PreSales & Sales Collaboration: Pre-Call Planning

The infamous “call about a call.” We’ve all been there, and we all wonder what the value is in yet another call. I’ll never forget going to a company Christmas party when I first entered the workforce, when even over drinks and yuletide bliss, a co-worker was complaining about someone at the company who scheduled so many “calls about calls about calls” — and we all agreed with the insanity.

Many years of experience later, I’ve learned that when done correctly, a conversation to plan for a call could be the difference between you landing a deal and achieving your objective or missing the target completely and losing a deal. In order to sell like a successful team, everyone needs to be on the same page before you launch into a call with a customer or prospect. I’ve found that most people don’t do this, which means your competition is likely just showing up and winging it. That leaves a big opportunity for those of us who are willing to spend a few minutes planning in advance.

Here are five helpful tips that I’ve learned along the way for hosting quick, yet effective pre-call planning sessions for sales calls between sales engineers and sales reps.

  1. Know where you are in the sales process. Before jumping on a call, you and your team should be aware of where you are in your sales process. You wouldn’t want the sales engineer asking qualification questions in a proposal review call, or a salesperson to ask for the business while you are really trying to build trust with your prospect. If your sales manager will be joining, make sure he or she knows exactly where you are, what the prospect has committed to, and what your concerns might be. It is better to set expectations before a call and receive feedback from other team members rather than explain why it didn’t go well afterwards. Your sales process is your guide to winning the business. If each person is moving along a different route, your prospect may walk away feeling confused, and meanwhile you look disorganized. I’ve done this the wrong way enough to know that this is key. Have you ever worked with someone that will call you and ask you to immediately join a meeting with a prospect? Maybe they are calling you while the prospect is on the other line. Although I love the sense of urgency to get in front of a prospect, walking in totally blind can be dangerous. Is this a lead, an opportunity, or a potential referral partner? Where did it come from? Who are they? What size is their company? Are they budget qualified? What is their timeline? The list goes on and on. Sales process alignment between PreSales and sales should be mandatory before speaking with a prospect.

  2. Build a short, concise agenda. Your agenda for a pre-call planning session should be short, to the point, and concise. For example: - What is the purpose of the call? - What is the outcome we expect? - What preparation do we need for the call? - What are the roles each of you will take on the call? In a small group of 2 to 3 people, a call like this should only take 5 to 10 minutes. People are busy, and time is often the greatest currency we transact on any given day. An added benefit to keeping a call short is that your teammates won’t dread jumping on for a few minutes to plan ahead with you. The goal for these meetings doesn’t end once all of the agenda items have been discussed. I’ve found that these meetings stimulate important and strategic conversations around blind spots you may not see, competitive information that hasn’t been shared, and my favorite: creative and unique ways to approach a deal.

  3. Encourage unstructured dialogue. As part of an outside sales team, I’ve been fortunate enough to travel with each of our reps in each of our territories. I’ve spent time at airports, conferences, dinners, coffee shops, and driving around in their cars. A pre-call planning session can take many forms, and although you should follow some sort of agenda as described above, I’ve found that the most strategic pre-call planning happens while driving to a sales appointment or an unscheduled call late in the afternoon. If you are a PreSales leader, you need to be perceptive enough to work to everyone’s strengths on your team. Some of the reps you work with love structure and scheduled calls, while others are too easily bored to attend them. Right or wrong, one of the ways that you can be successful is playing to each of their strengths. Some people can’t wait to get on a scheduled call and plan out your next call. They are so excited about your pre-call meeting that they actually show up five minutes early and come prepared with feedback, notes, and questions. In my experience, this is the exception and not the norm. Depending on the products or services you sell, sales reps are driven by relationships and communication, not process and detail. We are all wired differently, but if we play to our strengths, together we can be a high performing team. I’ve found that some reps appreciate it if I just pick up the phone and call them to plan for a call when I’m available. They are totally open to a discussion and appreciate the relationship I have with them, so they will talk.

  4. Invite an additional person who can add value. Let’s assume that your company is structured like many, and your “team sell” involves primarily a solution engineer and a sales rep (inside, outside, account executive, business development rep, etc.). One thing that I love to do in a team selling environment is to bring in additional resources on a pre-call planning session. What might this look like? A colleague/coworker: Let’s say your primary competition on a deal is a vendor you don’t have a lot of experience competing against. It may be worthwhile for you to add someone from your team who has this experience to your pre call. Their input can be invaluable and may only take a few minutes to transfer that knowledge. Publisher: Most of my experience is selling in a channel environment. There are publishers to make the software, and resellers that sell, implement, and support the software. I’ve been on the reseller/implenter side. There are times when we’ve been able to leverage our partner resources on the publisher side to provide insight and direction. I can identify several deals where their input (although it may have only been via email or a short call) was pivotal to us winning a deal. If you work at a firm where you are also the publisher, it may behoove you to add someone from your product or engineering team for insight. Other partners: Sometimes there are additional interested parties in any given opportunity that may be able to provide feedback. An example of this in my business has been CPA firms and selection consultants. They can provide insider info from having a longer relationship with the client than you do. Again, this type of input requires little conversation but can pay off in a big way.

  5. If all else fails, send an email or message. Now that I’ve made a case for having a pre call, I can admit that I myself don’t always fit this in. You should make a standard to host this call, but in the off chance that you are unable to have a pre-call session before a call with a potential customer, sending an email is better than going in blind. You will miss out on strategy and potential added value that only comes up in a verbal conversation, but at a minimum you will be on the same page. Even just something quick like: “Hey ______, the goal of our meeting is to present budgetary estimates to ______ prospect. I sent the estimates over to you earlier this week and will let you drive the conversation. If the estimates look good to the prospect, I will suggest that we book a few discovery calls with their operations stakeholders." This short note establishes: - The goal: Budgetary qualification - The outcome: Move to the next step in the sales process - Preparation: Already completed earlier in the week - Roles: Rep plans on presenting the estimates while I work on discovery

Short, sweet, and to the point. This shouldn’t be your go-to method of pre-call planning, but again, it is better than nothing.

Sometimes I get asked who should initiate the pre-call planning session? Unfortunately, there is no right answer. This changes for every company I run into. Each team works differently. Even within the same team, a sales rep may drive the meetings up until the demo, and then the solution engineer takes over the presentations and follow-ups, then moves back to the sales rep once a proposal is prepared.

Do yourself, your team, and your prospect a favor and get in the routine of hosting pre-call planning sessions. Like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, “a goal without a plan is just a wish." Don’t “wish” your prospects through your sales process. Be intentional, play to everyone’s strengths, and increase communication across your team.