Learn call planning best practices from Jeff Boyle of Cision and find out why you should never skip this part of the sales call process.
In this article:
- Why Pre-Call Planning Is Important
- Pre-Call Planning Objectives
- Is 15 Minutes Enough for Sales Call Planning?
- The Pre-Call Planning Process
- How Your Pre-Call Preparation Benefits the Sales Process
- Pre-Call Planning Mistakes to Avoid
- Key Takeaway
How to Do Sales Call Planning Effectively
Jeff Boyle is the Senior Director of New Business at Cision. Their company offers public relations and communication software, and they connect their clients with social influencers fit for their brand.
He started his sales career with Corporate Executive Board and now, he’s been with Cision for 12 years.
He began in the industry as a sales rep. Boyle has since then moved up to become a Manager, Director, and now a Senior Director.
The three managers under his team work with small and mid-market sectors. He also handles five enterprise sales reps who focus on Fortune 1000 companies.
Why Pre-Call Planning Is Important
Boyle is a sales leader who spends time with his managers and reps and listens to sales calls. In doing so, he realized that his sales reps were asking prospects questions they should already know the answers to.
Sales leaders often focus on things like forecasting, pipeline, and KPIs. On the other hand, frontline managers spend a lot of their time putting out fires.
As a result, pre-call planning always gets pushed aside, and the importance of sales call planning is not emphasized. Boyle admitted that he noticed this happening to his own sales team.
The fact of the matter is, it’s very important to start off a sales call knowing what you’re getting yourself into.
Pre-Call Planning Objectives
While pre-call planning is essential, Boyle warned against spending too much time on it when there are other revenue-generating activities you also need to focus on.
As a sales leader, you can coach your reps to follow a template, blueprint, or checklist which consist of the following:
- What information they should look for
- How long they should spend on each step of the pre-call planning process
- Indicators that tell them when it’s time to move on
Boyle recommended having a checklist that sales reps can accomplish within 15 minutes. The main point is to make sure the reps are doing their homework before going into a sales call.
At Cision, Boyle and his team use Salesforce as their CRM system, and they document everything there. Sales reps can use the notes left in the CRM for pre-call preparation and even throughout the sales process.
Is 15 Minutes Enough for Sales Call Planning?
Boyle clarified that the preparation time could vary, depending on the kind of opportunity the sales rep tackles. Tenured reps, for instance, are more experienced so they can tell good opportunities from bad ones.
The important thing is that sales reps don’t wing a call.
With the 15-minute time limit, you’re not overkilling or overcomplicating planning the initial sales call and approach. As Boyle said, too much pre-call preparation can also become a disadvantage.
You can break down the pre-call steps within 15 minutes as they’re very straightforward. It’s not rocket science, but where people fail is in the execution.
Everyone knows it’s important, and they should always do it. Yet for some reason, they don’t allot enough time to prepare for their sales calls.
The Pre-Call Planning Process
Boyle shared with us the five-step pre-call planning process his team follows. The process may vary per industry, but as mentioned earlier, the steps are straightforward so you can use this as a template for your own team:
1. Research the Contact and Their Company
The first step, which you should do no matter what, is to research your prospect and their company. There are so many resources you can use to gather information on your contact, such as their company website and LinkedIn.
In the first two to four or three to five minutes, get to know your contact and their company.
Visit their website and check out the “About Us” tab to learn their story and values. From there, you can determine how your business aligns with their corporate vision.
For Cision, the website’s News and Blog parts are very important as these cover their industry. Boyle shared that their sales reps normally research this information:
- Is the prospect pushing out content?
- Are they writing content on their blog?
- Are they creating white papers?
- How are they generating buzz and driving traffic back to their website?
Boyle also recommended researching the company’s leadership. Figure out who the buyers and decision-makers are so you can bring them up during the call.
The hardest part is trying to figure out who you should be talking to. That is why researching the contact, their title, and their company are important.
A lot of times, sales reps aren’t speaking directly to the decision-makers. What they can do is plant the seed on those decision-makers through their contact.
2. Check Your CRM System
While listening to his team’s sales calls, Boyle noticed that his reps kept asking prospects similar questions:
- Have you ever heard of Cision?
- Were you able to get a chance to look at Cision before?
- Have you ever reviewed Cision before?
This made him realize that it’s important to go into your CRM system and look at past notes. You need to refer to previous notes to answer these important questions about your prospect:
- Was your prospect involved in another sales process?
- Why didn’t they come on board with your company?
- Why didn’t they buy? / What derailed them from buying?
Boyle emphasized that finding the answers to these questions are very important. You should also figure out the source of the lead so you can tailor your pitch accordingly.
3. Explore the Contact’s LinkedIn Page
The next step is to explore the contact’s LinkedIn page. Following this step in your pre-call planning gives you more insight into the landscape you’re dealing with.
In their LinkedIn page, you can find out what their current role is and see if they got promoted.
You can even view what their past experiences were in other companies. LinkedIn also recommends related profiles, and often, these are their teammates and bosses.
This way, you learn not only about the contact but also their whole team.
4. Competitor Overview
Boyle admitted that he’s big on conducting a competitor overview pre-call. It’s important to find out who the prospect’s competitors are because it builds credibility.
It’s also extremely beneficial if you’re going to name-drop current customers you have that happen to be their competitors. This piques their interest — they’re going to want to know about your company and how their competitors are using your services.
5. Plan for the Call
After gathering all the information you need, the last step is to plan for the call. You can now formulate the questions you want to ask, such as pertinent information you weren’t able to find out from the research.
Remember to jot down your notes and questions, so you can refer to them during the call.
There are many different ways you can form your checklist, but it all boils down to the execution.
How Your Pre-Call Preparation Benefits the Sales Process
If you’re in the inside sales industry, the main purpose why you’re doing pre-call planning is to have leverage throughout the sales call. Yet the struggle you have with inside sales is, you’re not speaking to the prospect face-to-face.
That’s why it’s very important that you engage them and spark their interest within the first two to five minutes of the call.
If you can show the prospect that you’ve done your homework by doing research on them and asking them tailored questions, they’ll know you’re for real. For Boyle, that right there sets the stage for the rest of the sales process.
These are the important things you want to accomplish during a call, especially for inside sales:
- Build your credibility
- Show the prospect you care about them
- Show the prospect you want to help them overcome their pain points and achieve their goals
Pre-Call Planning Mistakes to Avoid
Boyle shared two things you need to avoid when doing pre-call planning. First is creating a script.
Creating a script for your sales call may make sense, especially for new hires. When there’s a lot of information to digest, rookie sales reps tend to rely on their script.
Inside sales reps, in particular, can leverage scripts as they don’t talk to prospects in person. Yet, Boyle said this is a common mistake.
According to him, using bullet points is better. Following a script can make you seem robotic or rehearsed, and it’s better to be yourself in a call and sound natural.
Following bullet points also allows you to be more flexible in case you encounter derailments or objections. You can deviate as needed to accommodate your prospect’s needs.
The second thing you need to avoid is getting sucked into social media. If you’re not careful, you might waste your time on personal browsing instead of doing your research.
Boyle also reminded that you need to stay focused when you visit the prospect’s website. Only visit specific parts of the website you need information from.
You have to understand that your objective is to develop trust and a good relationship with your prospect. You don’t need to know everything about them to do this — just enough information to start the conversation and tailor it.
The key takeaway Boyle imparted is this: Don’t assume your sales reps are doing pre-call planning despite knowing how important it is.
Take the time to ask them how they prepared for their call. It will surprise you how often your tenured reps wing calls.
It’s important to give your sales reps a template, blueprint, or checklist they can follow for their pre-call preparation. Remind them to spend at least 5-15 minutes on this task.
Pre-call planning is an essential part of the sales call process that salespeople should never skip. It may take extra time and effort, but when done correctly, it can yield excellent opportunities.
Follow Jeff Boyle’s five-step pre-call planning process today or create your own, so you won’t miss out on building lasting relationships with your prospects!
Why do think sales reps follow or not follow the pre-call planning process? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.