How to Make a Sale – Planning First, Ask Questions Later


I hate losing a sale to a competitor. I hate it even more when it’s my own fault! If I’m honest, it’s usually clear that I’ve messed up on one of the basic steps of the sale. (I’ve simply given away my competitive advantage.) In my last blog, How to Make a Sale – Steps of the Sale, I explained the importance of matching How customers make decisions, to How to make a sale. Now let's look at the impact of planning. So here's how to make a sale - planning first, ask questions later:

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Before encountering a customer, there’s some homework everyone should complete – PLANNING.

 “Failing to plan is planning to fail!”  There’s a reason clichés become, well, clichés.

First, they always contain more than a grain of truth. 

Second, they’re easy to remember. Have you ever tried to ‘wing it’ with a customer and been rumbled? Maybe you realised in the middle of a meeting that your prospect has completely zoned-out. Perhaps you’ve automatically proposed a repeat order and missed out on potential additional business.

When it comes to successful selling, what you do BEFORE meeting the customer is just as important as what you say. After all, you wouldn’t start decorating your living room without covering the furniture/floors and checking you have the right quantity of matching paint? And the petrol heads among you wouldn’t consider valeting your car with ‘domestic’ cleaning and polishing products, and certainly not on a wet day!

Recommended reading: 3 Things You Must Do To Take Your Sales to the Next Level

Good Planning Increases Your Chances of The Sale

Good planning greatly increases your chances of beating your sales target in three ways:

  1. Maximises each sale
  2. Helps deal with the unexpected
  3. Manages your time more effectively

A fourth and often unacknowledged benefit of planning is that it helps to get your MIND SET right for the sales call. With a well-planned call, you have more control over your performance. You build the confidence that puts you in the best position of get the most out of the sale. That confidence itself contributes towards better sales results.

Where do you start? Simply put, your priorities are:

  1. CUSTOMERS should get the product/service they need
  2. YOU should achieve the expected sales
  3. The COMPANY should meet its business targets

Begin by thinking. Consider the following:

  • PROBABLE selling opportunities
  • POSSIBLE selling opportunities
  • WHAT ELSE do you KNOW about the customer?
  • OBJECTIVES for the call

Recommended reading: 8 Words to Avoid in Your Next Sales Pitch

If you’re not sure, do some digging. 

It’ll save a lot of time later on. What do you already know about the customer? What can you find out? Look them up online. Ask around. Do you really understand how your customers use your product/service? How does it affect your customer’s customer?

Perhaps you can get preliminary information over the phone directly from your prospect. Maybe you dealt with them in the past. I know one cable services salesman who tracks house/apartment rental websites. As soon as a property is taken off-line, he targets them for TV, telephone and internet. He knows the new tenants are prime prospects.

It’s not rocket science to plan your sales call (unless you’re selling rockets), yet lots of people don’t bother. Some do what they always did, even though the world (and their customers) have changed. Others believe that a combination of swagger and blather is enough to get by. If you could cut down on dealing with time wasters and concentrate on getting the most out of qualified prospects, wouldn’t that bit of prep time be worth the effort?

If I haven’t convinced you yet, reflect on how you like to be sold to. Remember the guy who irritated the hell out of you by trying to sell you something you felt he should have known you didn’t need? My favourite recent example of this is the door to door salesman who tried to convince me I should pebble-dash my brick-fronted house. Given that the 145 houses around me are also brick-fronted, I’m guessing he had a bad sales day. (Sounds ridiculous – but true!)

A bit of work early on makes all the difference.  As I learned in Irish class, “Tús maith is leath na hoibre” (a good start is half the work).


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