Caution your thesis graphic

What Sales Calls and Term Papers Have in Common

It seems obvious, but for success in our calls–we must have a clear structure and a defined purpose.

I’m sure we’ve all been placed on the line with a prospect, reached a connection, but eventually the conversation seemed to veer off course. The perceived loss of direction may have been due to the organic nature of conversation, the client’s redirected questioning, or a lack of self-preparation. Whatever the reason, if we don’t have a pre-planned structure for our calls, we can be left floundering for control, stuttering through a script, or chasing a missed moment. Even worse, these gaffes place us out “of the moment” with our client–and we may end up missing out on the opportunity to fully engage with a prime-fit prospect.

In hopes of remedying this, let’s discuss the key components within every initial discovery call–by taking a trip back to school.

In designing our call framework, we have to understand the key stages of most initial client discovery calls. The goal of a client discovery call is to learn more about the prospect, and having the stages well defined is a must. Imagine your call as a literary exposition. Think back to your high school or university English class, where producing a term paper or essay was a weekly chore. After choosing a topic for your paper, you created an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Perhaps most importantly, you were instructed to formulate a thesis statement–one that would guide the direction of your prose. Writing those papers was a simple task, right?

The fundamentals of a well-crafted body of writing are the same components for the initial discovery call in sales–both require a solid framework that includes an introduction, body, and conclusion.

Let’s take a closer look:

The Introduction

Similar to the term paper, the discovery call intro guides our dialogue; it is where we set the stage for the conversation. The intro includes the problem, the value proposition, and the validating question. The problem could best be described as: “The Why.” It is very important to start our conversations by specifying the problem, or a problem. We must remember that our clients don’t particularly care about what we can do for them, without our first having clearly defined what the problems may be for them. We can open up effective dialogue by properly aligning our initial problem statement with a compelling value proposition.

Many times, we rush our value proposition (the “what we do”), discussing it as an introduction, or too early in the sales process. This effectually nullifies our strength, as it may be irrelevant to our prospects or appear self-serving. Again, properly pace your client, and present the value proposition within the context of a problem. This technique is best capped off by an engagement-inducing validating question, or series of questions. Examples of these would be: “…are you experiencing similar difficulties?” or “…are those also the goals of your organization?”

The Body

Since the thesis statement guides every written word, the goal of your call should guide everything you say to a client.

The goal of a call is specific to the kind of sales process our product exists within. It is within the body of the call that we need to create urgency, uncover a pain or a business case need, challenge the prospect’s thinking, and learn if there is any way we can help. We are not just blindly interviewing a client; a prospect will provide the information that answers our qualifying questions and allow us to move forward in our sales process or sales cycle. Still, the type of questions we ask during this phase the call are very important. We should not simply ask questions from a pre-determined list. No. Let’s look beyond our sales scripts and aim for depth. We should ask substantive secondary and tertiary questions which may uncover spoken, and even unspoken, business needs.

The Conclusion

In my experience, the conclusion is the second-most important segment of the call framework. It is during this phase of the call where a solution is given, one that connects the business’s needs and pain points with our value proposition. Additionally, the conclusion is where we summarize our findings and elaborate on a mutually desired plan of action.

I’ve seen many Sales Executives neglect this process; perhaps only providing a lackluster of suggestion without reaffirming to the client the underlying assumptions of the call. By not providing a summary of the steps that were reached with the prospect, the suggestions we make may have less resonance, or they may have less staying power once the call is disconnected–the solutions offered may seem self-centered and solution-centric, as opposed to mutually beneficial and client-focused.

In summation, when on a call with a prospect, simply remember your high school or University English class. Remember that the thesis statement is the goal for the call, and that your call should have specific segments that will help you devise a winning call framework, from the problem-focused beginning, to the substantive middle, on to the solution-oriented end.