The Foundation of Sales Calls

The Foundation of Sales Calls

At McDay we believe that successful marketing should tie directly to the sales effort. We are often asked to help our clients connect with prospects in the pharmaceutical and chemical industry because of our long associations inside those businesses.  


One of our Board Advisors, George Schnitzer, comments on the art of a good sales call, in his newsletter BDOdyssey and we thought it worth reprinting:


“Foundation of the First Sales Call”, by George Schnitzer


The first sales call on a new potential client is most important as it establishes an impression of you that is difficult to change in subsequent calls (even if you are able to get a second meeting).


This article gives sound advice regarding the objectives and the “do’s and don’ts” in your behavior leading to an effective first meeting.


Many salespeople have a propensity to talk but are not good listeners. They believe it is their job to occupy as much of the meeting as possible telling the client about their company and services. Some salespeople believe they have failed if they have not taken the client through every page of their sales promotional material. I have seen sales people come to the first meeting with a backpack of sales literature larger than the one my grandson takes to high school. They don’t realize the underlying objective of the meeting is to understand the client’s needs and the establishment of a basic relationship that can serve as the foundation for subsequent meetings.


Yes, you need to give the client a basic understanding of your company and the services it provides, but you must involve the client actively in the discussion through a series of questions leading to the needs of the client and the way they do business. Above all you need to be an intensive listener and look like you are a good listener, both in your body language and facial expression. Ask questions and let the client talk. Use the “how”, “what”, “why” type of questions. “Do you (client) use outside AE services?” “When do you use them”? “Is there an opportunity for new firms to work for you”? “What are the qualities you looking for in a service firm?”


Listen to the answers carefully and if there is an opportunity to mention the relevancy of your firm’s experience in the context of the client’s response, then do so tactfully without interrupting the client.


A good rule of thumb is distributing your time:


  • 40% asking questions
  • 50% listening to the client
  • 10% providing information about your company

I am asked frequently about taking notes during the meeting. If you are not the primary speaker for your firm, you can easily take notes without distraction, but I believe taking notes detracts from being a good listener. If you are truly listening, you will be making eye contact with the client and not have time for notes. Understand what he is saying and record it immediately after the meeting. And I mean, immediately.  One of my most successful habits was to sit in the car after a meeting and write down everything I could remember, immediately. It is amazing the difference in the recall if you even wait until returning to the office!  If there are some items such as telephone numbers that cannot be remembered, jot them down quickly and go back to listening.


I’ve seen some BD people come to the first sales call with a PowerPoint presentation and they are determined to show it to the client, come Hell or High Water. Wrong! Relax! Unless you have discussed the need for a formal presentation with the client beforehand, start off with a verbal informal overview of your company, services, and experience, and then ask if he would like to see more detail on PowerPoint. But watch your time. I always say the most successful meetings are those where we never get to the powerpoint because the conversation was so interactive. Rather forego the formal presentation then not leave sufficient time to obtain the information you need to understand the client’s needs.


Remember, this meeting is about the establishment of needs, not your need for business but rather the client’s needs to get his work done more effectively.


Also, don’t forget the personal aspects of the meeting. You would like to establish some early relationship with this client so he is more pre-disposed to a follow-up meeting. If the meeting is in his office, look around at his wall and desk. Does he golf, fish, hunt? Is there a photo of his son in a football uniform? Where did he go to school? Look for linkage between you and him- not artificially but with a sincere interest in his background. Done properly, most clients find this flattering.


Finally, always establish a reason for the next meeting. Find a reason and get the client’s agreement for the agenda.


In summary, don’t dominate the meeting, manage it. Be a good questioner and a good listener and leave with a reason to come back. 


P.S. Remember, when the meeting is over, record all aspects of the meeting while they are fresh in your mind. Include both business and personal topics of the meeting, including your client’s and their children’s hobbies, colleges, and favorite foods. 


Business Development is a journey, a trek, an odyssey. It is not a one-time event. It is the day-to-day development of relationships, trust, credibility, and satisfaction of needs with a wide circle of contacts in your client companies. It is truly an odyssey, but worth every minute.