Sales Call Planning
How to Make It Work Efficiently
Are the lackluster results of your outside sales staff giving you heartburn? Are you sick-to-death of the 1001 excuses you hear when your sales people can’t seem to generate enough new business to support their overhead and expenses? Help has arrived. This issue article presents a simple, easy-to-follow plan designed to get those outside sales reps back on track, producing results that will put added profit on your bottom line.
During the “fat and happy” times, the staffing industry developed some very bad habits that have become difficult to break. Business was relatively easy to get, and reaching solely for the low hanging fruit made a lot of outside sales people quite successful. That “low hanging fruit” is gone. Yet a lot of staffing professionals don’t want to recognize that fact. They keep doing-or not doing-the same things they did during easy years. Their results, as you might anticipate, have been less than acceptable.
It’s time to turn your poor-performing outside sales people into a team of lean, mean business-generating machines. For this, sales call planning is a must. We’ll supply the action plan for sales calls and a way to get it implemented. You need only supply the discipline to insure its success.
Implement this program and you will help your outside sales personnel:
- Improve the quality of every sales call
- Decrease non-productive time in the field
- Increase the number of sales calls made
- Enhance their individual sales performance
- Uncover new business opportunities
And if you need more motivation, implementing this sales call planning system will cut your expense line and add to your profit line!
To make this idea as easy as possible for you to carry out, we’ve included:
- An action plan
- A step-by-step review of the sales call plan
– When to complete it
– How to complete it
– What should/should not be included
– Why this form is so critical
- A step-by-step review of the sales call plan
- An Implementation Plan
- How to get started
- Creating a culture that will keep call planning a necessary part of your operation
- A completed sample call planning worksheet
- A blank call planning worksheet
- A list of questioning techniques your sales people can use to accomplish their call planning goals
- A sample critique and role play form
The ultimate objective of call planning is to make your outside sales staff more effective so they can increase the amount of business being generated with every account. It is rare that this will occur as the result of a single sales call or the completion of a single call planning worksheet. Sales reps should file call sheets by date and by customer, either in hard copy or on-line. Managers can then review progress, problems and opportunities that will surface over time with each client or prospect. For example, one of the first entries on each call sheet (see the “Forms” section for a sample) requires listing the “Client Attendees” and “Staffing Service Attendees.” As the number of visits and call planning worksheets grow for an individual customer, you should see more contacts listed in this section. The more “buying influencers” listed, the deeper your rep has penetrated the account. It also shows you whether or not your sales person is involving other team members who support the client, in their sales activities. Let’s go through the sample “Sales Call Plan” step by step:
Each week your outside sales rep will need to complete a sales call plan for every client/prospect with whom they have an appointment.
Every sales call plan must list the rep’s name, the account name and the date and time of the call. This then becomes an easy way for a manager to check on the frequency of visits and determine the validity of that frequency on an account-by-account basis.
List the people attending and their titles. In addition to the purpose we stated earlier, this section will provide you-as management-with valuable, up-to-date contact data should you experience turnover among your sales staff.
This step, titled “Call Objectives,” holds one of the key components of every sales call plan. In a previous issue of Idea Club Gold, we pointed out the importance of having multiple call objectives. The first or Minimum call objective is a basic business purpose that your sales person must achieve for the call to be a success. The second or Primary goal is the chief reason for your visit. It is the main business purpose for the sales call. The third or Visionary objective is a “Wouldn’t it be nice if…..” business goal for the call. (See a completed sample “Sales Call Plan” in the “Forms” section for examples of valid M-P-V call objectives).
In this section, termed “Anticipated Advance Action,” your sales rep notes how he/she will move the sale forward. For example, let’s say your primary objective had been to uncover a buyer name and contact data in a certain department where they are currently using a competitor for their contingent staffing needs. An “Anticipated Advance Action” might be to get introduced by your contact to that person or to get your contact’s permission to use their name when calling that department head for an appointment.
The area titled “Describe the Customer’s Problem” generally relates to your primary call objective. In the space provided, your sales rep needs to note the critical factors that will help them further identify a potential problem. These are factors that will help your sales person build the importance of that problem so that it becomes easier to implement the solution your sales rep in suggesting. Let’s use the primary objective example we suggested in Step 5. Your contact might be uncomfortable introducing your sales rep to a department head who is currently using a competitor. However, if your sales person knew that the type of contingent workers used in that department were difficult to find, and let their current contact know that your staffing company had a significant number of these temporaries available at a “reasonable” rate, your contact might see themselves as instrumental in providing an alternative to this department’s problem.
Any facts or even strong suspicions based on information your sales rep has available should be noted here. These notations can add weight and direction for questioning as your sales person further explores the customer’s problem and moves toward accomplishing their primary objective.
“Being Effective for the Customer” is the section for your sales staff to note whatever unique strengths your company has to accomplish this sale. We added the phrase “Prove It” so that your sales people note information that has meaning to the customer. For instance, in the example we’ve been using, your rep might note here that your database contains over 60 qualified temporaries for the type of work that department requires, that 12 of them are immediately available, and that all have had references checked.
“Positioning.” The purpose of this segment is to check and reinforce your position with this client. (It may be your minimum goal for this visit.) Your rep might wish to conduct a review of a temp recently assigned to this client to insure the client’s continued satisfaction. Another example might be to have your sales person introduce a new software testing program your office is using and relate to your client just how that new program will benefit them. In another example, your rep might provide a testimonial to this client to demonstrate how your company solved a problem this client is currently experiencing. Or if you’ve recently solved a problem for the client your rep is visiting, they might request a testimonial you could then use with other customers.
The “Action Step” segment of each call planning worksheet needs to be completed as soon after the call as possible. If your sales reps carry their sales call planning worksheets with them or use laptops in the field, it’s recommended that this step be done right after leaving the client’s offices. Alternatively, completing this step at the end of each day with a sales manager can be a useful training activity for any outside sales person.
The Action Step may simply be a confirmation of the “Anticipated Advance Action” which was indicated in Step 5. However, if that step was not accomplished or the primary objective was not met, this Action Step may be very different from what your sales rep “anticipated.” In fact, when action steps consistently differ from “Anticipated Advance Actions,” your sales rep is experiencing a problem. You may need to offer remedial training in listening or questioning techniques. Role playing can also be extremely beneficial if this problem persists.
In the introduction to this issue, I suggested that this sales call planning worksheet was easy to use…and it is. What’s not so easy is getting your outside sales personnel to develop the habit of planning. Doing that is up to you and your ability to convince each person of the critical importance of planning. I know sales people hate paperwork, but do you know what they hate even more? They hate not meeting their sales goals-especially if they had a hand in setting them! It might be pride or loss of financial incentive or a need to please you, the boss; but I guarantee you every outside sales person on your staff wants to meet or exceed their sales goals. Planning will go a long way in helping them do that.
Uncover their “hot buttons.” Cajole them, challenge them, inspire them, but above all else, motivate your sales staff to recognize the critical importance of consistent planning and you’ve done most of your part in this implementation plan.
What’s left involves inspection. You know that old adage: You get what you inspect, not what you expect. Don’t expect these worksheets to be filled out correctly. You will need to have a meeting (probably more than one) on goal setting and what makes a minimal, primary and visionary objective. Don’t allow reps to set goals that are too lofty or too low. Teach your sales people to be realistic. Teach them how to ask questions to uncover problems. Role play with them so they will learn how to suggest staffing solutions that help your customers solve those problems.
If you want your outside sales staff to flourish in a time when the low hanging fruit has shriveled up, you must invest the time in training them to be better. You must create and implement systems like call planning worksheets to keep ahead of the competition and in the forefront of your customer’s mind when there is a staffing problem to be solved.
Cultivate the importance of planning. Praise those who’s well-executed sales call plans result in additional business. Reinforce how this activity separates your sales personnel from that of your competition, and helps make your people better prepared and more confident in their work. Give your people this edge and everyone will reap the rewards.
Sales Call Planning forms are available to download here.