How many calls does it take for your reps to close a sale? Most reps will tell you “it depends” – on the market, the individual customer, the competition, and any other number of variables. But that’s the wrong answer. If your reps don’t know exactly how many calls it should take them to close a sale, and what the objective of each of those calls is, they’re just fumbling their way through the sale.
“The critical understanding that underlies all your selling efforts is that selling is not hanging around being nice to people in some random fashion. If you don’t establish a sales strategy and CAO (Customer Action Objective) for each of your sales calls, you will be wasting your time,” warns Ferdinand Fournies, business consultant to companies such as Merck, HP, and 3M, and author of Why Customers Don’t Do What They’re Supposed to Do … And What To Do About It (McGraw-Hill, 2007).
Consider this example. Fournies was recently speaking at a national meeting to salespeople whose product was a $25,000 chemical analysis machine sold to hospitals. He asked his audience how many calls it took to sell their product to a hospital and most people responded, “11 or 12 months.” Okay, replied Fournies, but how many calls? As a group, the reps argued that “it depends” because all hospitals are different. That’s when the company’s highest performing rep raised his hand and said, “Mr. Fournies, if I don’t sell the product by the third call, I don’t go back.” The room fell silent as this rep explained his strategy.
On his first call, he said he qualifies the customer. He finds out whether the customer needs the product and can afford it and who would make the buying decision. If the answers are positive, the rep schedules a second appointment. During that second meeting, he demonstrates the equipment to the buyer and all the users and gets them to make the buying decision. On the third call, he picks up the purchase order.
The key to this rep’s success, explains Fournies, is that he has specific, measurable customer action objectives for each sales call: On call number one, “the customer will describe to me the company’s diagnostic needs, identify the decision maker for equipment purchases, indicate the current budget status, and give me an appointment to demonstrate my equipment.” He outlines similar, customer-oriented objectives for calls number two and three. When Fournies asked other reps about their objectives for their first call, the answers were vague, varied, and focused on what actions they, the reps, would be taking – not the actions they wanted customers to take. Their goals included things like: establish a relationship, show them the product, get a foot in the door, sell one unit, and so on.
To create a multiple-call selling strategy, work backward from the objective of your last call, asking yourself, “Why can’t we go over there and do that now?” You’ll find out specifically what actions the customer must take on each sales call to advance the sale. And you’ll be able to determine the minimum number of sales calls you need to close the sale.
Once you do this exercise, challenge your reps to close sales in the minimum number of calls.