annoyed businessman

The saying that “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” applies in spades when it comes to sales calls. Salespeople are the voice of your company, and every person they reach can have a positive or damaging effect on your firm’s reputation and bottom line. Yet sales reps—some of whom may work for your company—are blowing initial sales calls to prospects even as you read this because of a totally avoidable mistake.

The top reason for blown calls probably isn’t the one you would expect. It’s not that salespeople are falling short in terms of their selling style or their techniques for handling objections. Rather, it’s something that’s as simple as it is surprising: a lack of proper preparation for the call.

Preparing for an initial sales call—whether by phone or in person—is critical to the process of beginning to move a person from a prospect to a customer. In order to prepare properly, a sales rep should understand what the company does, who the prospect is and what would motivate this person to buy. This sounds like pretty basic stuff, but it’s remarkable how many reps fail to carry out this essential task.

In a few cases, the salesperson is simply lazy. But most of the time the problem arises from a combination of the pressure to hit certain metrics, such as making 10 new business calls a week, and a failure to understand how much of a difference preparation can make on sales results. If you ensure that your salespeople spend just a few extra hours per week preparing properly for initial calls, they’ll land far more business.

To understand just how important it is for reps to prepare properly, I’m going to dissect a real-life example in which a rep got off to such a disastrous start that there’s no way I’d buy what he was selling. Here’s what I heard recently from a sales rep contacting me for the first time:

“Hey there, Matty, this is ____ from Company XYZ. I’m calling because I thought you might be interested in our product Z. We’ve had a bit of a slowdown in our business, so we’re dropping our price by $8,000 and wanted to reach out to see if you might be interested. I don’t know much about your business, but I’d like to tell you more about our product.”

Wow! This was perhaps the worst opening for a sales call I have ever heard. Yet, even though this is an extreme case, failures of this sort are quite common. And the following analysis of the four ways in which this rep failed to prepare properly also applies to less extreme instances of this blunder.

NOT RESEARCHING THE PERSON YOU’RE ABOUT TO CALL

Let’s call the salesperson who made this call Peter. He probably spent little time thinking before he picked up the phone and called me. The most important thing to understand before you make a sales call is who is going to be on the other end of the line.

In the past, it was difficult to gather this type of information. These days, thanks to LinkedIn and other social media sites, obtaining this information is easy—and necessary—to do before you make a call or meet a prospect in person. LinkedIn will reveal about the people you’re about to call a wealth of information on their past jobs, university and schools they attended and any people you may know in common. Peter made a big mistake by not knowing who I was or what level I was at within my company. Had he done so, he probably wouldn’t have called me “Matty.”

NOT RESEARCHING THE INDUSTRY

Peter may have had the best product in the world, but after that opening it would have been tough for me to take him seriously. However, he made another critical mistake in not understanding which industry I’m in.

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