How To Master A Joint Sales Call!

by Paul Castain on September 7, 2010

Did you ever see those clichéd scenes in the movies where they show a flashback and the dude having the flashback is doing this elongated “NO”  as the whole freakin world goes to crap around them?

That’s how I felt when my Sales Manager would go on joint sales calls with me!

Between the constant judging and his need to talk over me in these meetings, I wanted to secretly train his 3 year old to “Punch Daddy in the zipper”

While my wish never came true, I did get a chance to really perfect the joint sales calls I went on with reps as I moved up the corporate food chain.

Here are a few thoughts to consider:

1)   Define everyone’s role. Who’s taking the lead? Who’s presenting and when?  Sales Reps: If this is in fact your appointment, you need to take charge of this and let everyone know their role. Sales Manager’s: Whenever I ride with a rep, I tell them that there are basically 3 types of sales calls. One where they run it, I observe and offer feedback afterwards. One where I run the meeting to demonstrate a particular skill (handle a difficult client etc) and one where we both go in there guns a blazing. I then ask which one they prefer. Its their appointment so stop taking the damn keys!

2)   If people are coming in from out of town for the meeting: I have a non negotiable rule “Don’t even think about heading to the meeting right from the airport” I want them in the night before. I don’t need late flights, people rushing from airports, wrinkled suits and plane stank (I never experienced it but I was on a roll and went with it) screwing up my game. I’m dead serious about this rule and have even told it to CEO’s. My account, my rules!

3)   I don’t like “Us vs Them” seating arrangements. No barriers! To that end, I like to have us all spread out around the table. One reason for this is because I want eye contact with my team.

4)   Have a code word or phrase like a cough where you quickly say “shut the hell up” if you need to interject something. Seriously, I have such a cool code I use with my team. If they need my assistance they simply say “Paul, is there anything you’d like to add?” If I want to add something I blatantly look at my teammate (while they are talking) and display a very natural display of body language communicating that I have something to add. My favorite is to casually nod my head and hold my finger up as if to say “When you are done dude, I want to add something” Aside from the occasional person who thinks that’s my way of saying I need to use the bathroom it works well and keeps people from talking over one another. 🙂

There’s obviously a bit more to all of this . . .  What are your thoughts about joint sales calls and how we can execute flawlessly?

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  • Hi Paul,

    I have to say that this is great advice, approximately 18 months ago I went from the position of sales rep to sales manager, and discovered the challenge of attending visits with my colleagues.

    I took some of the positives of my previous manager, who would be very vocal within our joint visits which was great early on in my career as a sales rep, but later I realised this could become a negative as it didnt allow me to make mistakes and be given feedback from my manager.

    So i have tried to be more passive and from reading your post I believe I may have gone too far the other way and will try to work in a more structured way in future.

    One tip that I had seen recently was when the sales rep asks for feedback prior to meeting ask them what they want feedback on, so you can be constructive.

    Thanks for all your great ideas.

  • Very good article Paul. Not much I could add. Because I was always a thousand miles from the plant, my “visiting dignitaries” visits were fairly rare. One rule I was taught was Managers should never usurp the rep’s authority with the client (e.g. doing all the talking, intrerrupting, picking up the tab, etc.). The Mngr or VP or Pres is there to show the client they support the rep. That said I like your 3 approach options. There are cases where each could be valuable.

  • Marlene

    I wish I had this article a few years ago to send to a manager I had. She would take control of the meeting and then I felt as though I lost all cred with my client. She even offered stuff that we just couldn’t deliver on then left me holding the bag. I ended up never inviting her to appointments where a tag team effort probably would have been a good idea.

    Live and Learn. I now have a great team approach similar to your post. It works and comes across very professional.

  • I like to approach a joint call like Johnny and Ed worked it on the “Tonight Show.” It was Johnny’s show after all, he did the talking and so I’m Johnny and my sales manager takes Ed’s posture. When Ed would pipe something in Johnny would simply thank him and say “I did not know that” then played off of it and moved on. They were the best. But instead of saying “I did not know that” I would say good point or the like. During the introductions or even before the meeting I would set the manager’s role as being able to bring a “corporate perspective” to the meeting and to be able to give examples of other clients that we have solved similar problems for. It works real well when the roles are defined before hand as you have stated Paul.

  • I have always insisted on a pre-call planning session to review who is going to do what and when. It is important for the visiting manager/executive to understand ALL of the nuances of the meeting, it’s objectives, potential hazards, and desired outcomes. That said, I found it best to have the rep do the “play-by-play” and I was responsible for the “color”. In that fashion, the balance was proper, I got to add value, and we had the basis for an evaluation discussion following the call. That discussion was always about how did “we” do, and what could “we” have done better and will do better in the next call.

  • Paul,

    Well put….

    I “always” let them know we will be doing a debrief afterwards where we will discuss what we did right (yea !!!) and what we could hve done better. In my years as a sales manager I only had one major snag. A sales rep couldn’t find his (good) customer’s office, but that’s a story for a different time… Keep writing Paul… I love your thoughts and writing style..

  • The recurring theme in these comments is the need for a call planning meeting. I did this all the time, not some of the time, as both a rep and a sales manager.

    I learned from a colleague by example. He took the president of our company, which was about a $5B company, to meet with the Secretary of the Air Force. The USAF was his account and he had worked long and hard to set up this meeting. The president was a very strong willed person (name one that isn’t) and no planning meeting occurred. As you probably guessed, the meeting was an absolute disaster. The climax came when the president told the Secretary the USAF’s problem was that it didn’t have a job!

    I know you are chuckling over that but imagine the poor rep. and what was going through his mind during and after the meeting. Probably questions like “how am I ever going to recover from this” or “should I resign on our way back to the office?”.

    On the flip side, I had a sales call with one of our VPs at the same company. Our only time for call preparation was as we were walking to the customer’s building from the parking lot. This customer had a U.S. government contract that involved penalties of up to $1M a day for each day it was late on the contract. Our company did not do those types of contracts so there was no financial share the risk solution to this certain objection and possible condition of the sale. He asked me how he should respond if that question was asked. I suggested he pause to show he was thoughtfully considering it and then offer his home telephone number. We won the contract.

    I have also encouraged my reps to share stories among themselves about these joint calls. And, like Todd, I always do a debrief afterwards that includes feedback on what he or she would have liked me to do or not do. It’s a good learning experience for both of us.

  • In my mind the most dangerous people to do a joint call with are technical support people who all seem to have an almost overwhelming urge to tell the prospect everything, and I mean everything, about what is being sold.

    If there is a technical problem, production glitch, test failure, whatever, they feel compelled to share it with the prospect. it’s as though they’ve gone to confession.

    In my early years, before I learned to have the “shut-up” code word, I’d watch in horror as the deal-killing comment started at the feet and rose to the stomach then spewed out the technical person’s mouth, much to the horror of both the prospect and myself.

    There was usually nothing left to do but to get the bucket and mop and clean up the mess while trying to save the sale.

    I’m much wiser now.

  • John Fitzgerald

    Good comments by all
    One added comment is many companies like to bring a mob(4 to 8 management people) and if you don’t define roles and strategy in advance, it will get ugly fast. If I were the rep, I would have final say on who attends and who doesn’t and base it on whether they “add value to the customer” as criteria for attending the meeting.

    great selling
    John Fitzgerald

  • I agree with Brian. I have been burned many times by taking technical people on a sales call in spite of me saying not to discuss shortcomings in the product. I asked a couple of them why the did it. They answered that it was their credibility on the line. It became apparent to me that their credibility as individuals was more important than what was good for the company. I told them that I would discussing the issue with their supervisor and pointed out that preserving internal credibility was, in my opinion, was more important than saving face in one customer meeting. I too have developed a method of dealing with this during the meeting if it occurs.

  • P.S. I have never had this problem with engineers who are trained and part of a pre-sales group. It has always been with consulting or post-sales support personnel. All technical people need to get some basic education on preserving and reinforcing the customer’s perspective of the company and the sales account manager in particular. See an old, actually very old, John Cleese (Monty Python) customer training video “Who sold you this then?” The video is not too long and is hilarious as well as very educational. After a quick search on the Internet, it looks like you can download this video for free at

  • Nice post, and good comments too.

    One of the undertones in your blogpost is the value of being fairly transparent and direct. Holding up your finger with a nod is (excepting the occasional dissenter, as you note) pretty generally universal language for saying, politely, “I have something to add when you’re ready and it’s a appropriate.” That beats the heck out of some secret 3rd base coach signal that takes your partner off to secret-sign land and out of the conversation, and which runs the risk of looking very rude to the customer if they catch it. Which they will.

    The general principle is, have no secrets. If you do, it just means you’re hiding something, and that’s death to a customer. If on the other hand, you can speak clearly and openly even about disagreements between the two of you, it says you are open, honest, not pre-canned, and open to constructive dialogue all the time from all parties. Exactly what you want to convey.

    Thanks for a good post.

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