ready in advance.

Sell to your strengths – In a boxing match, competitors recognize their relative strengths and weaknesses. Before you make a sales call, you should recognize yours. They could be price and availability or any of a dozen other components of a potential sale. You won’t be able to advance your position until you know where you’re strong and how you’re weak. Small business marketing expert and author David Frey suggests that a potential customer who understands your product is much more likely to buy. How is this prospective customer going to learn about your product? You guessed it. If you’re credible and understand his needs, he’ll learn from you. Improve your position by knowing your strengths and using them in your sales pitch.

Overcome setbacks – Just because you couldn’t get past the receptionist today doesn’t mean you won’t get your foot in the door next week or next month. Before you try another salvo, though, think of the extra time as a gift. You can learn more about the prospect between now and the next visit, and possibly pick up that one detail that will get you on the vendor list or net you a request for quote. Keep good notes; remember names, and write down your impressions (a contact management software program is great for this). Perform an internet search about the prospect’s business, and strategize with supervisors and colleagues. Don’t waste time worrying about the meetings you didn’t get. Use the time to develop your skills. There’s always tomorrow. Just be sure that next time you have more information — and a better plan.

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