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BirdsEye View

anatomy of a sales call

2014 is shaping up as the year of revenue growth. Expense management is still front and center, but analysts' attention has shifted from price/book and tangible common equity to EPS and revenue growth.

Banks are looking for new lines of business, acquisitions and market share expansions as ways to achieve this elusive goal. I believe that the first step toward revenue growth is improving the performance of the banks' sales forces currently in place. "Making more with what you've got" has been my mantra for years. For the sales people on commercial, wealth management, private banking and insurance sides, it all starts at the sales call. Improving the quality of your sales calls will get you the higher sales productivity we are all looking for.

Sales calls have a specific structure and number of elements. Perfecting each component makes for better sales people. Below are some thoughts on the key elements of the sales call.

  1. Planning. Too many sales calls squander the client contact opportunity due to poor planning. Before you go, answer a few simple questions:
    1. Who are you calling on? Most relevant in a cold call situation.
    2. What does the business do?
    3. What are this business' key success drivers? Understanding the business and its performance dynamics is key to adding value to the customer or prospect, and is typically a great lead to product matching.
    4. Relationship strategy development. Determine how you with work with this business to discover future opportunities, and what expertise might be relevant to their needs.
    5. What is the definition of success for this call? What's the objective? Are you simply interested in gathering data this time, or is it a sales closing opportunity? Clarity on the objective will facilitate achieving it.
    6. Who is going? Establishing the appropriate team of callers is the first step to a successful sales call. The next key steps are coordination and role planning.
    7. Who prepares the agenda for the meeting? Coming to a meeting with an agenda in hand sets the stage for the right conversation and conveys a sense of professionalism and focus.
    8. What about collateral materials? If appropriate, plan those and bring to the meeting. The calling team should determine both the agenda and the collateral.
    9. What questions do you want answered? Write those down.
    10. Where are we going? It's amazing how many times, despite best planning, one finds themselves in an industrial park without a clear idea where the call is. It makes us look silly when that happens. Prepare in advance, ask the right questions (what's the suite number?) and make sure you're on time.
    11. What happens if something goes wrong? Have the right numbers on hand in case you encounter an accident on the highway or if something unexpected comes up.
  2. Meeting.
    1. Verification that the time is still good. Things do change so ask first whether timing is still OK. Verify how much time you have to ensure you've got the customer/prospect's full attention and that they will not be rushed or concerned about time.
    2. Introduction. Obvious but important. It's also important not to offer collateral materials at this time or you'll lose the prospect's attention.
    3. Establish rapport. People like to be treated as people, and their office gives you many clues as to who they are: family guys? Sports guys? Fashinistas? Pick up on the clues and use them to show you're attentive, observant and interested in the person as well as the business.
    4. The call itself. Pull out your agenda, distribute it and remind everyone why we're here today. LISTEN FIRST. Ask an opening question and gather data. A "canned" solution is no solution. Open-ended questions are best at this stage, but make them relevant. Don't ask general questions, but lean toward questions that show you've done your homework and know the specific business you're visiting. Ask :How is your inventory management going since the market started picking up?", or describe what you know about the company and then ask, "What else should I know about your company?". A general opening question is far less effective. Take good notes and ask clarifying questions to make sure you "got" what the person says and build a strong foundation of information on which you can rely later.
  3. Next steps. Meetings that do not end up with a short list of action items are typically not productive (with the exception of information dissemination meetings). Both the client and your team must be clear on what's coming next and what the expectations are from both parties in terms of deliverables and their timing.
    1. Identify commitments on both sides. For example, the banker's commitment may be to write a proposal and deliver within X days. The prospect's commitment is to provide financial statements within Y days.
    2. Solutions. If you're well informed enough to offer solutions, do so during the call. This is also a good time to hand out the collateral materials if appropriate. If more time and analyses are needed, commit to delivering a solution within X days.
    3. Close. The close is the natural summation of the call. Recap next steps, thank the customer/prospect for their time and be on your way.
  4. Follow up.
    1. Back at the ranch, the call must be documented and entered into the sales or CRM system. Do it right away so as not to forget even small details and to get the ball rolling on follow-up actions.
    2. Execute on all activities and deliverables specified during the "next steps" stage of the call. Debrief with the team and produce whatever you promised on time. If other meetings are needed, either for you or for other team members, schedule them now.

One key element that happens AFTER the call is the follow-up and follow-through. I'm stunned at the lack of timely follow-up by sales people. The world takes over, fire-fighting mode ensues and follow-up takes a back seat. Lack of follow up is the kiss of death to a sales person's credibility. Delivering on your promises on time is essential to building relationships, reinforcing your reputation and brand, and, ultimately, to all sales.