How to Begin and End Every Sales Call

A saleswoman conducting a sales call.

As sales reps you are always on the lookout for how to make that perfect sales call. Here we present some tools that will help you take a giant leap towards perfection.

The Goals of the Sales Call

Initiating the connection with a prospective customer can be broken down into three goals.

Goal 1: Introduce yourself

Goal 2: Introduce your product/service

Goal 3: Determine whether to continue on through the Buy/Sell sales process

The goal that usually gets the most attention is Goal 2—introducing your product/service. But as sales reps you are spending time learning the least important of the three goals. In-depth product knowledge helps only when you are calling on a User Buyer.

At the vice president or CEO level, when you are dealing with a Business Case Buyer, it’s all about sales call control: starting off the call in control and directing potential customers to do what you want them to do, and at the end of the call, again getting potential customers to do what you want them to do. Control of the sales call is mastered by flawless execution of Goal 1 and Goal 3.

(You can read more on the difference between selling to mid-level employees and the C-suite here).

Goal 1’s objective on the surface seems very easy, as does Goal 3. The intent of these goals is to tell the customer who you are, and at the end, determine whether you have a prospect that is worth your time. Although Goals 1 and 3 seem so simple and so easy, don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s at these very goals that you’ll either win or lose control of this sales call.

Goal 1: Introduce Yourself

At this stage you introduce yourself and try to get the potential customer interested enough in what you are saying to start having a conversation with you. For you to be any good at this, you must make a good first impression.

How long do you think you have to make a first impression on a sales call? Most people would say a minute or two. For a successful sales call the answer is between 4 and 6 seconds. In these brief moments, the brain takes information in and starts to filter (generalize, distort, delete) the information it’s receiving. A second question is: How long do you think you have to gain or lose credibility? You have roughly between 30 and 40 seconds. After that amount of time, the listener’s brain starts asking questions and wants to participate, either positively or negatively.

How would you like to be able to, in thirty to forty seconds:

  • Make a good first impression?
  • Introduce yourself?
  • State your business case so the buyer remembers it?
  • Get your buyer to agree to your business case?
  • Get the buyer’s interest and attention?
  • Have the buyer begin having a meaningful business discussion with you?

Well then, welcome to the 30-Second Speech.

The 30-Second Speech

Many salespeople call this an “elevator speech,” but it’s much more than that. A good 30-Second Speech is a tool you should use to start out every prospecting sales call. It allows you to start out every prospecting effort in control.

A 30-Second Speech consists of three elements and a conclusion:

Element 1: The Introduction

Simply put, this is where you introduce yourself and your company. This is the time to keep it simple and brief. “Hi, this is who I am, and this is our company,” then stop. Right now, there’s no need to go any further than that. Only sales reps care about their title and the location of their corporate headquarters. Keep the introduction short and sweet, so you can get to the messages you need to get into during your 30-Second Speech.

Element 2: About Us

Now is the time to tell the prospect about you. Keep it short as well, and limited to three things. Why three? Threes are what people remember, (First, second, third / Yesterday, today, tomorrow).

So for Element 2, you want to make an impression with the three things you’re going to tell the prospect. These three things in Element 2 are called anchors. What’s an anchor? An anchor is something you associate with. For example, answer the following questions:

  • What is the safest car in the world?
  • Who is number one in the car rental business?

If you answered Volvo and Hertz, you would have these as anchors. How do you know these are correct? You probably don’t. But both companies say that they are.

Anchors are very powerful, and you may want to develop some for your company. You want to have a list of between ten and twenty anchors available for a 30-Second Speech, so you can use the one that’s right for the specific sales call you are making.

Usually, your anchors won’t change too often, but when you’re speaking to a CEO, for instance, have CEO-type anchors ready. It will keep their interest and let them know right up front they should continue paying attention to you.

Element 3: About Them

After you create three brief anchors about you, you want to shift the discussion to the prospect because, quite frankly, it’s all about them. You want to now interest the potential customer in terms they can understand and get them interested enough to start a discussion.

Remember, your goal is to have the potential customer interested and to build rapport during sales calls so a basic business discussion about your product or service can begin.

It’s now time to capture enough of their interest so they start to have a conversation with you, from which you can determine the appropriateness of a next step in the sales cycle with this potential customer. For you to accomplish both these objectives—getting their interest and getting them involved with the conversation—Element 3 must be in a question format. Questions get the prospect to think.

Now you must determine:

  • What are these “good and relevant” questions?
  • What kind of questions should you ask?

The answer to the first question is easy. As sales reps before making successful sales calls you should have already done some research on the prospect as part of the sales process. Use this research to formulate great questions.  It doesn’t take that long and can be well worth the time to find out what the prospect is about before you make those first sales calls.

The second question—what kind of questions do you ask? —is easier than the previous question. Remember, it’s all about them. They are interested in themselves, and not in you yet. They don’t care about you. So put yourself in their shoes, and based on your homework, research, and industry knowledge, ask questions that you can imagine are at the top of mind.

Goal 2: Introduce Your Product/Service—The Middle

In this part of the call you tell the prospect about your product or service. Feature/Benefit statements are the rule, and this part of the call follows three rules:

  1. Always follow a feature with a benefit—what is in it for them?
  2. Use multimedia and multiple formats to convey your message and to keep the introduction alive. It can be PowerPoint slides, flip charts, brochures, testimonials, or catalogs.
  3. Keep the customers involved. The more they are involved with the introduction, the more they will get excited.

Goal 3: End In Control

The purpose of Goal 3 is to end with you, the sales rep, in control. It is time for a tool that lets you end sales calls professionally, proactively, and with you in control.

Summarize, Bridge, and Pull

Determining whether you want to continue on through a Buy/Sell process is the third goal of the initial sales call and your decision making process. The 30-Second Speech is how you start sales calls and address the first goal. The Summarize, Bridge, and Pull (SBP) is how you end sales calls and address the last goal. All sales calls have to end with an SBP.

A well executed SBP has three parts:

  • You/I
  • Bridge Question
  • Next Step
1. You/I

This is where you summarize the discussion you just had, making sure you put the prospect’s position first. Never put I first; it is a Buy/Sell sales cycle, not the other way around. Start with an introductory statement, and then go right for a “You position” statement.

2. Bridge Question

Here the salesperson prepares the prospect to go across the bridge with him or her. This is not losing control, because you are the one proposing the bridge question.

“Do you agree?”

“Do you have any questions?”

“We talked about that one thing a few minutes ago.  Have we covered all the points?”

You must now ask the prospect about the meeting itself, since asking about you or I is one-dimensional, whereas asking about the meeting is inclusive.

You want him or her to agree that he or she had a good meeting or conversation; don’t ask for agreement on the issues at this point. They are agreeing that they said this, you said that, and it sounds pretty good right now. The prospect agrees to this because he or she was in the same conversation you were in, and you both have the same perspective of the meeting.

The prospect must agree. If the prospect does not agree, then you have uncovered an objection that you need to deal with. It’s much better to uncover an objection early in the Buy/Sell sales process than to let it emerge later, after you have invested a lot more time and energy.

3. Next Step

This is when you propose the next step in the Buy/Sell sales process.

In most cases, the prospect agrees since it is a natural next step in the process. You have completed an SBP and are in control of this sales call and this deal.

An SBP must be done after every meeting, after every follow up meeting, after every conversation. It’s very easy to lose control of a deal. It can happen in a split second, usually at the end of a meeting, when a prospect takes over and sends the deal in a different direction than you want it to go. You think it’s just a detour, but it’s not; it is a battle for control.

An SBP is a tool to be used at the end of every sales call to keep control every step of the way. Prospects want to be led, so you must be the one who does the leading.

Summarize, Bridge, and Pull is a way to make sure you are in control at the end of the meeting. Too often, salespeople leave a sales meeting thinking they are in control, when in actuality someone else is pulling the strings.

Top Five Mistakes of Ending a Sales Call (aka “Things NOT to Do”)

1.  Ask the prospect what to do next. This is the classic case of a salesperson not being prepared with a next step. The salesperson thinks that if he does what the prospect tells him to do, then at the end, the prospect will give him the order. This is sales at its reactionary worst.

2.  Follow the prospect’s requested next step. Being led by someone else is another classic sales mistake. The Law of Sales Control says the buyer is always neutral. If you are not controlling the sales process, someone else is, and usually that someone else does not have your best interest in mind.

3.  Do what the prospect asks you to do. This is similar to the preceding scenario, but here the prospect has detailed his or her entire buy process, usually a formal one, and a salesperson believes if he or she can follow the prospect’s process better than anyone else, he or she will win the deal. This thinking is wrong because it is not the salesperson’s process to begin with, and will not be their process in the end. The salesperson who put the process together will own the deal.

In many cases, prospects can make you feel like they are working with you on their process, so you feel you have a leg up. You have to understand that your potential client is making the salespeople from other companies feel that way too.

4.  Try an SBP, then do what the prospect wants. A salesperson tries an SBP, and the buyer says he or she agrees, but would rather do something else. Then the salesperson agrees to do what the prospect wants to do and leaves the proposed next step hanging.

5.  Use the Summarize and Pull tool, with no Bridge. This is all salesperson and no prospect involvement—an easy trap to fall in, and can ruin a sale.

A Bridge Question is always needed. You must walk hand in hand with the prospect across the Bridge. Going across first, then yelling to the prospect to come along after you are already across, is not a mutual sales process, and the prospect will feel he or she “getting sold to.” You must have a Bridge phrase:

Use what seems natural, but do use a Bridge. This is a mutual Buy/Sell process, and you must always Bridge to a Next Step, not just go across the Bridge yourself and hope the prospect follows you.

Summarize, Bridge, and Pull is a powerful tool in the salesperson’s repertoire. You’ll get to a point where you’ll feel strange if you don’t use an SBP in a meeting. That will be a good sign, since without an SBP, control of the sales process is up for grabs. Be good, be a proactive sales professional, and use the SBP tool to stay in control of every meeting and every sale.

About the author

Skip Miller is President of M3 Learning, a ProActive Sales Management and Sales Training Company based in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Skip Miller

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