Selling Microsoft

Pre-Call Prep: There's No Substitute

Take steps to ensure you are prepared for that important sales call.

As a rookie salesperson, I learned that when it comes to making sales calls, it's best to follow the Boy Scout motto: Be prepared.

Back then, a sales manager and I once drove 45 miles to see one of my early-stage prospects. Along the way, we talked about sports, our past jobs and life in general. When we arrived at our destination, I started to get out of the car -- until the manager fired a series of questions at me: "What's the purpose of this visit? How will you open the call? What's your desired outcome?" After I stammered a few non-answers, we closed the car doors and began to strategize.

That embarrassing experience taught me a valuable lesson: Every successful sales call requires focus and preparation. In that case, for instance, we could have used those 45 minutes to consider our tactics and generate creative approaches.

Since then, I've taken pains to prepare for every sales call, whether it's in person or by telephone. Here are the steps I recommend that Microsoft partners follow before meeting with prospects or customers:

  • Know the objective. Be able to answer questions such as: What outcome do I want? How will I direct the discussion to make sure that I reach my desired goal?
  • Prepare questions. Before every meeting, salespeople should create lists of technical and business questions that can help guide the conversation.
  • Prepare answers. Anticipate any tough questions and potential objections; develop and polish the best possible answers and responses.
  • Do your homework. Start by mining your own files or CRM database for information about a prospect or customer. Then learn as much as you can about the company from its Web site, including reading its online press releases describing new activities and personnel changes. If possible, obtain and study an organization chart. Explore industry and competitor Web sites for additional insights about the company's value proposition and place in its industry. The better you understand any organization, the more likely you are to become one of its trusted business advisors.
  • Have a game plan. Determine the seating sequence and roles of all participants. Make sure everyone on your team understands who opens, who delivers, who closes and who answers what types of questions. Equally important: Make sure everyone knows what issues or topics to avoid.
  • Rehearse your opening. Consider role-playing your client greeting and your non-business "ice-breaker." Stumbling early with awkward conversation will limit your ability to control the call.
  • Bring the right information. Make sure you've got the correct brochures, data sheets and other materials. If you're presenting or demonstrating software, don't forget to provide the right supporting documents -- and make sure you check your computer, projector and other systems beforehand to make sure everything's working properly.
  • Plan your closing. Know how you'll wind up the session, including establishing next steps. One major rule of professional selling is: Always leave a task for the other party to complete. Why? Because as you walk out the door, someone else will walk in or a new business problem will pop up -- and your prospects will begin to forget what you just discussed. So leave them with action items, which can be as minor as sending you additional information or as major as rounding up people for your next meeting.

Whether you're a salesperson or an executive, I recommend bringing up these issues at your next sales meeting. After all, being well prepared for sales calls is not only a good way to avoid repeating my early embarrassing experience -- it's how you can demonstrate true commitment to the profession. And being a true pro is, of course, a great way to differentiate yourself in the marketplace.

About the Author

Ken Thoreson is managing director of the Acumen Management Group Ltd., a North American consulting organization focused on improving sales management functions within growing and transitional organizations. You can reach him at