Opening the Sales Call

Whenever you meet with a customer, each of you will have your own reasons for getting together.

You may be introducing yourself or your organization.  Or you may be fact finding or prospecting. Maybe you’re delivering a proposal, closing a sale or a combination of the above. 

The customer’s reason for meeting with you may include learning about your organizations capabilities. Maybe they have immediate needs because of a pressing issue.  Or they might be responding to a proposal or fulfilling an organizational requirement to talk with several suppliers before making a purchase decision.

Common sense tells you if your agenda and the customer’s agenda are at odds, the meeting will not be productive for either of you.  So how do you make sure you are on the same page?  It should have started at the time of making the appointment.  You should have proposed a quick agenda initially to set the stage for the sales call.  No matter how you got the appointment, it becomes extremely important that you share the agenda.

Your goal in opening the call is to reach agreement with the customer on what will be covered or accomplished during the call.

At the beginning of any sales call, work to establish a comfortable tone that will set the stage for an open exchange of information and the beginnings of a “conversation.”  After greeting the customer, engage in some small talk to open the channels of communication.  The most favorable topics tend to be; the weather, kids, last night’s game or some other recent event that causes a stir in the local community.  The topics to avoid are the usual suspects as well; religion, politics or anything crime related- they tend to be highly emotional and polarizing.  

We tend to communicate with non-verbal cues much more easily than we often express in words.  Be aware that at times you will hear the words spoken and get a completely different message from their body language. Some statistics are as high a 80% of our communication is done non-verbally. Take note as you open the call for non-verbal cues, and observe their tone, tenor and sense of urgency or distraction.  It is important to be sensitive to a customer’s needs and establish rapport at the beginning of a call.  Work to get them comfortable with us is an immediate goal you should have before any business is discussed.  

Some folks require the idle chit-chat while others don’t care much for it.  The non-verbal communication given off by your customer will tell you that. A sharp sales person will learn to evaluate quickly the whole communication package as it is being presented to you.  It is extremely important that you follow the tone and tenor of the customer.  I have often associated selling to dancing.  It has a cadence, a rhythm per se.  The rhythm and tempo of the conversation will be set by the customer.  If we try to force a different tempo on them, it will be uncomfortable and unproductive.  Some personality types are prone to small talk, other types known as Type A personalities dismiss it out of hand as it is viewed an unproductive time.   However, when the time is right move onto business and the reason for your meeting. At the moment of switching to business matters,  you are opening the call.

To open the call, be sure to say “thank you” for taking the time to see you. Then, propose the agenda by saying what you would like to do or accomplish during the call.  This sets a clear direction for your conversation and lets you establish a focus on the customer.  You might say something like “What I would like to do today is learn about your marketing plans for this next year and explore different ideas where we may be able to help you execute a highly successful campaign.”

After proposing the agenda, briefly explain to the customer the value in it for them to listen to your proposal.  This will be useful to him or her as they will immediately evaluate your proposition and determine if they are going to give you time or not. The stronger and more compelling your value statement, the more time you may garner in the call. You might say something like   “. . . that way, I’ll be able to propose options that best address where you want to go and your particular needs.”

Once you have proposed the agenda and stated its value to the customer, make sure the customer accepts the agenda you have proposed and doesn’t have anything else to add.  You might say something like; “How does that sound?” Or, “Is there something else you would like to address?”

Of all that has transpired up to now during the call, the question “Is there any thing else you would like to cover?” is the most important.  If the customer response with “Yes, I have an invoice here from last month that I am not happy about.” I can assure you, until that issue or any other issue that is put on the table is resolved, whatever you planned to say will not be heard.  

The customers concern is the first and foremost business item on the agenda and it will ALWAYS trump yours.

Checking for acceptance gives you the information you need to use your own and the customer’s time wisely.  It also ensures that you and the customer have agreed to move forward together.  In the world of sales psychology, this is HUGE.  

Having the customer agree to the agenda sets the tone and reduces the resistance to saying “yes” to other things in the sales call.

 Earlier I mentioned that a good sales conversation is like volleying a ball back and forth.  Be cognoscente of the power and control you have when you complete the simple act of checking for acceptance.  When you walked into the appointment, it was your agenda.  When you asked if there was anything they (the customer) wanted to talk about and you adjusted the agenda as needed, it became their agenda.  Now, when checking for acceptance it was really their agenda they agreed to.  Keep this volleying for control of the conversation in your mind as you go through the remaining chapters.  For me, it has always been a key to my success in selling.  Just knowing where you were at in the sales process and how to manage the conversation effectively, gives you an incredible boost of confidence in your abilities!

 At each step of the Selling by Design process, we are going to be asking our customer to agree with us.  If they don’t agree or become uncomfortable, you can slow down, go over the information again, ask more questions or perhaps adjust the agenda.  Securing “buy-in” throughout the sales process instead of waiting for the big question at the end during closing makes a whole lot of sense and reduces the pressure at closing.  Opening the call is taking the time to make sure you begin your journey of the next few minutes or hours, together.

Selling is a dance.  The dance begins with selecting the right partner (prospecting) and setting the tempo that each of you can dance too.

Don’t be a “professional visitor.”  Bring more to the call than just donuts, pizza or something to drink. Trust me, they make more money than you do. They can afford to feed themselves.  What ever you do, don’t become known as the monthly food vendor or you will bring shame on your house!


Mike Karlsrud