What do you need to know about a sales call opening? Are there certain methods or techniques you should be using?
The sales call opening depends on the salesperson, but the SPIN selling method offers a clear strategy. SPIN Selling reviews traditional sales call openings and new frameworks to make opening a sales call a success.
Your New Sales Call Opening
How you should go about a sales call opening—that is, how to introduce yourself and start the conversation—depends on whether it’s a small sale or large sale. They take different approaches to get the call off on the right foot.
In discussing sales call openings, this chapter focuses on how to approach initial meetings with new customers, as opposed to opening calls in an ongoing sales process.
Most older sales training asserted that first impressions could make or break a new customer interaction. But research indicates first impressions carry less weight than once thought. Of course, a professional overall appearance is important, but small details matter less. The impression you make in the investigating stage is far more crucial to sales success than your initial interaction is.
The reason first interactions matter less than people think is that in the early stages of meeting someone, you’re getting so much information that you immediately forget some things—sometimes even the person’s name.
Certain details, such as dress, may matter more in small sales, but a great outfit and opening line aren’t going to significantly boost your chances of success in a large sale.
Traditional Sales Call Openings
Dating back to the 1920s, sales call opening training was focused on two things:
1) Connect with the buyer’s personal interests. This will help you establish a relationship quickly and increase your chances of success. So try to find something personal to talk about—for instance, if you see a golf trophy in the customer’s office, or a photo suggesting another hobby, comment on that.
2) Introduce a product benefit. The idea is to get the customer’s attention and interest with an emphatic benefit statement—for instance, “We understand that productivity is a big issue for managers like you—our product will dramatically increase your output.” This is the traditional way of how to open a sales call.
While connecting with personal interests could work in small sales, it isn’t likely to help you in large sales. Researchers found that in small sales to rural stores, the most successful sales reps made more personal references than less successful reps. But in larger sales to urban stores, connecting with a customer’s personal interests had no bearing on sales success.
Further, whether you have a personal connection with a seller is probably less of a factor in doing business today than it was in the 1920s. Today, price or other factors may be more important than personal loyalty.
Another reason that establishing a personal connection may be less important today is that many customers, especially professional procurement officers who deal with multiple sales reps, have little time or patience with chit chat. They prefer that salespeople get to the point.
The practice of opening a sales call with a benefit statement has also been around for many decades. Getting the buyer’s attention by starting with a benefit might be useful in small sales where calls may last only a few minutes. But a high-impact opening seems likely to be less useful in large sales, in which the call length could be 40 minutes or more.
Researchers found no link between sales success and opening with a benefit statement. In fact, the most successful sales reps used a variety of opening methods, while less successful reps opened every call the same way.
Of course, in larger sales involving multiple calls, you can’t open follow-up calls with a person the way you did the previous time. Your sales call opening would change each time.
Also, using an opening benefit statement can get the rep into trouble, for instance by generating early objections. As previously noted, talking about benefits or solutions early in the call, before you’ve built explicit needs, undermines your chances of success.
A Sales Call Opening Framework
Instead of traditional methods of sales call opening, researchers came up with an opening framework based on strategies used by successful salespeople.
The first step in learning how to open a sales call is understanding your objectives in the warm-up or opening stage of a call. Basically, you want the customer to agree to give you a hearing and answer your questions, so you can move into the investigating stage.
To win consent, you need to specify:
- Who you are
- What you want (without delving into product details)
- Your legitimacy or right to ask questions
As previously noted, sales call openings don’t play a critical role in large sales. You don’t need to come across as polished or rehearsed, but there are three important elements to an effective opening:
1) Get to the point of your visit quickly. Don’t spend too much time on a long wind-up. You don’t want to run out of time in the more important stages because you spent time making a lot of small talk at the beginning. You also don’t want to waste your customer’s time. In large sales, you’re not likely to offend busy customers by jumping into your topic with few preliminaries.
2) Don’t talk about solutions prematurely. As noted in the previous chapter, talking about solutions too soon can trigger objections and undermine your success. Discussing your solution early in the call also puts you in the position of answering questions about your product or services, when you need to quickly assume the role of questioner so you can develop needs.
3) Focus on asking questions. Remember that the opening isn’t the important part of the call; you want to move on to the investigating stage as soon as possible. Instead of worrying about how to open a call, spend your pre-call planning time working on questions to uncover and build needs.
Sales call openings can be daunting, but using the SPIN selling method can help you build a clear plan and strategy. You’ll get better at knowing how to open a sales call the more you do them, and the more you work on building relationships with clients.