Meticulous Pre-Call Planning!

by Paul Castain on February 24, 2010

Today we are drinking from the fire hose  gang . . . no time for pleasantries, strap in!

Pre-Call, actually, Meticulous Pre-Call Planning is an area where each of us could stand to get a bit better. For the sake of this discussion, we will refer to the “call” as a first time, face to face meeting with a prospect.

Part I: Be A Good Detective

1)    Google: The individual, the company and the key players. While you are at it, set up a Google Alert for all 3 groups. Why? Because business moves at the speed of light and should something change during the sales cycle, you my friend are in the know. When I Google the individual, I’m not just looking for the everyday, easy to find stuff. My competitors are good for that. I look for the stuff that my competitors miss because they think its irrelevant.

Example 1: I once met with a prospect who I discovered had taken a 2 year sabbatical to travel the world, took pictures of his adventure and published a book about it. Has nothing to do with business right? Well riddle me this girlfriend, what’s everyone’s favorite subject these days? Gold star if you said them self! I didn’t stop there. I checked out the reviews on amazon and some tool really dissed my prospect . . . not on my watch! I created a bs handle and dissed the disser (pretty brutally too) When the right moment arrived (when my prospect was questioning the methodology I would be teaching his reps) I explained my philosophy regarding Meticulous Pre Call Planning. The dude called me out on it and asked what I knew about him. I brought up the book and asked him questions about it. He went on for 30 mins about that damn book but it gets better. At the end, I told him, I suppose my competitors knew that about you too so I went the extra mile. My prospect looked confused and confessed that no one asked him about the book. I told him I couldn’t take a chance on that and teach all my faithful Jedis not to either. I told him about that jackass on amazon who dissed him. He told me he knew about it. I invited him to look at it again particularly the comment from Imfreakinyoda. When he read the slap I gave the dude, he laughed so hard that to this day I am convinced he pissed his pants.  Its amazing how productive a meeting will turn out once everyone lightens up and lets their guard down!

Example 2: We once met with this she bitch who was absolutely miserable about life until we asked her about a little known website she created for a college project a few years back. It was this site all about coffee. When we asked her about it, she almost became emotional (yes, I know that’s odd but let’s find out why) With a lowered voice she explained to us that the reason she loved coffee so much was that she grew up on a coffee plantation with her Grandparents and to this day, whenever she smells coffee, it takes her back. That has nothing to do with business, so that’s just stupid, right? Well, it should come as no shock to you all that Uncle Paul leveraged that and knowing that scent is the number one trigger of memory I used a coffee scented ink in my proposal (just kidding, but that would be cool, no?) but I did, meet her for all the meetings after that at the local Starbucks. She soon replaced the tall drink of bitch she was serving with something more palatable and our deal regained momentum.

Note: You may use these things, you may not, but its always better to come prepared with something in your back pocket!

2)    Their Website: I like to look at the “About Us”, “Employment” “News” sections. I look for “Triggering Events” that is events, news items, movement of some type that I can tie a solution to later in the sales process. For now, I will tie a good, solid question to it to learn more and get my prospect talking.

3)    Hoovers: I like Hoovers because it will usually tell me about their competitors. Knowing the competitive landscape is never a bad thing. Worst case scenario, you get a few fresh prospects to dig deeper within the vertical.

4)    Pull Their 10k and 10q (if it’s a public company) by visiting This is a step many of your competitors will miss and it could make or break the sale. There are annual reports which tell you some things about the company, but its purely a “let’s show ‘em our good side” The 10k and 10q let’s you see the real company “warts and all”. Once again I’m looking for triggers such as poor earnings, strong earnings, trends, financial health etc.

5)     Industry specific websites. This is always a good step because it keeps your finger on the pulse of their industry, keeps you up to date on trends, buzz words, news etc. What are some of the challenges their industry is facing?

6)    Social Media Footprints: I check Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook and blogs with the understanding that like the other steps, one door will most likely open another and so on. It would absolutely blow your mind how careless some folks are about what they are Tweeting and posting. It can be a great source for info you won’t find in directories. It also allows you to get inside your prospect’s head.

Example: When I interviewed for my position at Dale Carnegie a few years back, I researched the interviewers like I was preparing for a trial. I found a powerpoint presentation one interviewer did for the Egyptian Chamber of Commerce. Probably a good idea to dismiss something like that, right? Wrong dude! That powerpoint gave me an opportunity to understand how the guy thought, terms he uses, philosophies and once again . . . an opportunity for him to talk about his favorite subject “himself”!

7)    Review All Notes from CRM: I don’t leave anything to chance. I want to know the history of the hunting of this account. Since I take copious freaking notes anyway, there might be a nugget in there I could have missed

8)    Identify Internal Resources That May Be Helpful: Perhaps its someone selling into that vertical, someone who has knowledge of the account, someone from the senior management team who can assist on the appt etc.

Part Dos:  Build Your Case!

Something Really Cool You Can Do: Print all the stuff you gather in step one. All the web pages, CRM notes, Industry specific websites etc and toss them all in a hard copy file. That file is important to have with you for showmanship purposes. That’s right. You need it on the table, front and center so your prospect can actually see something that is normally an intangible. After all, what does research look like anyway? Plus, I know most of my competitors won’t do it so I need every little difference I can create so eventually I will create one huge difference!

1)    Prepare Preliminary Questions Based On Your Research: This is one of my favorite things to do because 9 out of 10 times I won’t sound like my competitors. Many of them have a habit of using “canned/generic” questions that show no creativity and or due diligence. I spend so much time on this step, it actually becomes my obsession!

2)    Create Preliminary Discussion Points Based On Your Research: Once again, this is purely for the “back pocket” My first appointment needs to be 95% discovery, but its always good to have a few things of relevance to discuss.

3)    Prepare Appropriate Info and Samples: Again, Don’t really want to get into a presentation on the first appointment, but I want to be prepared. There is nothing worse than reaching for something to illustrate a point that isn’t as good as if you had thought it out ahead of time.

4)    Anticipate Questions & Possible Objections: Maybe this prospect was pressing me to give a price on the phone. Do you think they might press on the first appt? What’s the plan to handle that? Is it possible they might ask you who you’ve done business with in their industry? Perhaps you are a new rep and they ask how long you’ve been with the company. Are you prepared for them to push back if you only have a month in this industry?  These are all things that need to be thought out PRIOR to the appt!

5)    Run A “What If” Scenario: Admittedly, I’m a nut when it comes to this. Based on my research and/or history with the prospect I simply ask myself “What if ____________ were to happen?” You’d be surprised how often your instincts will serve you well!

Something Critical to The Process: I can’t emphasize this next point enough. I take the time to look at everything SUSPICIOUSLY! That is, what am I missing? I will actually ask myself that question repeatedly throughout the process! I have uncovered major pieces of information that were missing, all because I took the time to lose my ego and question my thoroughness!

If you recall, I mentioned that 95% of my first appointment is in fact finding mode. There’s still that other 5% where I need to wet their appetite a bit. Most of that should present itself through a thorough needs analysis, but I still need to come prepared to do something that most of my competitors suck at . . .

I’d tell you, but then you’d probably leave me, no cab fare on the night stand etc so lets tackle that one in Part 2 next week!

Until then . . . stay thirsty my friends!

Actually; hold on a sec . . .

This post represents just a handful of the more than 100+ sales tips I offer in my 8 week, online Sales School Program. If you found value in this post, please click here to see how this program can bring you to new levels of awesomeness!

  • Jim Powell

    Nice job dude – I hear you loud and clear,don’t be complacent and think you can sell on your outstanding personality alone.

    Can I point out their are two types of reseach that you cover here or more precisely two uses of the research you oulined

    1) About them – their favourite topic
    2) about there company and the problems they may be having – maybe not their favourite topic – but it is ours

    So 1) is for helping with bonding and rapport early doors, right? To help them feel confortable with you and get them away from meeting your standard sales person, who has his hand in your pocketr quicker than you can say, press real hard the second copy is yours.

    and 2) this is enables you to slowly move into what their issues are or maybe – and start to uncover how large those issues are and what they have tried to fix them thus far.

    Oh and prep isnt taking a presentation right Paul? Stage 1:- seek to undertand them !

  • Bill Morgan

    Nice info Paul. I would say 90% of sales reps (including myself) could do much more going into sales calls then we do.

    I’m also going to use this information to let job candidates on my blog to do the same type of research.

    Job seekers are salespeople tool.


    Bill Morgan
    The Job Swami Career Blog

  • DeborahTracy

    Good morning Paul,
    Very valuable information.
    As always, thank you for sharing your experience, knowledge and sense of humor.

  • Tom Pandolfo

    Hello Paul,
    Thanks for the pre-call planning info!

    I do check websites and linkedin but never thought to check Hoovers not just for the prospect but to be able to dig deeper within the vertical !

    Tom Pandolfo
    Nies/Artcraft Companies
    A Consolidated Graphics Company

  • Neil Wood

    Wow, this is my favorite Sales Playbook article yet and you’ve written MANY that I love!! Aswesome Paul!

    Thank you!

    Optimistically ~

  • Mikkel Moller

    Great article, more sales people should do this. If they did they would find that their closing rate would definitely increase.

  • Hank Trisler

    This stage of the sale is so often given short shrift, Paulie. You have done an amazing job of research and that will differentiate you in your marketplace like few other things. I particularly love the idea of setting Google alerts on the company and the players. That’s something that never would have occurred to an old yestertech guy like me.


  • neil donnelly

    Hi Paul
    Excellent stuff that has exposed come of my ‘not so strong areas’ around the research phase.
    Many thanks

  • Dan Bass

    Paul – Your blogs continually help me to keep the strategies and tactics for success foremost in my mind. You remind me of the basics, and challenge me to think beyond my comfort zone to how I can continue to improve. And you’re entertaining to boot! Thanks. Dan Bass

  • Marc Perramond

    Great post, Paul. I’ve already read it twice and I can tell I’m going to be mulling this over for a while.

    The process you describe in Part 1 above is the perfect advertisement for InsideView. Why? Because it’s time consuming to go to dozens of different sites and applications to do this level of research. Plus it reads like a laundry list of content sources we aggregate and analyze.

    Now you’re totally right about the value of this intelligence — you need it to be truly prepared (beyond your competitors) and to have a shot at getting the kind of results highlighted in your post. That said, not many reps have the time (correction: will *make* the time) to do this level of pre-call research. And that is our raison d’etre. It shouldn’t be so hard and time consuming to get relevant and actionable intelligence, right? And not only should a sales rep be able to get it all in one place, it should be served up to them in their existing workflow (e.g. CRM, email, etc.)

    It would be a cool experiment to shadow your current pre-call research routine to see what we’re missing, what we could streamline, how you relate the data, how you act findings, etc. Would you be open to capturing your pre-call research process in a screen cast?

    And BTWY, everything in Part 2 (the *application* of your research & the intelligence found) is awesome. It would be particularly valuable to our end users. If you buy the Sales 2.0 definitions that describe the application of “technology and process”, we’re squarely on the technology side of the house. We look to the sales methodology & sales training experts for best practices on the process side of the house.

    Thanks again, Paul.

  • Surjeet Kumar Singh

    Ever since I got into Sales, I have been doing some or other research about the kind of companies I visit and most of these pieces of information have something or other to relate with. Having these pre call surveys really get the client moving… a very nicely designed article with thoughts in place about the tiny pre requisites … good to go Paul!

  • Jess Robinson

    Brilliant Paul! Just goes to show that with a little extra effort we can separate ourselves from 90% of the pack. With a LOT of extra effort we can land in the 99th percentile. Looking forward to Part II.

  • Michael Cannon


    You are typical of the Dale Carnegie employee, informed and professional.

    NOW! What you provided in this article is real value.

    Thank you.

    At Cannon eInstitute we teach 18 processes of professional selling:

    1. Care
    2. Care
    3. Care
    4. Prepare
    5. Prepare
    6. Prepare
    7. …

    You hit the nail on the head – For every call you need to prepare. We have a Call Script Form we use. The first section of the form defines the “Communication Targets”. There are four categories:

    1. Emotional – What you want the called party to feel as a result of the call
    2. Functional – What you want the called party to do as a result of the call
    3. Positional – The importance you want the called party to place on the action you want him or her to take.
    4. Academic – What you want the called party to learn as a result of the call

    Only after you have set your communication targets do you then prepare three scripts: voice mail (82% of your calls will end up here), gate-keeper (12% of your calls will arrive here), and ear-to-ear (6% will actually get through if you call at the right time).

    OF course, the Ear-to-Ear is the most challenging script to prepare.

    You mentioned how to handle objections, barriers and obstacles. Those OBOs come up all the time in conversations, telephone calls and presentations. Rather than prepare for these contingencies for a telephone call, every sales professional should have an OBO index tied into Paradigm Shifting Scripts. We call this a QPSQ (Clarification Question, Paradigm Shift, Concurrence Question). When a call script is prepared, the sales professional merely refers to the index number for each objection, barrier or obstacle he or she anticipates. It is much easier than trying to script them into every call.

    Every example you gave demonstrates how to research to gain personal information that will facilitate rapport development. As you put it, everything you can learn about your prospect is relevant.

    Thank you again for your contribution to your profession.


    Michael L. Cannon
    President and Professor
    Cannon eInstitute

  • Dan Hebert

    Thank you Paul,I’m going to prepare a script based on this lesson and have pads made up! Thanks for the class. Dan “you can call me Herb” Hebert

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  • Lindsay Garrison

    Google Alerts – check;
    Review the prospect’s website – check;
    Maintain and review notes in CRM system – check;
    Seach social media – check;
    Pull their 10k and 10q and research Hoovers – Whoops. Wasn’t even on my radar to do that – but it is now.

    [My social media discovery was the video of the company president participating (as in, on the runway) in a lingerie fashion show when she was in college. Yowzah.]

    Thanks so much for this outstanding article!

  • Sales Training `

    Here’s another idea that will help when making sales calls. Set a Commitment Objective for every call you make.

    Commitment Objective: A goal we set for ourselves to gain agreement from the customer that moves the sales process forward.

    In other words, what do you want the potential customer to commit to do? No sales call should ever be made without a Commitment Objective.

    You may have any number of legitimate goals for a client call, such as exploring the customer’s needs or finding out who the real decision-makers are in a prospect’s company. But your Commitment Objective must be something you want the customer to agree to do. The Commitment Objective is not always to “get an order.” Sometimes you may want a commitment to attend a demonstration, to schedule another meeting with all decision-makers present, to grant you primary-supplier status, etc. But the commitment must be for something that will move the sales process forward and bring you closer to the ultimate goal. You must not only plan to gain such a commitment, you must ask for it – in every call you make.

    To Your Success

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