Most sales calls are like job interviews—you wouldn’t go into one without some level of research about the company, industry, person, revenue, and so on.
If I had to wager, I think 99.9% of account executives (AEs) spent at least 3–5 minutes of their time researching a company before they jump on a customer call—even if it’s a cold call.
But preparing for a sales call isn’t limited to a cursory 5-minutes research on LinkedIn or CB Insights. That’s table stakes—every sales rep does that.
However, first things first—why do we need a predictable pre-call sales routine?
- Predictable revenue comes from having a predictable pipeline.
- Predictable pipeline happens when you have a predictable sales routine.
- Predictable sales routine comes from predictable habits and practices.
If you really want to control the outcome of your sales call—be it discovery, demo, or follow-up—here are 7 things you need to do as part of your pre-call sales routine before you join a sales meeting.
1. Define possible outcomes
Different sales meetings have different outcomes—usually based on where your customers are in their buyer journey. This is to say that the outcomes you expect from a discovery call or demo meeting heavily influence your preparation going into the meeting.
So, after your discovery and demo, your prospects may still be either disqualified for being a poor fit or moved onto the next phase of the sales cycle. Both of them are valid meeting outcomes.
Considering the expected outcomes of a meeting helps you decide what kind of questions to ask, what are the potential next steps for you and the prospects, how to structure your meeting, and more.
Let’s suppose that you have qualified the prospects, given them a great walkthrough of a demo, and now you have a Zoom call scheduled to follow up on their decision. At this stage of the sales cycle, there can be two broad outcomes from the meeting:
1) The prospects are ready to buy your product
2) They defer buying your product
If you aren’t prepared for outcome #2, you will draw a blank when the prospects reject your product—especially if they had responded positively to your solution in previous calls.
But you would be in a much better position to probe their decision to not buy your product or handle objections if you had envisioned all potential outcomes from the meeting.
As our CEO, Aditya says, it helps to be curious to understand the prospect’s why before jumping in to respond.
The key, however, is to learn from your meetings and make your next conversation better. This is where Avoma helps. It lets you mark meeting Purposes and Outcomes.
As you can see in the above screenshot, the purpose of the conversation is “Demo” and the opportunity is marked as “Qualified”.
You can also select or create meeting Outcomes such as:
Avoma automatically syncs this information in your CRM so that you can filter through your past meetings based on specified outcomes or take relevant action to revive a potential sales conversation in the future.
2. Research the prospect
One of the biggest mistakes an AE can make before going into a sales call is to do zero homework about their prospects. Like I mentioned earlier, the majority of reps usually have a process to research the prospect before a meeting—be it by going through their LinkedIn profile, visiting their company website, checking out their company background in CB Insights, or looking at the CRM data to get a recap of previous engagements.
I have also come across the rare breed of sales reps who just show up for a sales call thinking they have spoken to enough customers and know enough about the product to “wing it”. That level of overconfidence is self-sabotaging and usually leads to failure.
The real deal to prepare for a sales call—however—is not just a casual 5-minutes research, but an analytical investigation of the prospects. Your homework should seek answers to several basic-to-critical questions such as:
- Who is the person you are going to talk to?
- What’s their company background? What do they do?
- What’s their source of revenue?
- Which industry do they operate in?
- Who are their customers? Who are their competitors?
- What tools do they use currently?
- Do they use any tools that compete with your product?
- What are the top-level trends in their industry that can impact their business?
- What could be their high-level goals and objections?
The higher the deal potential, the deeper you should research. But no question is too small for researching a prospect.
Last week, I was researching one of the prospects on LinkedIn before our scheduled call the next day. I saw that one of the people who was supposed to join the call was from my hometown. When I brought it up during the call, we discovered that both of us went to the same high school!
That small bit of information helped me build a rapport with them in no time. Needless to say, I would have not had the advantage to make a great first impression on my prospects had I not spent time researching them on LinkedIn.
To add a deeper dimension to your meeting prep, personalize your research based on the prospects. For instance, I always keep important collateral such as case studies relevant to a prospect’s domain handy before getting into the call. If you don’t have case studies, look for interesting industry trends or unique insights that can help you better advocate your product or can broaden your prospects’ understanding of their business landscape.
If you are sure of the usual workflows that prospects from a certain industry usually follow, structure your product demo around it and explain to them the value that they can get out of your solution to make the sales meeting relevant to them.
3. Anticipate objections
Sales objections are the other side of a successful deal—the odds of rejection versus winning depend on several different variables. But objections in sales aren’t always a deal-breaker.
More often than not, objections are opportunities for you to deeply understand your customer psychology and move them towards mutually beneficial outcomes. Everybody wins when you handle objections well.
The challenge is—you don’t always know what objections the prospects will raise during the sales process. And that’s why it’s twice as important to research your prospects well before getting into a call with them.
Once you run a detailed research on your prospects, put yourself in their shoes and imagine what could be the objections that they can raise. All sales objections essentially fall into one of the four categories:
1. Lack of budget
2. Lack of trust
3. Lack of need
4. Lack of urgency
The average salesperson responds to an objection by accepting it as a failure—they might update the status of a sales call as “rejected” and move on to the next call.
But the best reps respond to objections as momentary roadblocks that they can overcome by asking the right questions.
Here are some of the most common customer objections that sales teams face in the B2B world:
- “Your product is too expensive.”
- “[Your rival product] is cheaper.”
- “We don’t have the budget right now.”
- “I’m already using another software.”
- “Now is not a good time for us.”
- “This is not a top priority for us right now.”
- “I have to run this past my team.”
- “But you don’t provide [feature name].”
- “Your product is too complex.”
- “You have a bad review in [review site].”
- “Just send me the proposal.”
- “Can we circle back next quarter?”
If you can anticipate the right objections that a prospect will bring up during your sales call, you can counter their concerns with reasonable arguments. You will certainly win if you can articulate your product’s value to dwarf their objections.
Never take an objection at its face value. Objection handling usually means going through a series of "NOs" before getting to a "YES." Here’s an example from our first-hand experience.
A real-time objection case story
A few months back, Aditya had a follow-up sales call with a prospect who had shown initial interest in buying Avoma for his company. But in between the demo and follow-up call, the prospect had discovered another similar product that had native integration with Slack. During the follow-up, he framed Avoma’s lack of integration with Slack as the reason to go with another vendor.
Since Aditya had been in similar situations before, he had already expected some kind of friction and responded by asking the prospect why the integration was so important for his business. The client explained the Slack integration would help them move customer conversations seamlessly across internal teams.
Aditya asked, “What would happen if you copy-pasted the conversation link (from Avoma) to the right Slack channel?”
The customer couldn’t think of a critical downside in doing so and was willing to reconsider buying Avoma—especially since he loved all other functionalities. He suddenly went from “I’m not so sure” to “that makes perfect sense” just because Aditya reasoned him with the right question. As you would guess, the prospect is now a happy Avoma customer.
Key takeaway: Objections are just temporary roadblocks that you can overcome if you ask the right questions to understand the customers’ needs better.
4. Prepare your questions
Researching your prospect’s company and background goes hand in hand with preparing the right kind of questions to ask during a sales meeting. But researching an account is one thing, coming up with the right questions for the conversation is an entirely different beast to deal with.
For instance, preparing for a sales meeting with a prospect doesn’t mean asking them basic questions like “who is your biggest competition?” or “how does your company make money currently?” These are questions that you can easily find answers to in Google search.
Instead, here’s how you ask meaningful questions:
- “I see that your product competes against the likes of Salesforce and HubSpot. If my understanding is correct, how does your company differentiate from your rivals? And are there any challenges you are currently facing that are stopping you from achieving your business goals?”
- “I did some digging and noticed that you are a SaaS company and you have a pretty impressive year-on-year growth rate in your space. But I want to know from you—what’s your strongest channel of growth that’s working for you? Is it new customer acquisitions, returning customers, outbound sales—or something else?”
The point is—don’t park all the questions for the sales call and don’t assume things. Try to have answers to elementary questions like the prospect’s background, the company’s funding, etc. For a deeper-level understanding of your prospects’ business environment, personalize your research and prepare to ask open-ended, probing questions.
I have noticed that the AEs who are driven by genuine curiosity about the prospects are generally great at preparing high-quality questions that impress the prospects. Most prospects appreciate that in sales reps. It shows them that the rep has spent enough time doing their homework in understanding their business.
If you are new at this and don’t know how to come up with good questions, that’s okay. It’s a skill that comes with intentional practice over time. One way to overcome this problem is to refer back to past sales conversations with prospects from similar industries to mine questions that got people to talk at length. Avoma’s search functionality is quite handy for this purpose.
Or, you can also visualize the problems the prospects might have in their lives for which they are evaluating your product and prepare questions to investigate further. This will also give you an opportunity to showcase how your solution naturally fits into their existing workflows.
Whatever you do—don’t assume too much.
There’s no point in demoing your product without understanding your prospect’s problems.
Always err on the side of curiosity. If something is not clear to you, bring it up as a question that you couldn’t find answers to during the meeting.
5. Rehearse the call
One of the most important things I have learned about preparing for sales calls is that the pros never wing it. The greatest salespeople that I have met and admire are professionals who prepare, rehearse, and over-practice their call prep umpteen times before it becomes a natural part of their sales speech.
The practicing part becomes even more critical if it’s a high-stake customer meeting, such as deals that can potentially bring hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue. Whenever I’m preparing for an important sales call, I remind myself of the following quote:
Amateurs practice till they get it right. Professionals practice till they never get it wrong.
Sales is a lot like doing stand-up comedy—you really need to know your audience, you have to set the stage to captivate their attention, your timing has to be impeccable, and your delivery has to resonate with time. Just get one of those things wrong and you will bomb your performance.
It might sound like I’m suggesting you learn your sales script by heart—but that’s not necessarily true. Rehearse the conversation, but don’t be overly scripted in your preparation. Just go over the main areas of your preparation—be it the talk tracks or the list of potential objections prospects might bring up—over and over again until you have it by the back of your hand.
Run mock drills with your sales colleagues or rehearse on your own if you have doubts about how the conversation with the customers will go. Things often pan out differently when you imagine them in your head versus when you actually apply them in real life.
Doing a dry run helps you fill the gaps that might be there in your preparation and improve your speech delivery. Personally, going over my preparation helps me declutter my thoughts and clearly articulate my points to the prospects.
6. Do the necessary housekeeping
Most sales reps are diligent about researching their prospects beforehand or preparing sales call talk tracks. But they stumble frequently when it comes to the administrative side of things such as having the right tools in place, preparing the right collaterals, testing their audiovisual setup, or inviting the right stakeholders on both sides of the negotiation table.
It’s easy to stumble over these things because they are less important operational activities that we tend to overlook. But they are equally important aspects of a pre-call routine that can make or break your sales negotiation.
Think of getting ready to go on a date at 5 pm Friday only to realize that you don’t have enough gas in your car. You probably had the best clothes sorted out, rehearsed everything you want to ask your date, and checked Google Maps five times to make sure you had the right address of the restaurant you are supposed to meet at.
But refueling your car at the last minute might mean that you now have to take a small detour, spend 5–10 minutes of your time filling the gas tank, and risk being late for a special first date. Imagine the impression you would make on the person.
It’s the same thing with a sales call—but the consequences are deadlier.
Before you go on a customer call, make sure you have your tech stack up and running, your slide decks fine and dandy, and all the data points ready within reach. Take every small detail into consideration so that you don’t have to make last-minute decisions.
For instance—if it’s a morning meeting, get to the office and spend at least 30 minutes going over your meeting materials. Oh, and grab coffee on the way to stay caffeinated. Got an afternoon meeting? Sweet! Eat a hearty lunch so that your appetite doesn’t interfere with your call preparation and you have plenty of buffer time to go through your meeting content.
Whatever you do—always show up on time (a few minutes earlier, if possible) because tardiness is disrespectful—to your date as well as your prospects.
7. Send them a reminder
In my seven years of experience working as an AE for several companies, I have come to realize that nothing stings as bad as a prospect who ghosts you on a scheduled meeting.
A salesperson’s time is valuable since every minute of your work hours is mapped and measured against the impact you are creating on the sales pipeline. It’s a colossal waste of time when you are psyched about talking to a prospect and preparing for it with all your might, only to have the prospect not show up at the last minute.
It also sucks to miss an opportunity that your colleagues from marketing or sales development have worked so hard to get for us.
To be fair, you can’t really blame prospects for not turning up for a meeting. Life happens, there are plenty of things that are more urgent in people’s lives than attending a sales call.
And although no-shows happen more often than one can imagine, we at Avoma have found a simple hack that reduces the chances of no-shows by 54%, i.e. send your prospects an email reminder about the upcoming meeting 24 hours before the sales call.
It’s one of the many thoughtful scheduling habits that can save you from a lot of time while ensuring accountability from your prospects. Plus, it doesn’t even have to be a manual process; you can use Avoma to automatically send the email reminder to prospects so they show up on time or request to reschedule.
While you are at it, send them a small note to personalize the reminder. If it’s a demo call, and assuming you have already sent them an agenda beforehand, ask them if there’s anything specific they want to see in the presentation. E.g.
“Hey John, just wanted to remind you of our meeting tomorrow at 5 pm. Hope you had a chance to go through the links I sent you earlier. If there’s anything else you want me to cover during tomorrow’s call, let me know. Talk soon!”
No-shows are a complex problem to solve, but the answer to some of the most complex questions in this world is oftentimes very simple.
But why 24 hours—why not 15 minutes before the call?
An email reminder 24 hours before the call gives your clients time to prepare for, reschedule, or cancel the meeting well ahead of time. Send the same reminder 30 or 15 minutes before the meeting and it might be too late for prospects to abandon everything else and attend the meeting.
If they are serious about evaluating your solution for their business requirement, the email will nudge them to prepare well for the meeting. If they have sudden or more important priorities that collide with the meeting, most prospects will inform you of their change in plans so that you can reschedule the call at a later date.
This is a much better alternative than wasting your time idly waiting for the prospects to show up—but they never do. In most cases, the prospects end up being incommunicado to your follow-up message because they dropped the ball.
Give your prospects a fabulous buying experience
The sales processes in the B2B Saas world are crazy-fast and highly competitive. Every product category is crowded with dozens of lookalike products that offer similar solutions with similar features and price range.
These days, the differentiation between products in the same category is massively blurred. If you want to stand out from the crowd, you can’t just bank on your product differentiation anymore—you have to provide an outstanding buying experience.
It’s important to remind yourself that the prospects that you talk to are usually also evaluating competing brands and products—and most of them follow the same cookie-cutter approach to running discovery or demo calls.
As an AE, your goal is to make a killer impression on your prospects so that buying your product becomes an obvious choice for them. To pull that off, you have to put up a show—turn your sales presentation into a memorable show and deliver a “wow” experience.
And preparing well for it is the key to helping you achieve that.
Don’t BANT your prospects to death because that’s what every other sales team does. Instead, give them something that they don’t expect.
Challenge their assumptions. Give them new perspectives.
Don’t include too many slides and don’t talk too much about your product features. Instead, wow them in three slides. Make the prospects the heroes of a story and position yourself as the sidekick buddy they can trust.
Put yourself in their shoes and ask them great questions. Even if they aren’t your ideal customers, give them a memorable buying experience that feels like a victory to them.
And when you are well-prepared for a sales conversation, read up on our tips about how to nail your sales discovery and demo every time.