A solid call model helps beginning sales people, and provides a framework for the experienced. My favorite is IBM’s Customer Tailored Sales Call. It’s a simple six part linear framework to make the best of a sales call.

1. Gain Rapport

Somewhat obvious and most sales people intuitively do this. Break the ice. Don’t be put off by a frosty reception – you don’t know what’s just happened on the life of your prospect. This tees up the entire meeting for success. Or not.

Perhaps the most epic fail walking in the door I experienced was calling on the Board of Directors of a major clothing company. The President was dressed in his company’s apparel – spotless white training shoes coupled with slightly baggy brand new jeans. The visual effect on someone of pensionable age was not good. We were all in standard battle dress of chinos and sports jackets.

The VP of Sales – a very experienced and accomplished guy – probably couldn’t help himself,…. “Ah, I see we missed the dress code for today”. I’m not sure if we ever had a shot at the deal, but from the look on the President’s face, I knew we killed it at that point.

2. Earn the Right

This is about two things, mechanics and credibility. First, check the basics like how much time you have, has anything changed since we last spoke etc. It does not harm to offer up “is this still a good time?” on a phone meeting. I’ve never had anyone turn me down, but I know they appreciate having the option. Almost always though, you can count on at least one key person being absent, and being given only 50% of the time you were initially committed – so plan accordingly.

Second, you need to clearly articulate the premise for you being in the room or on the call. “You” as in your company presenting a solution appropriate to their needs, and equally importantly “You” as an individual or team who can:

  • Understand any questions they have (Communication)
  • Answer any questions they have (Knowledge)
  • Escalate any issues they have (Authority)
  • Fix any issues they have (Accountability)

Do all these and you’ll be accepted as a business partner. This puts the audience into a receptive mode. It’s also a good point to check attendance to make sure the right people are in the room. Don’t be offended if some people walk out at this point realizing they are in the wrong meeting. They are better out being productive, than in being disruptive.

3. Establish Needs

If you’re IBM, potentially selling everything from hardware to software to services, it’s obviously important to understand what the prospect actually wants to buy today. Conversely, if you are a single product company, it’s tempting to just “show up & throw up”. Don’t. Even here, you’ll find your market is not uniform but that some people buy your product for X, whilst others buy it for Y. Knowing which determines the competitive axes in play and helps you understand how to beat the competition, if it’s all about X in this particular prospect.

A key aspect is reflection, getting the prospect to confirm and agree which requirements are important, how to prioritize etc. A useful two-step framework for this is the idea of “pushers” and “blockers”. Pushers are requirements where more is more. When buying a car, for most people fuel economy would be a pusher. In contrast, blockers are requirements where enough is enough. Again for a car, perhaps seating 4 adults would be a blocker. If you have a family of 4, you simply can’t buy anything less, but anything more has limited value.

Understanding the pushers and blockers on a particular deal will go a long way to optimally positioning yourself relative to the competition.

The key output of this stage is a prospect agreed list of prioritized requirements, but you should also use this as an opportunity to explore both the environment (is this just one department, or cross-department?) and process (who will be the decision maker?).

4. Present the Solution

Personalization does not mean starting every newsletter with “Dear John”.

Since you’ve done 3. Establish Needs, you can toss the marketing slides and go directly to the whiteboard. Address each requirement in turn, showing both how you meet the requirement and also do this better than the competition.

This is basically the sales pitch.

5. Develop the Solution

“Would you like a belt to go with those trousers?”

Hopefully by now you’ve gained some additional insight into the prospect’s environment and you can think about how the solution can provide added benefits beyond what was originally considered.

An important part of this process is to ensure the audience fully understands the solution and can accurately and persuasively relay it internally. This includes three key points:

How does the solution meet the requirements?
How does the solution stack up against the competition?
Do we feel good about doing business with these guys?

It’s a time to develop competitive differentiation and also sell the “soft” benefits (we’ve been in business XXX years etc).

6. Close

No one is in this sales call for the good of their health. Every meeting, every interaction, every touch point needs a close. Think about this in three areas:


Your prospect needs to be in possession of certain facts (e.g. a certain discount expiring at month end) before they can buy. Given your objectives, do they know these things? Have you confirmed that they know these things? You need to know what they know.


What does the prospect emotionally think about your team and company? People lose their jobs over failed projects. Can they trust their mortgage payments to you?
Or were you just invited to make the numbers up, and they will be buying from your competitor regardless?


What is the agreed action plan? Has the prospect agreed to call in his boss? By when? When will they sign? Who is driving the approval process? Always write these up on the white board if possible and certainly always put into a follow up email. This not just confirms agreement, but the very act of putting something into writing helps cement commitment to the action.

Think of the close as a summary to a book, or the conclusion of a show – not the final slap down in a wrestling match. Any arm-twisted agreement simply evaporates the moment you leave the room – it needs to be a consensual act.

The benefits of a call model such as this is that it provides a consistent framework to both train junior sales people as well as a communication vehicle for more experienced reps. If a call is going off track, thinking back to this model versus where the call is, can help get it back on track. Identification of recurring issues in certain phases of the call can help with making sales people more effective.

As a sales organization, a consistent call model will help present a more professional interface to the market, and that can only help both sales teams and prospective customers.


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