Sales call planning: What to do before picking up the phone

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Author photo: Kimberlee Meier

Kimberlee Meier


Any salesperson worth their salt knows that the key to closing on a sales call is a careful, strategic plan.

Long gone are the days where you can just dial a lead’s number and hope for the best. Closing a deal now requires you to not only qualify if your lead is even worth chasing, but also get to know them intimately.

This means finding out what their goals are and how you can help them realize that your product will be a key factor in your lead achieving them.

That process—everything leading up to picking up the phone and calling a lead—is called sales call planning.

So, now you know your secret sauce to close your leads is a well-researched plan and strategy before you even pick up the phone. Let's get cooking.

Plan your call from beginning to end.

Failing to plan is planning to fail.

Here are a few tips to master sales call planning and improve your chances of converting leads.

a sales call planning checklist

1. Qualify your lead.

Before you even pick up the phone, you should make sure to qualify the lead you’re chasing. If you know they’re genuinely interested in your product, you have a better chance of closing the deal and you won’t be wasting time on dead ends.

Are they actually interested?

The best way to qualify a lead before you’ve spent too much effort on them is to see if they’ve shown a level of interest your product, or more importantly, have shown an intent to purchase.

To figure this out, you just need to take a look at their behavior on your website.

hotjar heatmaps
For example, Hotjar's heatmaps show you where people click on your website, how far down a page they scroll, and more.

What are your leads clicking on? If it’s free e-books or webinars, then they may be showing a mild interest in your product and content.

But if they’ve looked at other stuff like product demos, testimonials from current clients, and your pricing page… you could be on to a hot lead!

What's their normal timeframe to purchase a product and does it fit your goals?

This might not seem like the most important step, but figuring out your lead’s sales cycle can make sure they actually fit into your sales strategy.

The lead needs to fit into your sales goals as much as you need to fit into theirs. Research a ballpark figure that represents how long it normally takes your lead to purchase a product.

If you find out that your lead typically lets a sales team sweat for two months before closing in the third, and your sales strategy is to close 5 new leads every quarter, then the lead is a good prospect for you to follow up on.

Have they been honest about their company's intentions and scalability?

Another point to check off in order to make sure you have genuine leads on your list.

Figuring out whether or not a lead has been honest with you is important to make sure they aren’t going to suck away your precious time and sales budget without closing a deal.

If your client has said they want to build their company to X amount of revenue and scale it to a certain size, obviously your sales call is going to reflect how your product can help them achieve their goals.

But if they haven’t been completely clear with their intentions or the current position of their company in the first place, it might be best asking whether your product is going to be a fit for them at all. A bit of background research on the company should be able to give you a ballpark idea of where the company is at currently and where they might be heading in the future (which we will get to in step #2 below).

Like we said above, the lead needs to fit into your goals as much as you need to fit into theirs. Don’t be afraid to let go of leads—it’ll leave you with a better chance of closing leads that have actually been qualified.

2. Create your own sales call checklist.

There are some key steps you need to take once you’ve qualified your lead before you pick up the phone. Here are some ideas of what to put on your sales call checklist.

a. Research the company and the lead.

Take your time to research the company and the actual lead you’ll be making initial contact with. Don’t go in just knowing a little bit and try to figure out the rest by talking to them—knowing more than your lead anticipates can show them you’re invested in them and want to help them achieve their goals.

This can make it easier to start up the conversation and steer it in directions you need it to go.

But more importantly, it can create ways to show your leads how your product can help them with their specific problems instead of just drowning them with generic suggestions.

Research the company through avenues like their own website and social media accounts. You can also delve into the background of your lead by using sites such as Linkedin, personal social media, and possibly their own profile on the company website to get more in-depth insight.

Let’s say you are looking to sell something to Microsoft… so you go straight to the top and target Bill Gates. Two clicks on Google will give you access to his Twitter and Linkedin accounts—with very different research results.

bill gates twitter account

As you can see from his Twitter, Gates has a load of photographs and tweets that could give you an insight into his thought processes. On top of that, he has another linked site,, that could give you some great research material as well.

His Linkedin account will give you a totally different insight into who he is and his position in his current company.

bill gates linkedin profile

Already, it is quite clear not only is he is a key decision maker in the company (hint: co-chair is up there!), but also what university he attended along with his other interests.

This is all gold when researching a lead in order to break down that crucial first barrier when you make your first call.

b. Establish a goal for the call.

It’s crucial that you have a final goal for the call before you dial, and this will change depending on where your lead is in the sales funnel.

Let’s say you’re trying to close a new lead. The call will be handled very differently compared to a call where you’re trying to upsell an existing contract.

If you’re closing a new lead, your call will focus on your lead’s concerns, problems, and how your product is the best solution.

However, if you’re trying to upsell an existing contract, the call should probably be focused on how your product is working with the company at the moment and how you can help them further with your new offering.

Write down your overall aim before you pick up the phone so your main intention doesn’t get lost.

c. Plan your questions carefully and show your lead you have a genuine interest.

This step will piggyback on the hard work you did in researching your lead and their company, and it shows them you’re really interested in solving their issues.

This is your chance to map out not only the specific problems the lead’s company has, but also how your product can solve them (which ideally nobody else’s does).

The best way to do this is to write yourself a short list of questions—but be careful to make sure your conversation doesn’t read like a script.

Have open-ended questions and be ready to follow up when the time is right.

Remember, you already know the lead through your research… so don’t be afraid to stray from your question list and let the conversation flow. You’ll get to really hear their deepest problems and desires.

d. Know your lead’s main competitors.

This point on your checklist once again tells the lead that you’ve done your research and you care.

Knowing their competitors will allow you to point out what they’re doing right (or not-so-right). By knowing this, you can then customize how you sell your product by targeting your lead’s problems specifically.

Getting to know a lead’s competitors is a crucial step that a lot of sales teams push aside, but if you do this well, it’ll show your lead that you’re not only interested but you also understand their business inside and out.

This will reassure them and really help to build a sense of trust that can push your sale over the line.

e. Anticipate objections—and have a plan to diffuse them.

"It’s too expensive. I don’t want to commit to a contract. I’m getting a good deal with your competitor."

Like it or not, every single sales call will come with objections. But, if you plan your call correctly and are ready with the right answers, objections can actually be a brilliant piece to your sales strategy.

If you’ve been at the company for a while, you should be able to make your own list of the most common sales objections that you hear from prospects you’re trying to close.

If not, you can ask others on your sales team what walls they hit when they try and close a lead. From there, you can make a list and map out the appropriate response before you call your lead.

Let’s say one of the responses you get from prospects over the phone is they don’t want to enter into a 12-month contract. If you anticipate this before the call, when they raise the issue of contracts, you’ll have already planned to offer them a month-to-month option or even a quarter-to-quarter payment plan—until they’re happy with your product.

You can then move them on to an annual contract once you’ve earned their trust.

f. Use a CRM to keep the process slick.

Using a CRM in your sales call planning can keep the process organized, on track, and streamlined. It’ll show you if a lead has been qualified or not, and also what part of the sales cycle they’re at. (Have they been closed or are they ready to be upsold?)

A tool like Copper can allow everyone on your sales team to collaborate when trying to close a deal, as well as make sure leads aren’t doubled up on or being sold on something they aren’t quite ready for.

Have you created your sales call planning checklist yet?
crm sales planning with copper

Remember, sales call planning is a two-part process. First and just as important as the call itself is making sure your lead is ready to be sold on your product. Once you’ve qualified (or disqualified) your lead, you can then move along to researching them or removing them from your sales funnel.

By researching your lead and their company, you can customize your sales call so it fits with your lead’s goals and desires—and more importantly, give yourself the best chance to create trust between yourself and your lead.

Only then can you anticipate their concerns about your product, have good answers ready, and give yourself the best chance to close the deal and bring them on board.

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