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What Losing Weight and Sales Have in Common

This post is by guest contributor Art Sobczak. Art is President of Business By Phone Inc. and he helps business-to-business salespeople avoid rejection, prospect painlessly, and sell more by phone. See Art Sobczak’s bio at:

Scale to help lose weight
According to a National Institute's of Health study--brace yourself for this one--if you reduce the number of calories you eat, and exercise, you will lose weight.


No magic pill or potion?

Funny how the basics never go out of style. How they work, time and again: "Keep your eye on the ball," "Listen to your mother," "Eat your vegetables." More of the basics. The fundamentals.

And why are they the fundamentals?

Because fundamentals comprise a proven success recipe that has withstood the test of time.

And the same is true with sales. The longer I do this, the more I realize how uncomplicated sales is. All we're trying to do is help people buy.

People come through my seminars and say, "This really reminded me I need to get back to the basics."

That's right. No need to overengineer it.

But it's not just getting back to the basics, I tell them. It's USING them.

In this post I'll present, in order, a complete mini-course on the fundamental parts of the professional sales and prospecting call, and what I consider the most important points of each.

Pre-Call Planning

Have an objective for every call, defined by, "What do I want them to DO as a result of this call, and what do I want to do?"


Treat the screener as you would the customer--this person determines whether or not you'll even have a chance to speak with the buyer. Gather as much information as you can from whomever you are able, prior to speaking with your prospect; busy decision makers get bored when they have to answer your
basic qualifying questions.

Have a reason for needing to speak with the decision maker, and be prepared to sell this to the screener. They're asking, "Does this person have anything of interest, or of value for the boss?" If leaving a message on voice mail, or with a screener, be certain it offers a hint of a benefit that sparks curiosity, but doesn't talk about products/services.

Common Screener Mistakes: Being evasive and condescending with the screener; wasting information opportunities by not asking questions; leaving messages that create resistance--not interest--by talking about what you want to sell, not what they're really interested in.

Opening Statements

The objective of your opening is to pique curiosity and interest so that they will willingly and enthusiastically move to the questioning.
You must answer, "What's in it for me?" for the listener, or they will immediately begin the getting-rid-of-you process.

Common Opening Mistakes: talking about the product or service... what the salesperson wants to do, not what the listener wants; not having prepared openings...winging it.


Get information before you give it--how could you make an effective recommendation otherwise? After qualifying them, which preferably is done before speaking with them, the goal is to first identify the need, problem, pain, or the desire to enhance their situation. If it is latent, we must try to help them realize it through questions.

Common Questioning Mistakes: not listening to the answers to questions, therefore not layering more questions to dig deeper to magnify the problem; not learning and understanding the decision-making hierarchy and internal buying process.

Sales Recommendation

You should only talk about your product/service after knowing specifically how it will solve the problem, meet their need, etc. Then you can tailor your remarks specifically and personally for the listener.

Common Mistakes: "Premature Presentation," which is pitching before knowing what they're interested in, talking about points irrelevant to the listener; not seeking, or getting feedback during discussion of benefits.

Closing and Commitment

This is not the major event in a sales call. It's the natural, logical, validation of the professional sales process up to this point. But you still must ask. Commitment must be gained on every contact in order to move the process forward. If there is to be a follow-up contact, and information is to be sent, there must be commitment on behalf of the prospect regarding that material.

Common Mistakes: Asking too early; not asking soon enough (if buying signals have been expressed); not asking at all; agreeing to, or suggesting, a follow-up--and sending information--without having any commitment.


Objections can be avoided by doing everything else correctly up to this point in the call. When you do hear them, resist the tendency to attack them. You must back up and revisit the questioning stage of the call. The voiced objection is simply a symptom of the real problem.

Common Mistakes: Using slick, prepared, objection rebuttals that only tell people they're wrong and intensify the resistance; giving up before attempting to understand the reason behind the problem.

Wrapping Up and Setting Up the Next Action

At the end of calls reps must summarize agreed-to actions by both parties, and set the agenda for the next call.

There you have it, all the basic parts of the sales call. It's not rocket science. Follow these and you will be successful.

Advice from a Meeting Planner to Suppliers

This post is by guest contributor Cara Tracy, CMP, CMM.  Cara is a meetings industry professional who has been on the supply side of the industry, as well as the planning side.  This post was originally titled: "Know your customer … or make it seem like you do!"  

red carpet image
One of my biggest pet peeves is a sales pitch or presentation from someone who doesn’t know their audience. I don’t expect you to know me or my organization personally (although doing your homework will get you further in my book), however there are a few basics you should know when selling to meeting planners.
  • Watch your wording
    UKnow the differences between market segments and tailor your pitch accordingly. For example, do not refer to an association as a “company.” If you aren’t sure, call it an “organization.” Also, unless the planner clearly works for a third party or is an independent, don’t assume they have clients. When you refer to my “clients”, it tells me that you do not understand my business or associations in general. A safe term to use is “attendees”. All meeting planners have attendees.
  • Don’t claim to be something you’re not
    A fellow planner received an email from a 160-room hotel claiming to be a “perfect match” for her meetings. In fact, the hotel’s website touts “The perfect fit for your next meeting or social event.” In my friend’s case, they aren’t even close—her program attracts over 4,000 attendees! Once you’ve done your research and know your property can accommodate my program, say something like “other national associations with similar size groups have found our hotel ideal for their annual convention.” And remember “fit” doesn’t necessarily mean size. In my case, I look at the feel of the property, location, amenities, among other things—and what’s important to me varies from meeting to meeting.
  • Don’t spend time telling me things that don’t interest me
    On a recent site inspection, my hotel sales manager incorrectly assumed that because I work for the National Speakers Association we have high-profile or celebrity presenters who require private access onto the property. She spent a great deal of time walking us to the “secret entrance” and discussing how they can discreetly bring our VIP guests into the hotel. By simply asking “do you have high-profile guests that require a separate entrance?”, she could have avoided wasting our time and making herself look like she didn’t know her customer.
  • Look me up
    If you are making a ton of solicitation calls or sending a mass email and don’t have time to “do your homework” on every customer, at the very least, check your database to see if I’ve used your property before. Nothing turns me off more than an introduction call from a new sales manager asking if I would consider using their hotel when we were just there the year before. Even worse is if I have an upcoming program! On the other hand, don’t over-generalize and assume everyone on your list has used your hotel and thank me for business I didn’t book.
When it comes down to it, the more time you spend preparing the better. You may not get through as many calls but the quality of those calls (and the outcome) will improve significantly. How do you learn about your customers and potential customers?

How do you learn about your customers and potential customers?


Hiring a Student for your Prospecting?

At this time of year many organizations turn to students to staff their various departments.

While I am never really surprised when a hotel Director of  Sales & Martketing tells me that they are looking to hire a student to help with their prospecting efforts, I do wonder whether they realize what they may be in for.

After all, would a Chef consider hiring a student with no cooking experience to cook up a VIP dinner?  The same might be said for putting an inexperienced individual on the phone to develop new business relationships with prospective clients.

Yet I realize it is often because of budgets that this choice is made -- and often it's because the General Manager or Hotel Controller won't free up the funds. So if you are looking to hire a student to help you with prospecting efforts this summer, I recommend you keep the following in mind:

Be clear on the qualities and characteristics that you are looking for an individual in this capacity.  What makes a good prospector? Someone with the gift of the gab? Or someone with good listening skills? Given a choice between the two, I would argue good listening skills.

While it may be tempting to get an extroverted, fast talking individual, it may be wiser to look for someone who is a bit more reserved, yet inquisitive and focused on finding worthwhile information. After all the relationship building process will fall back to your sales managers. Find someone who loves to uncover information rather than someone who loves to talk.

Provide this new team member with a very clear picture of the information you require and expect from online research or from a phone call. Give them examples of a lead; have them review your target market descriptions, or better yet, work out a Perfect Customer profile with them. Have them understand what customer conditions or needs must exist for a worthwhile business relationship to be undertaken with a meeting professional.

Have them work out a script with you. With the understanding of course that no call will never go according to script. But having prepared questions is essential to successful making calls.

Pay careful attention to their introduction. Make sure that they properly identify themselves and the purpose of their call and ask for permission prior to continuing the conversation. Having the caller recognize upfront that their prospecting call will be an interruption helps ease any potential tension with the prospect. This may sound something like this, "Mr. Planner, my name is Doreen and I'm calling from Greenfield Services. I know you weren't expecting my call. Did I catch you at a bad time?" Having an introduction that decidedly does NOT sound like a telemarketing or prospecting call is another secret to success.

Depending on the data you provide to your student, ensure that they conduct the proper research. If the information comes from your own CRM, they need to know where to find any history or past relationship information so that they can execute the call accordingly.

And if you're having them work from a cold list, teach them how to look up crucial information on a website. If the prospective organizations are associations, most would have some meeting history on their website. If they are a third-party meeting planner, some of that information also may be gleaned from their website. Of course if this is for a corporate organization, the information may not appear anywhere on their website, but it may be in other sources such as LinkedIn Events (look under the “More” section in the LinkedIn tabs). If the information isn’t readily available, you may need to brainstorm with your student and come up with a list of the TYPES of meetings that different corporate organizations could be holding (e.g. pharma accounts will have physician consultation meetings, continuing medical education meetings, etc.).

Outline clear expectations for your student in terms of call volume, call completions, and pace. Since online research may be required, how many calls you expect them to do per hour? How many of those will lead to completions versus voicemail, numbers not in service, and other dead ends? How will they handle gatekeepers? Will they leave messages, and if so will they call back the students or the sales manager?

Call metrics are difficult to establish because they depend on the quality of the data and the market that is being targeted. Under normal circumstances however, a professional prospector may be expected to perform according to the following metrics;

  • Complete an average of 4 to 6 records per hour, assuming up to three attempts per record. This accounts for the need to circumvent voicemail, absences from the office, et cetera.
  • Over the course of the day this may mean an average of 28 to 42 completed records. Of course, since multiple attempts will take place, in the early days of a prospecting campaign, completions will be much lower.  But completions should pick up after the first couple of weeks.
Prospecting is such a grueling task, and that’s why most salespeople hate it.  So how will you supervise this youngest member of your team and keep him/her motivated? Don't forget that their ego may still be fragile depending on the level of experience they have working in this capacity. They may find rejection hard to take; even experienced sales reps have a hard time with rejection (click here for some of our own Greenfield staff tips on keeping a positive focus). How will you make sure that a student is prepared for this?

Hiring a student may be a less expensive option from a monetary standpoint, but be prepared to invest time in their development and ongoing progress. On the upside, with the proper guidance, your student may turn out to be a star performer you would want to hire on your sales team permanently.