Tuesday, May 05, 2015

One Question That Will Improve Your Business Call Preparation

I'm in sales. Sales people have sales calls. These calls are usually with other people called who the industry has labeled "leads" or "prospects" or sometimes the militaristic term "targets." They represent the possibility of a new client, bringing fresh business to the company.

I also perform account management. Account managers work with existing clients to expand business opportunities that make sense for the client. This is done through building trusting relationships over time. And it is also done through calls or meetings.

Today, as with most days, I wore both hats. I had a sales call and a call with an existing client with whom I'm helping launch the next phase of their project. Each of these calls were planned with at least 24 hours notice, so there was time to prepare. And I prepared with all the information I had based on the pre-call communication. For the sales call in particular, I prepared as if I was going to be speaking one-on-one to an individual as that often ends up being the case and all our e-mail exchanges pointed to that.

But both calls, at least in my estimation fell short. Why? Because I forgot to ask one simple question that would have affected all my preparation:

Will anyone else be joining our call?

That's it. 

When I jumped on the sales call, I was put on speakerphone and was surprised that three other people besides the person I was communicating with were joining us. Now, it was right for that person to bring the others in; they were vital to help me understand the scope of the project. The problem was, for me, that I didn't prepare for a conversation with a group of people, all of whom held different roles and brought a different perspective to what needed to get done on that call. For the call with the existing account, I didn't ask the question and ended up being on a call with roughly 10 people who were in three different locations! In hindsight, I wish I had asked this question and want to make it a practice every time I set up calls or meetings. I think it is a great practice in a sales role, but I can see it applying to any job or role where you are required to setup calls or hold meetings.

There are five reasons I think "will anyone else be joining our call?" could make us better at our work, whether it be sales or something else:
  1. It kills assumptions: I'm of the school that believes we are all more effective at our work the less we assume something to be true. The more we ask questions to clarify expectations, expand understanding, or to settle on agreement, the better we all are at what we do. Just because I'm communicating with an individual and setting up a meeting with that person, it is wrong for me to assume that it will just be us talking. And it's up to me to make sure who is involved, not the prospect or client. This question kills the assumption and gets expectations out in the open. And when I say I'm of the "school" I mean elementary school because I have a long way to go here.
  2. It is a disarming approach: It is a general question, but clear. It works better than something more direct like "Do you have anyone else joining our call?" or "Do you want anyone else to join the call?" The former can make the person defensive ("No.") and the second can make the person insecure ("Should I?"). 
  3. You can prepare for specific people: If the person says, "Yes, others will be joining the call," you can get more of the specifics on who they will be and prepare by looking them up on LinkedIn or Twitter if you don't know them. If you do, then you know what to expect out of the call more clearly, whether that brings you joy or shudders of horror!
  4. You can prepare specific questions: This is perhaps most important. If you know others are joining the call, say someone from marketing or finance or IT, you can prepare questions that specifically pertain to the people in those roles. This is a good practice to help everyone contribute to the call and it allows you to build trust quickly.
  5. You can suggest certain others join if possible: I've done this a few times and I think it is a good way to show leadership. If someone says, "No, no one else is joining the call at this point," you could recommend certain individuals to be on the call to get make the most of everyone's time. For example, if I'm interacting with someone from IT and he or she is speaking on behalf of the company, I have asked to bring a sales person in on the call so I can ask more direct questions pertaining to the sales team, questions I know the IT person cannot answer. Most of the time this has been met favorably and has resulted in more fruitful conversations. Asking "will anyone else be joining our call?" opens up the door to make that suggestion.
This isn't a promise to make you the best ever or that you will change the world; it's a simple suggestion that I believe will help anyone who reads this get just a bit better at a craft that involves calls and meeting. And those incremental steps can make a big difference over the long haul. So try it out, see what happens, and let me know if you would add or change anything!

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