Pre-Call Planning for More Effective Sales Calls

Sales opportunities don’t come easy. We can spend hundreds to thousands of dollars on direct mail, email campaigns or traditional advertising. Many of us also spend hours on the phone making prospecting calls. A high percentage of these phone calls end up in rejection and frustration.

Having made hundreds of joint calls with salespeople, I can honestly say that a high percentage of these meetings were unprepared. While there is some truth to Woody Allen’s assertion that “80% of success is just showing up,” pre-call planning can improve your odds of success when you are selling a custom product, such a fleet graphics or environmental graphics.

With all the time, money and effort invested to uncover an opportunity and schedule an appointment, why do so many salespeople just “wing it” instead of preparing for the call? As the legendary UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, cautioned his players, “failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” Even if you are fast on your feet and have been improvising for years, I believe that pre-call planning can improve your sales call performance in the following ways:

● Preparing for the sales call in advance can help relieve some of the natural stress of an initial meeting. Having collected good background information will also give you more confidence in speaking with prospects.

● The information gathered about the business will help in planning a sales call strategy.

● In a face-to-face meeting, pre-call planning allows you to control the direction of the meeting. As a salesperson, you will be more thorough in the sales interview. What’s more, this reduces the chance that you will forget points that you wanted to cover or that you will stumble your way through the meeting.

● Pre-call planning organizes the sales call, so you make better use of the prospect’s time. This shows the client that you respect his or her time.

● By understanding the background of the prospect’s business, the products they make, their services, key contacts, and their industry, you project a more professional image.

Whether you are introducing yourself for the first time to a prospect or dropping into to see a longtime customer, you need a goal for every sales call you make. That takes preparation. Before any meeting ever starts, you need to ask yourself: “what am I trying to achieve in the sales call?” If you cannot answer that question, you are not prepared to do your job.

Ultimately, you may need to do some soul searching to understand your role is in the sales process. If you view yourself as a sales consultant, your role includes assisting the client to articulate or identify their needs and problems as well as proposing solutions and guiding him or her in their buying decision. In the role of a consultant, you must have the client’s best interest at heart. With that in mind, anyone can make a sale the first time, but a real salesperson makes a customer for life.

Establishing Sales Call Goals

Pre-call planning should occur at every stage of the sales cycle. This planning will vary depending on what stage you are in. Obviously, preparing for a sales call as you initially qualify a new prospect will be quite different from your preparation for a needs analysis meeting, a design appraisal, the presentation of artwork or your program proposal.

Regardless of what stage you are in in the sales cycle, general preparation for that meeting should follow the blueprint outlined below:

● Determine the objectives of the meeting. Your goals for the meeting will hinge on where you are in the sales process. In an introductory meeting, you may want to discover who are the key players in the decision-making process. You may want to probe for any dissatisfaction with their existing vendor. You may also want to learn about the company’s marketing plans related to corporate identity. You might also want to discover other opportunities. In addition, make a list of questions that the prospect could ask you along with your answers.

● In addition to preparing questions, you should also prepare any points or materials that you would like to present. What’s more, write your value proposition (how you differentiate your business from other shops). Supporting materials may include a brochure depicting your shop’s range of capabilities or photographs that you took as you surveyed the prospect’s fleet vehicles or store locations.

● Assuming that you accomplish your objectives for a meeting you must consider how you want to conclude the sales call so that you can transition to the next step in the sales process. For example, following your presentation of design concepts, you may want to conclude by setting a meeting date to show finished layouts and present the proposal for your program.

● Based on your objectives, you should outline your questions for the prospect so you can structure the conversation. Make sure that your questions are open-ended. These are questions that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. Instead, open-ended questions encourage the prospect to elaborate.

Trial Closing Questions

Any experienced salesman knows that you should Always Be Closing (ABC). Regardless of where you are in the sales cycle, you should structure open-ended questions and statements designed to flush out your prospect’s reactions. This is called the trial close. It is designed to indirectly close a deal before a formal closing step. In this indirect approach, you are asking for an opinion, not a decision. As your prospect answers your trial close questions, revealing his thinking, you can adapt your presentation. What makes a trial close such a valuable sales technique is that is a non-threatening way to take the prospect’s temperature, with little risk that he will become defensive.

As an example of a trial close, you could ask for a prospect’s preference after presenting different design concepts. You could inquire how a particular design would work for their company. Or you could make a statement with the intention of eliciting a response: “it seems to me that you prefer the design with the larger pictorial.”

One way to break through to a difficult buyer is to make an assertion that gives the prospect the opportunity to correct you. In the business of corporate graphics, you might say something like “I noticed that the imagery that you use on your vehicles, stores, and advertising are different. It seems to me that you are in the process of changing your corporate identity program.”

It doesn’t matter if that assertion is right or wrong. In fact, it is better if the statement is contrary to the prospect’s position. This gives your prospect the opportunity to correct you. That way, he or she should feel that they are in control of the buying process. What’s more, in many cases the prospect may open up and tell you, what they might not otherwise reveal.

By asking trial closing questions, you can gauge how the prospects feels about your proposals as well as to ferret out any objections. As you uncover concerns and objections throughout the sales process, you can provide answers and assurances that put the client at ease. More importantly, the trial close lets you determine when the is ready to make a buying decision.

Remember, it is critical that after asking a question, you should SHUT UP and wait until the prospect responds. Then LISTEN! God gave you two ears and one mouth. Use them in that proportion.

The Importance of a CRM Program

As you are researching a prospect, you need to have some type of system for compiling the information. It may be as simple as filling out an account profile form. A better way is to use a customer relationship management (CRM) program. Many professional salespeople use CRM software, such as Salesforce, ACT, Zoho CRM or Microsoft’s Business Contact Manager for Outlook.

CRM software will help you capture important information about your leads, qualified prospects and customers. The costs for these programs vary depending on the number of users, the available features and data storage. Prices can be as low as $5 per month subscription fee.

CRM programs are only as good as the information that you input. As a salesperson, you should get into the habit of taking notes whether you are on a phone call or face to face with the client. At the end of the day, you should input the information in the customer’s profile. By taking notes, you can transmit better information to other people in your shop, such as the designer or production manager. It is also less likely that you will let an important detail slip through the cracks. Finally, if you are an employee of a graphics provider, you can provide your employer with a detailed account of your sales call.

CRM programs allow you to capture leads, as well as to track your interactions with the prospects. By helping you better manage these interactions, a CRM program improves your ability to convert a raw lead into an actual sale.

These programs provide you with several advantages. By using this type of program, you can record the details of every interaction that you engage in with a prospect or customer. One huge advantage is that you can schedule your next call date. This helps prevent opportunities from slipping between the cracks.

You should enter any leads into the company database that you generate from your website, blog, email campaign, phone-in inquires or traditional advertising.

A tried and true method of identifying prospects is through networking. When I was selling fleet graphics, I developed close friendships with truck leasing salespeople. They fed me great information about which companies were in the market to lease tractors and trailers. They had existing business relationships with many of these companies. From them, I learned who to talk to. In many cases, they invited me on sales calls to introduce me to their contacts. Business relationships, such as these, are invaluable.

You may also consider getting involved in community organizations, such as your local chamber of commerce. You can ask for referrals from your most loyal customers. You can also develop contacts on LinkedIn or other social media platforms.

As you are researching a prospect, you should build a detailed profile on the business or on individuals.

No matter what type of meeting you are in, it is imperative that you take good call notes. Success in the graphics market is especially dependent on attention to detail. Your notes will help you recall important details about the prospect’s needs, the competitive landscape as well as your next action steps as you prepare for future meetings.

In your meeting preparation, your questions should reveal if the prospect has any need for your products and services. When selling fleet graphics, you need to discover if the company operates any vehicles. If they do, you should inquire about the size of the fleet, the locations of the vehicles, who the fleet manager is, and if the company has plans for new equipment purchases or leases.

Being thoroughly prepared is especially important in selling a graphics program because you need to identify the customer’s problems and unmet needs before you tailor a solution. With thorough preparation, you can better influence the buyer’s purchasing decision and improve your closing ratio.

Taking Aim at Your Target

If you want to be effective in your messaging, you need to realize that as a graphics supplier you can’t be everything to everybody. Instead, you should focus on a particular target market, one with the most lucrative sales and profit potential, and tailor your branding and advertising message to that audience. With this in mind, you should devote your energies to populating your sales funnel with those prospects that satisfy your criteria as ideal candidates.

By concentrating your sales efforts on a niche market, such as vehicle wraps or window and wall graphics, you can position your shop as a company that can best serve the unique needs of a market segment that may be underserved.

Just so that there is no misunderstanding, I am not suggesting that you should turn away opportunities that are not in your target market. Instead, focus your efforts on the parts of your business that generate the most profit.

“By trying to take on every project, I was wasting too much time on jobs that were not that profitable,” says Butch “Superfrog” Anton. “After carefully looking at my business, I could see what type of work generated the best. That’s when I decided to focus my sales efforts in a particular area.”

To ensure that you have a steady flow of sales opportunities and to achieve your sales goals, you need to continually add new prospects to the top of the sales funnel. With this end in mind, you should set a weekly target for adding new leads into your database. Some of the best ways to keep your sales funnel full of new leads are networking, asking existing customers for referrals, newsletters, and email campaigns.

Keeping the funnel full is not only critical to growing your business but also to offset account attrition. For any number of reasons, businesses can lose up to 15% of their customer base each year.

Prior to qualifying a prospect and adding those accounts to your sales funnel, you should conduct some basic intelligence gathering on these sales suspects. To be clear, in this stage in the selling process, you may have good reason to suspect that a company might be a good candidate for your product, but you still need to confirm your suspicions. This confirmation process is referred to as qualification.

At the very least, before making a qualification call, your investigation should include a Google search as well as an inspection of the company’s website and social media platforms. The basic information that you should record in your database should include:

● What is the nature of their business? (their product and services)
● Which markets does the company serve?
● What is the company’s product differential? (what makes them unique and different?)
● Where are the company’s locations?
● Who are the key contacts within the organization?
● What is the company’s size?
● Who are their competitors?
● How large is the business compared to its competitors?
● What industry trends are affecting the company?

This preliminary research should take no more than 10 to 15 minutes. In many cases, what you can learn on the internet will be sketchy. In your qualifying the prospect, you need to work on filling in those gaps.

While the sales pipeline is typically described as a linear process, rarely do sales actually follow some theoretical academic construct. In this simplified explanation of what salespeople do: they recognize an opportunity; make contact; qualify the lead; set up an appointment; determine problems and needs; present a solution, and close the deal. If it was only that easy!

What complicates this generalization is that the bigger sales opportunities almost always involve many more variables: the size of the company; the nature and the cost of the project; and any number of people, who influence the buying decision. Changes in business communication have also made selling to larger accounts more complex. In years past, it was believed that a sale occurred after an average of five touches. Today the number of touches has increased by as many as three times. What has contributed to that change is voicemail, email, and social media channels.

Qualifying the Prospect

Whether you buy a list of prospects or build your own list, you need to qualify the candidates. The most effective way to qualify the prospects is to phone them. When you are making an initial prospecting call, you should realize that many of the people that you speak with are unfamiliar with industry jargon, such as vehicle wrap, pressure-sensitive film or vinyl graphics. The best advice is to “Keep It Simple”.

If you are uncomfortable in prospecting on the phone, you should prepare a written outline of what you want to cover in the call. I am not suggesting that you read a script. Instead, organize a list of some basic questions that you can ask to help you qualify a selling opportunity. When selling fleet graphics, here are some questions you may ask:

● I understand that your company operates a fleet of trucks. Is that correct?
● How many vehicles does your company have?
● Does your company vehicle have signs or decorations?
● Who in your company is responsible for your fleet of vehicles?

If you are speaking with a fleet manager, you can ask additional questions:
● How many new vehicles will you be getting this year?
● Are you purchasing or leasing the vehicles? (This question is important. If the prospect is leasing, the graphics can be rolled into the terms of the lease. It also allows the prospect to pay for more elaborate graphics, because the cost is amortized over the duration of the lease.)
● How long have you had your current vehicle graphics design? (As a general rule of thumb, companies make changes to their corporate identity on average every five to seven years. If a company has not made changes for longer than that, they are usually good candidates for a redesign.)
● When will be considering new graphics for your truck? (This information is useful in constructing a sales forecast.)

Conducting a Graphics Survey

In the sign market, pre-approach includes conducting a survey, whether it is a vehicle survey, a store survey or a site survey. How can you talk about vehicle graphics without ever seeing the company’s current graphics? How can you discuss window and wall graphics without ever visiting one or more store locations? If you are going to talk about signage for a building, wouldn’t it make sense to survey the site beforehand?

To ensure that you thoroughly inspect fleet vehicles or a store location, it helps if you prepare a checklist of questions to ask. That way, you don’t forget any details, you save time and you project a professional image.

Conducting an on-site survey is a valuable tool when preparing for a graphics sales call. The primary purpose of these surveys is to identify a prospect’s problems, so you can propose a solution. If you can’t identify a problem, you have very little chance of making a sale.

When inspecting vehicle graphics or a store graphics program, it always helps to take to have a camera and tape measure. Pictures of existing graphics, and vehicle types or building styles, as well as measurements, are helpful for designers. Photographs, which document any problems, such as edge lifting, fading or cracking vinyl, are invaluable when included in a presentation to support your assertions.

If you are meeting with an executive, he or she may be unaware of problems with their graphics program. In many cases, that executive may never have inspected their truck graphics. Even if they have, they might not know what to look for. In the case of printing, the prospect very likely might not know what is or what is not a commercially acceptable job.

In the case of preparing for a meeting with an existing customer, conducting a survey can alert you to any problems or dissatisfaction with your program. That way you can get out ahead of the problem before someone else, such as a competitor, has a chance to bring in up.

If you are meeting with a key company executive regarding their vehicle graphics, it can help greatly to inspect the graphics prior to the meeting. This inspection should include surveying the type of vehicles that the business operates and the condition of the graphics. In preparing for your meeting you should take pictures of the graphics to document any of your findings.

Before conducting either a vehicle survey or building graphics survey, compile a checklist of questions:

● How long have you had the current design?
● Who supplied and installed the graphics?
● How do you feel about the company that supplied and installed the graphics?
● What type of repairs has been done on the graphics?
● How many different types of vehicles do you operate?
● How often are the vehicles cleaned? How are they cleaned? What types of chemicals are used?

In the graphics market, you are not selling a commodity such as the proverbial widget. You are developing a visual communications system that encompasses a creative design solution as well as a manufactured product customized to the unique requirements of the job. In addition, the graphics package often requires professional installation, which ensures that the graphics are applied correctly.


Before you set your appointment, you need to collect as much information as possible about the company and its current graphics program. Ideally, you could conduct a survey before meeting with the people involved in making the ultimate decision.

After qualifying a prospect, you should expand your research to gather additional background information, before scheduling your initial sales meeting. This sales technique is called the “Pre-Approach”.

To be clear, how you sell or how the prospect buys doesn’t follow any formal linear sales pipeline process that salesmen had been taught decades ago. The pre-approach technique of gathering information should not a one-time activity. It should be an ongoing activity that continues throughout your relationship with a client as you gather a more and more comprehensive dossier on a customer.

After you gather background data about a company from external sources, you should continue to add information to the account profile from your meetings. As you learn more about the prospect’s needs and priorities, you can better formulate your solution, which could involve a new design, a different manufacturing approach or an installation plan. Everything that you discover about a potential customer leads to the planning and presentation of the graphics program and the closing of the sale.

Some of the basic information that you should include in an account profile includes company sales, products and services, number of employees, key executives, and competitors. Some of this information is easily attainable by googling the company name. You can also find information from the company website or on LinkedIn. Paid services are available from companies, such as Hoovers.

Just as you might do a background check on someone before hiring them, you should do a background check on the key people within a target account. LinkedIn is an excellent source of information on key personnel.

Prior to setting your first sales appointment, you should have collected some information on the prospect and have begun to build an account profile. The more information that you have on an account, the more substantive your conversation will be.

Pre-call planning should begin immediately after you qualify a prospect. In this step in the sales process, you should collect as much detailed information about the prospect above and beyond what you learned in the qualification step. Collecting this information can help you in several different ways.

In today’s digital age, research has never been easier. The quickest way to learn about what a business does is to visit their website. In particular, look at their About Us page and for any news releases.

Also, investigate the company’s presence on social media. Some companies will post more detailed information and videos about their company’s Facebook page than you will find on the website. Also, look for information on the company’s key personnel on LinkedIn.

In addition to learning about the products and services, it is important to know the markets and customers that they serve and who their competitors are. Once a meeting is set, you should do additional research, which should include recent news and key personnel within the organization.

In addition to researching any online news stories about your prospect, you should also investigate their competitors.

So that you can converse intelligently, your research should include a study of current trends in the prospect’s industry. You can find the latest industry news on particular markets by searching sources, such as Google News ( Being able to speak the prospect’s language shows him or her that you have a grasp of their market and can provide solutions to their unmet needs.

If you are marketing to a particular industry, your research should include subscribing to and reading publications in that market and perhaps membership in that industry’s associations. For example, if you are targeting retailers, you might subscribe to publications such as Chain Store Age In the fleet graphics market, you should read Commercial Carrier Journal (CCJ) and Fleet Owner Magazine

If your target market is the c-store and petroleum retailing industry, you should subscribe to Convenience Store News and CSP magazine Many of the subscriptions to trade publications are free. In addition to traditional advertising, many trade publications offer a variety of other marketing services, such as list rentals, eBlast, and E-Postcards.

Key Questions for Your First Meeting

Preparing for the first face-to-face sales meeting is critical because this is when you create that first impression. That first impression is almost always a lasting impression. If you bungle that first meeting and create a negative impression, the chances are that you may never get a second chance to repair the image of your shop in the prospect’s mind.

For your meeting you should prepare open-ended questions which can promote a discussion of the prospect’s problems and unmet needs:

● What is the Prospect’s Role? You also need to identify the role that the person that you are meeting with has in the buying process. If your contact cannot sign off on the purchasing decision, who does? If your contact has neither the decision-making authority nor influences the sale, perhaps he or she can direct you to those you should talk to. You should not waste too much time speaking to anyone who is not part of the sales process or who can help you. As the saying goes, do not make your sales presentation in no man’s land.

● What is the Prospect’s Need or Problem? Some of the most important questions that you should have for your prospect should help you identify problems or needs. The reason is that if the prospect has no need or problem with a supplier, you have no sales opportunity. In that case, you should just pack your bags and move on to the next prospect. Without a need, you are just wasting your time.

● What is the Prospect’s Budget? You need to decide if this account is worth your time and effort to pursue. You are also wasting your time if the prospect has no money in his budget for the proposals that you are suggesting. You may have some fantastic ideas to help a prospect promote his business with a new vehicle graphics program or an exciting window or wall graphics program. Some of your questions should focus on what the prospect can afford or is willing to spend on new graphics.

● What is the Prospect’s Timeline? When will the company be in the market for your products? If all of the company vehicles have recently been decorated, you have no immediate opportunity. What you may want to discover is if and when the company has plans to buy new equipment. In the case of signage and building graphics, you may want to learn if the company is opening any new locations or has acquired another business.

In many cases, a company only marks vehicles coinciding with the purchase or lease of new equipment. This is why it is important for a graphics salesperson to network with truck and trailer sales and leasing salespeople. These salespeople will know long before you will ever know, who is in the market for new equipment. In the case of leasing salesmen, it benefits them in additional revenue and commissions to add on new purchases as part of the lease.

Including graphics as part of the lease package also benefits the buyer, because the cost of the graphics is amortized over the length of the lease. As a graphics provider, you benefit too, because vendors get paid by the leasing company before the equipment is turned over to the buyer. This is a perfect example of a win-win situation.

● What is the Program Deadline? This information is critical for those people in your company responsible for the design, manufacturing and installation of the graphics.

Estimating the value of a potential sale, the probability of your success in making that sale and determining when a buying decision will occur is essential in developing a sales forecast and deciding how much time you want to devote to your sales effort.

What can complicate a graphics sale is that it can involve multiple locations. A store graphics program could involve many different stores, whose architecture varies from location to location. In selling fleet graphics, different types of vehicles could operate at different locations throughout the country.

Gathering as much information as possible prior to the meeting with a key individual within the account prepares us for the sales meeting and positions us a professional. It also provides us with the details that you will need in estimating manufacturing costs and managing the logistics in implementing a program.

Needs Analysis

Years ago, a customer explained to me what my role was as a salesperson. “Your company may pay you a check, but you work for me,” he said emphatically. “If you are going to be successful, you need to be my advocate. You must be my voice with your company.” Those words stuck will me throughout my career as a sales consultant.

In selling a custom product, such as vehicle graphics, signage or wall graphics, your sales role is truly to be the voice of the customer. You need to understand the needs of the customer; communicate those needs to the designer, and to ensure that your company delivers a graphics solution that satisfies those needs.

The more you learn about the prospect’s business, the better prepared you are to influence the buying decision in your role as a consultant. Your unique position as a consultant is an important distinction when contrasted to a peddler. You are not selling a one size fits all approach.

Positioning yourself as a consultant, you have taken the time to analyze the needs of the prospect and based on a thorough understanding of the customer’s needs, you are advising him or her in the buying decision – a decision tailored to the customer’s unique requirements. In investigating the prospect’s needs, you should be thinking about creating a program that satisfies all the aspects of a graphics program, which encompasses the design, the materials specified, the manufacturing process and the installation plan.

If a sales call involves a design appraisal, you might consider using a questionnaire in the sales interview. I have known several graphics professionals that have used this approach with success.

In preparing your questions in advance of a meeting, you should probe to reveal any unmet needs or dissatisfaction with the incumbent supplier. As the sales maxim goes, without a problem, you have no opportunity.

Budget is critical: How much money has the prospect budgeted for the program? You should spend less time with a contractor with 10 vans and a $2,000 budget than with a bread company with 20 van trailers and a budget of $40,000.

As you explore your prospects sales and marketing objectives, here are some suggested questions:

• What are their sales goals?
• What advertising and marketing programs will be implemented to achieve those goals?
• How do customers, employees and (if applicable) stockholders view their business?
• How would they like to be viewed by the public?
• Who are their competitors?

Taking a consultative approach, selling is understanding a prospect’s unique problems and needs and helping them make the right buying decisions — decisions that solve those problems and satisfy those unmet needs. That type of selling requires an understanding of what occurs in a complex sale. It also takes planning a strategy for every step of the sales cycle from qualifying the prospect to needs analysis to presentation and closing. Armed with the information from your meetings, you can:

● More effectively anticipate objections to your proposal and prepare your responses to these objections;
● Assess the relationship that he has with his current supplier;
● Determine where the prospect is in the buying process; and
● Prepare a graphics program that provides the buyer with value.

Design Appraisal

If your meeting involves a design appraisal, your questions should include a whole range of considerations. Above all, in preparing your questions, you must uncover the organization’s goals and objectives.

By identifying the customer’s requirements and recording their marketing strategies, advertising themes, corporate colors, and budgetary parameters, you can provide your designers with the information that they need.

What has helped graphics companies in conducting a needs appraisal is to develop a questionnaire. This form can help you conduct an organized and comprehensive interview. Here are some questions, which you might consider for your questionnaire:

● How would you differentiate your business from your competitors?
● What message or advertising theme do you wish to convey to your customers?
● Have you developed a branding style guide?
● What photographs or other imagery could be used in a design, which would best convey your organization’s branding?
● Which colors are critical to your brand or corporate identity? Have color specifications been established?
● Which colors are unacceptable?
● Is there a specification or preference for typefaces?
● What liberties, if any, may the designer take with your logo?

Competitive Analysis

Do not underestimate your competition. In his book, The Winner Within, basketball coach Pat Riley explains that the choke can occur when you either overestimate your own abilities or underestimate the abilities of your opponent.

As competent as a salesperson you think you are, do not get overconfident. Someone else is usually competing for the same business that you are. Realize that there are other players on the field. Many of them are hungry for the prospect’s business. If you get complacent, you are setting yourself up for the choke, as your competitor is preparing to eat your lunch.

Early in the sales process, you need to discover who the incumbent supplier is as well as any other suppliers competing for the prospect’s business. Interviewing a prospect gives you an opportunity to learn about your competition and to gauge changes in the marketplace. As you plan a sales call, you should prepare questions to discover the identity of your competitors as well as their strengths and weaknesses.

Once you ascertain who your competition is, you can conduct an online investigation of them. By visiting their website and social media accounts, you can hunt down who some of their customers are.

Nothing beats actually talking to these customers. If you do engage these people in conversation, find out what they like and dislike about doing business with the competition. The information that you ferret out from your investigations can help you prepare your sales proposal and can mean the difference between winning or losing a big sale.

In addition to learning as much as you can about these competitors, you should evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. To paraphrase Sun Tzu in The Art of War, if you understand your strengths and weaknesses and those of your competitor, your chances of success are greatly improved. Without this understanding, you will likely lose in every encounter.

Is there any dissatisfaction with that vendor? If there are any problems with the current graphics program, what are they and is the prospect aware of these problems? After learning as much as you can, you should plan a strategy on how you will drive a wedge between the current supplier and the prospect. In the words of Sun Tzu “strike at what is weak.”

Understanding the Decision-Making Process

Robert Miller and Stephen Heiman, authors of Strategic Selling, explain that in developing a sales strategy, one size does not fit all. In other words, you must customize your strategy to the specific requirements of the account, because each business opportunity is different. The personalities from one account to another will be different. The needs and problems facing each business will be different. And the buying process at each company may be different.

Scripture teaches us that all we need to do is “ask and you shall receive”. Salespeople should take that advice to heart. Once you have a solid contact inside of the organization, all you need to do is ask that person for direction.

On one sales call to a national retailer, we met with a team of people involved in the company store graphics. The leader of the team told us that there were many other individuals that we needed to meet within their organization. These included designers and store managers. She also directed us to contact their outside advertising agency.

You need to identify the role that the person that you are meeting with plays in the buying process. Who has the authority to spend the money on the sale?

In a fleet graphics sale, many different people could get involved in the decision-making process. These people will vary from one organization to the next. These people could include the fleet manager, the director of marketing, an advertising manager, or the president or general manager. Quite often, many people have input on the decision-making process.

How you structure your questions may differ depending on the type of person that you are meeting with. In the case of a fleet graphics sale, that person could include the fleet manager, a marketing executive or the general manager.

In meeting with the fleet manager, your questions may revolve around the implementation of the program. You may be asking about what problems have occurred in the past with graphics; what facilities are available for removal and application; and when will vehicles be available.

For a marketing manager, your questions might be built around new product introduction, new advertising themes; changes in the company logo or corporate identity. For a general manager, you might ask about the challenges that the company is currently facing, such as changes in the industry or competitive threats.

You also will want to discover who else is involved in the buying process and who makes the ultimate decision. When calling on large organizations, many different people can become involved in a graphics program. For example, store graphics programs can involve marketing managers, architects, outside ad agencies and purchasing personnel.

In addition to the person that you are meeting, are there others who are involved in the decision-making process? In selling to a large organization, many people get involved in a fleet graphics or store graphics program. This makes the sales process and your selling job more complex as you deal with a number of different personalities. As a salesperson, you need to understand the dynamics within the account and discover the process that that company goes through in making a buying decision. These people may include store managers, marketing executives, fleet managers, or the president of the company.

The buying process in B2B selling often involves many people in decision making. This process becomes more and more complex depending on the size of the organization and the size of the potential sale. Some companies establish a threshold giving individuals the ability to purchase below a certain amount. Once that threshold is exceeded, the purchasing process can require a specified number of bids. Because many different people can get involved in a larger purchase and since the process of buying can involve many issues, many refer to this type of sale as complex selling.

Just so there is no misunderstanding, I am not suggesting that this approach is designed to make selling any more complex than it already is. All that I am suggesting is that each prospective customer that you approach is different and, as a sales professional, you should try to understand the dynamics that occur in making a decision. Many different people can influence a sale. They can either help your cause or they can derail you. You need to know who these players are, and, if possible, you need to engage with these people.

The advantage of working with several people within an organization rather than dealing with one individual is that you improve your chances of making the sale in a highly competitive situation. At many companies, several people may have input in the decision making, even though one person may make the final decision. Getting more than one person in your corner helps build consensus. In my experience, larger businesses can be very political. In their decision making, people, who have a stake in the purchase, are often consulted so to ensure that their concerns are addressed. There is nothing wrong with this approach because it builds a cooperative spirit within the organization.

Selling a larger business is a thinking person’s game because it requires you to identify how decisions are made within that organization. A good way to gain an insight into this decision-making process is to use a top-down selling approach. In other words, make your first contact at the target account as high up as you can possibly go. In many medium-sized companies, the president is often accessible. No one is better qualified to understand who gets involved in a graphics program than the top man. He can direct you to the right people to see.

Once the boss tells you who to see and what to do, you have a key to unlock any door. In setting an appointment I use a technique similar to the alternate choice close. All you need to say is “I was talking to Mr. Jones about your company’s fleet graphics program. He told me that you were one of the people that I needed to talk to. I am going to be in town on Wednesday and Thursday next week, which day be better for you to meet?” After you settle on a day, ask “is the morning or afternoon better?” Then suggest a time: “Would you have a problem with 2:00 Thursday afternoon?”

Preparing Your Presentation

Before preparing your presentation, review your notes from your previous meetings with the prospect. You should construct your presentation around the challenges that their organization faces. Your proposal should first summarize the prospect’s marketing objectives, unmet needs, and business problems and then explain how your graphics program provides a solution.

In presenting a vehicle graphics or environment graphics program, a key goal is to keep the program simple for the customer. Executives do not need any additional responsibilities added to their plates. The program that you develop should be as turnkey as possible, covering all aspects of its implementation.

In selling major corporate graphics programs, one of the key objectives is to help the prospect realize how the success of the project will promote his stature within his organization.

Your proposal should be comprehensive enough to anticipate the prospect’s questions and concerns regarding the design, manufacturing, and implementation of the program. In addition to your proposed solutions, you need to demonstrate how your program will deliver a return on the prospect’s investment. You should explain those financial rewards in terms of how you can save the prospect money or increase sales and profits.

Be prepared for customer objections. In addendum to your proposal, you may want to include support for your claims by providing evidence for your case, just as a lawyer does. The best evidence that your solutions works are case studies and industry articles about another company’s successful program.

Documentation is powerful in persuasion because people believe the written word. Photographs are also highly effective. If there is a problem with the prospect’s current graphics program, such as edge peeling, fading or inconsistent application of the corporate imagery, document your claims with pictures. Demonstrations are also effective. In selling truck graphics with conspicuity markings, I often conducted demonstrations using mockups of the proposed design using retroreflective films.

As you are making your presentation, be prepared for the prospect to interrupt you. You should welcome these interruptions, even if they are an objection because in most cases it shows that the prospect is interested. When you are interrupted, stop your presentation and let the person speak. If the prospect has a question or objection, restate it and address it. Then continue with your proposal.

Just in case you run into someone new as you are visiting a prospect, you should prepare thirty seconds of talking points. These talking points should focus on the benefits that your company can provide. Once you make your points, you should ask open-ended questions to allow the other person to speak.

Closing the Sale

According to self-help guru, Tony Robbins, if you want better answers, ask better questions. In sales, if you want to close more sales, prepare better trial closing questions. For those of you who are apprehensive about directly asking for the order, asking these questions is the easiest way to seal a deal. Here are some of the questions that I frequently used:

● How do you feel about the designs that I have shown you?
● What are the next steps that we need to take?
● When would you need to have the graphics delivered?
● What hasn’t explained in my proposal that is important to you? You can ask this question after you have completed your presentation.

Note that all the questions that I have suggested are opened-ended. They cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. These questions encourage the prospect to open up and talk. After asking a trial closing question, the key is to wait for the prospect to answer no matter how long it takes.

Once you get an answer, ask for a commitment in the following way. “We can get the program started contingent your approval of full-size production art and color match.” Write that condition of approval on the order. “All I need is your OK.” Then hand the prospect a pen. Explain to the customer that he has no obligation until the artwork and colors are approved. This makes closing easy for both of you.

There are many ways that you can close a deal. What is important for you is that you take the time to think about how you will ask for the order. Find a few techniques that you feel comfortable with and then put them to action.

Meeting Review

After military pilots fly a mission, they are debriefed. In these sessions, the pilots are questioned so they recount what occurred and provide insights on what was successful as well as what might be done differently. What is valuable about these sessions is that they are learning experiences.

Meeting reviews are also valuable in sales. In evaluating your performance, identifying what you did right as well as what you could have done better, you will become a better salesperson. A good time to do this is at the end of the day when you enter your notes in the prospect’s account profile. In reviewing the results of your meeting, you should ask yourself the following:

● Did I accomplish my goals for the meeting?
● What did I learn in this meeting?
● Where is the prospect in the buying process?
● What could I have done differently in the meeting?
● What is my next action step?

If you lose a sale, take the time to understand why you lost it. If you don’t have a clue, let me tell you how to unravel this mystery. Ask the prospect. If you are uncomfortable about doing this, I have a couple of suggestions. If you are a young salesperson, you could say: “I’m new at sales. So I can do a better job, what could I have done differently to earn your business?” Or a more experienced salesperson might say: “Obviously, my competitor had a more appealing proposal. What was most important to you in making your decision.”

I have been on the other side of the desk as a buyer. I never had a problem telling a salesman the criteria that I used to make my decision. What amazed me was that salesmen rarely ask.

To understand what you are doing right in the sales process, you might also ask the new customer what were the most important factors in making his decision.

Follow Up

You probably have heard the saying that anyone can make the first sale. A true professional salesperson makes the next sale. One part of the sales process that is frequently ignored is the “Follow Up.”

Why this stage is so important is that converting a prospect into a customer takes considerable time, money and effort. Once you make that investment, you need to protect it.

In overseeing the marketing for a fleet graphics company, we initiated a program to ensure customer retention. Here’s how it worked. After the graphics were installed, our marketers regularly made follow up calls. Prior to making a follow-up call you should prepare a series of questions to determine the following:

● Is the customer satisfied with the new graphics? Did the graphics program achieve the customer’s objectives? Was there anything that they would have done differently?
● Were there any problems related to the manufacturing or installation of the graphics?
● Are there any new opportunities for additional graphics, such as unit numbers, building signage, window or wall graphics or tradeshow graphics? In many cases, the new customer may not be aware of your full range of products and services.
● Have any changes occurred within the account which could affect future sales? These changes could include a new sales contact, acquisition of another company, new marketing promotion or a company name change.

Conclusion: Always Have a Plan B

Former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson said that “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. Then, like a rat, they stop in fear and freeze.”

Professional fighters always have a plan when they step into the ring. Professional salespeople should have a plan, too, regardless of where they are in the sales process. The problem is that even with a plan, the best-laid plans often go astray. You get punched in the mouth. As a salesperson, what will you do when your sales call doesn’t go to plan? Are you going to stop in fear and freeze?

Even though you may prepare for a sales call, the fact is that you never really know what’s going to happen. Nevertheless, going through the planning process prepares you for the unexpected. What does not make sense is just winging it.

This is why you always need a Plan B. For the record, some historians believe that the origin of the term “Plan B” refers to German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. The reason was that Bismarck was known for always preparing an alternative or contingency plan.

In developing your Plan B, use the visualization technique to plan for your sales meetings. Imagine the different good, bad and ugly scenarios that could occur in the meeting. Then imagine how you would respond. Imagine a positive result. The process of visualization prepares you, so you are not tripped up by the unexpected.

By running through the different scenarios in your mind, you are practicing your responses. As a result, you will be better prepared. What’s more, when you envision a positive outcome, you become more confident.

In negotiating business deals, this is the way Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis prepared for meetings. He trained his mind to expect success. By visualizing, every possible scenario, he was rarely if ever caught off guard. He was always prepared with a Plan B response.

What’s more, when you expect good results, many more good things will happen in your life. This is like the visualization technique that champion athletes use to prepare for competition. Basketball players imagine making free throw after free throw and never missing. Their pre-game planning conditions their minds for success. By pre-sales planning, you can better prepare your mind, you will conduct yourself with more confidence and will achieve more successful sales outcomes.

Pre-call planning will not guarantee a successful sales call. It will, however, improve your odds of a successful outcome.

In preparing for a sales call, you should review your notes, which should include any agreed-upon deliverables. Your action items might include a site survey, vehicle graphics design or meetings with others in the prospect’s organization. If you are writing a presentation, prepare all the supporting materials that you will need.

Based on how the previous meeting concluded, you should assess where you are in the sales process and what you hope to achieve in the upcoming meeting. If you have questions, you should write them down.

In determining your sales call goals, you should plan for the desired outcome. How would you like the call to end? In wrapping up the meeting, how will you set the stage for the next meeting? Each meeting outcome should put you one step closer to closing a sale.

In planning a sales call, you should also prepare your value propositions. These statements describe what makes your shop uniquely different from other shops. Your value propositions should explain the benefits that your products and services provide and why your solutions are better than what your competitor provides. A good practice is to write these statements out and then practice them so you can present them with conviction. To be effective, the value of propositions should be concise and memorable.

At the end of any meeting, you should record your notes in your CRM database. As a matter of courtesy, send your prospect an email thanking him for the opportunity to meet together and reviewing the outcome of the meeting.
The sale of any custom product, such as fleet graphics or building graphics, can test the talents of any salesperson. It requires identifying problems or unmet needs with the prospect’s current program. If you are selling a new identity program, it also necessitates an understanding of the client’s marketing objectives and their competitive threats. What’s more, when selling larger businesses, it calls for the salesperson to identify those who influence the decision-making and where he or she is in the buying process. The complexity involved in selling corporate identity programs requires pre-call planning before every step in the sale, especially when competing with an aggressive adversary.
Good Luck Selling!