The Brutal Truth About Pre-Call Research and Planning

The following post is from my January 2013 newsletter  (Tele-Sales Vitamins).  It got a good deal of response from readers.  See what you think? Am I spot on or am I off the mark?  You tell me.

Pre-call research and planning prior to picking up the phone and calling the prospect or customer is a good thing, right?

Trainers, consultants and bosses laud the effort. They encourage it. Push it. We’re repeatedly told that taking the time to gather information about the client is a smart thing. We’re told we should carefully plan the call to ensure it’s success.  All in all, this pre-work  helps us position ourselves as ‘consultative.’ It helps give us a competitive edge.  Makes us more money. So it’s a slam dunk activity, right?

Or is it?

While it may seem counter-intuitive, less research and planning may actually be more effective than more and may actually lead to more sales and revenues!

The 2 Perils of Pre-Call Research and Planning

There are a couple of perils that can be associated with too much research and planning.  The first is that it gets awfully easy to go overboard with these tasks. What can happen is that more time is spent on pre-call activities than on picking up the phone and making the call. This impacts productivity, not to mention the opportunity cost. When you spend too much time in researching and planning, what are you giving up? Ultimately you may be sacrificing more opportunities to sell or generate leads because you’re dialing less.

Pre-call research and planning can be (and often is) a form a procrastination. Think about it: it’s much easier and far less risky to browse the internet or leaf through newspapers, or review old files or study past notes or analyze company reports than it is to telephone the client.  Calling clients can lead to rejection and discouragement so we convince ourselves that if we research longer and harder we’ll minimize the chance of the customer or prospect terminating  the call. What makes it even worse is that all this pre-work can give you a false sense of ‘doing.’ It becomes seductively easy to persuade yourself that you’re achieving things.

The other peril is that developing a detailed plan for your call (including composing an e-mail, editing it , changing it,  developing your telephone opener, your questioning sequence, etc. etc. etc.) can not only waste time it can sometimes make you too rigid and structured in your approach. It can impact your ability to be flexible and respond to the curve balls a client might throw at you.

The Case For Pre- Call Research and Planning 

On the other hand, blindly picking up the phone and winging it is a clear recipe for disaster too.

A certain degree of research can be extremely effective in getting your foot in the door and giving you a competitive edge. It can’t and shouldn’t be ignored. Similarly, planning the overall strategy and structure of your call gives you clear direction and greater focus. Jotting down your objectives, laying out your opening statement, making a list of key questions and having a list of key selling points is a wise course of action… provided you don’t go overboard.  (Go here for more information on how Mr. Spock would plan his call)

5  Tips to Balancing Pre Call Research and Planning with Productivity

So what’s the answer? Of course, it’s all a matter of degree. Here’s a checklist for you (AND your manager) to use to determine the level and extent of your pre-call work. All of the items should be taken into account and evaluated collectively. No single item stands on it’s own.

1. The Value of the Sale

What’s the possible payoff? If the value of the potential sale is relatively high, take the time and conduct the necessary research and plan accordingly.

2. The Nature of the Sale

Is your sale simple or complex? If the sale is simple (i.e., one decision maker, low price, many competitive products in the marketplace, short sales cycle) not a lot of research and planning  is necessary. This is not say you should ignore doing some homework but at the end of the day, a minute or two is probably all that’s necessary.

If your sale is complex (i.e., multiple decision makers, higher price, longer sales cycle) more time should be devoted to the effort (with due consideration to the other points listed here).


3. The Prospect

Who are you calling? Are you calling a buyer in a large firm? If so, there’s not a lot you can do before picking up the phone. Buyers are usually paid to source the best value which usually means price.

Are you calling a top executive at a Fortune 500 company? If so, spend the time to scan a few sites and look for something on the individual and/or the company. But here too, it’s a matter of degree. Sometimes you can be searching for something that doesn’t exist. Consequently you search and search, and all the while, rationalize the waste time and effort.  Do this instead: check out Google Alerts and learn how the internet can work for you. Browse newspapers or journals or newsletters. But here’s the IMPORTANT thing: do that in evenings or early morning or over lunch so that it doesn’t interfere with your dialing effort. .

4. The Objective of the Call

What is the objective of the particular call you are making? If it’s to sell directly, then perhaps more time is necessary bearing in mind your prospect or customer, the nature of the sale and the value potential. On the other hand, if the call is to generate a lead or invite the client to a webinar or seminar, your research and planning might be toned down a bit.

5. Your Objectives and Results

Maybe this is the most important consideration. How well are you doing relative to your sales objectives? If you have high objectives and you’re not hitting them, maybe you need to spend more time in doing (making the calls) and less time in ‘doing other things.’ Sometimes you need to dive in and just make things happen. Sometimes – often- it is  a simple matter of elbow grease. Try discussing your situation with your manager (because, in all honesty, sometimes the problem is that reps flail about making calls without the least bit of thought, research and planning).

Summary

Look, I am all for preparation. It generates ‘smart’ selling. The amount of time YOU spend on pre-call activities is often a matter of common sense and utter honesty. Some calls require a good deal of research. Most don’t. So be brutally honest with yourself. Are you doing all this pre-work in the legitimate quest to find something or simply because you’re procrastinating? Then act accordingly

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