A good part of business development success is, as some say, just showing up. But show up prepared and success is what you will get.
We acknowledge that sometimes you do just show up (or—hallelujah—a prospect calls you out of the blue) and you haven't done any preparation for the sales call. It's reasonable to suggest that on occasion sales calls are appropriately deemed 'exploratory discussions'; the kind of discussion in which we just talk and 'see where it goes'.
Take this approach in every business development situation, however, and you'll lose your share of sales that you should have won. Interestingly, whether you have a two thousand or a two million dollar price point, to increase your odds of winning new clients you still need to do the same basic planning and know the same essential information before your sales calls.
Here are six sales call planning questions you can answer for yourself before every sales call that will help prepare you for business development success:
1. What is the prospect's current situation? Ask this question to give yourself the lay of the land. Often your goals for the client, the value your services can offer the client, and your action planning for the rest of the sales call come out of your detailed knowledge of the prospect's situation.
If you find that you don't know enough about the situation yet, ask yourself what research you can do before meeting with the client so you can 1) move quickly through tactical situational discovery that can become tedious or bore a client, and 2) demonstrate to them that you are the type of professional that does his homework and goes the extra mile to make sure the client gets the most value out of each contact with you.
2. What are my business development goals for this client or prospective client? Different goals for your clients will make for very different sales conversations. Questions you can ask yourself will include:
- Is this the 'discovery' meeting where we get to know each other and build rapport while learning how I might be able to help them?
- Is this a current client to whom I am introducing a new set of services?
- Am I reviewing the results from the previous year with a client and this is the meeting where I 'resell' my value so the client stays loyal?
- Am I looking to cross sell or upsell currently available services because I see where these services can add value?
- Am I trying to supplant a competitor?
- Is this a current client where I work in one of their divisions and I would like to get introductions into the other three divisions where I can also help?
- Is this a prospect with so much potential that I willing travel on my nickel to five cities to visit their branch outlets, their competitors, and put together a presentation and value proposition so compelling they are wowed like they've never been wowed and resolve to work with me on the spot?
I am sure you can add to this list depending upon your own situation. Whatever your business development goals for this prospect or client are, make certain you are as clear as you can be about those goals before you enter the actual meeting.
3. What is my desired next outcome? Sounds simple enough, but this question is so often overlooked by professionals before they meet with clients or prospects. Our advice: if you don't know what you want to get out of your meeting with them, don't get out of the (proverbial) car (credit to Mack Hannan and his book If You Don't Have a Plan, Stay in the Car).
Just make sure you start your sales call planning process early enough. Sometimes you need time to investigate just what your desired next outcome should be.
4. What are my relative strengths? In every sales situation various forces are working in your favor. Know what these forces are for this particular client or prospect situation so you can leverage them to help make the client more successful. This will give you increased odds of winning the client.
The more specific you can be for the particular situation, the better. Sure, it might be a general advantage that you are a well known expert in your field with a good reputation, but it's a better advantage to know who you are selling against (if anyone), whether or not you and the potential client went to the same graduate school, whether you've been particularly successful in this industry vs. your competitor, or any other specifics that might be working in your favor.
5. What are my relative vulnerabilities? This is the corollary to number four above. Maybe you have less experience than the competition. Maybe another company is the incumbent service provider and you are the challenger. Knowing what your relative vulnerabilities are will allow you to prepare in advance to either turn them into advantages or at least diminish them as vulnerabilities.
For example, maybe the other company has more experience in the industry, their reputation is quite good, and they've been doing this forever. You can say, "Yes, they do have a lot of experience in the industry as this is their only focus. Because our focus is broader, we bring knowledge from outside the industry that has really been valuable to our other clients. Did you know that in the ABC industry they designed their divisions like this last year and got a 7 per cent cost savings on average when they tried it? The data source? It's from the objective research of the ABC Industry Association. Maybe it will apply to your company. We can look into it together, if you like."
With good preparation and call planning you can have your responses to 'objections' and tough questions at the ready when you need them.
6. What actions do I need to take before the next call? We all have to-do lists that help us get done what we need to get done. By taking the time to answer questions 1 through 5, your business development and sales call planning to do list will be as good as it possibly can be because your actions will be:
- Informed by the knowledge of your client's situation
- Guided by your goals for the client from a business development perspective
- Built to help you achieve your desired outcomes
- Planned with the knowledge of your relative strengths and vulnerabilities in this particular business development situation
Maybe for Woody Allen 80% of success in life is just showing up. But the most successful business developers we've seen over the years show up...prepared.
About the Authors:
Mike Schultz is Co-President of Wellesley Hills Group, a management consulting, marketing, and lead generation firm focused on helping professional services firms grow. He is also author of Professional Services Marketing (Wiley, 2009) and Publisher of RainToday.com, the premier online source for insight, advice, and tools for service business rainmakers, marketers, and leaders.
John Doerr is Co-President of Wellesley Hills Group. He is also the Founder of RainToday.com and co-author of the book Professional Services Marketing (Wiley, 2009).