Set some ground rules for your sales calls

After weeks of discussions with assistants, Maria finally succeeded in connecting voice-to-voice with Bill, the chief executive of LargeCo.
Maria’s boss had been pressuring her to get in the door at Bill’s company for several months. She’d been leaving voicemails and sending email messages for weeks.
“I do appreciate your persistence, Maria,” Bill said, “and you’ve definitely done your research. I’m about to go into my next meeting, but I took this call to tell you that I did listen to your messages and I did read your emails. Tell me what you have in mind.”
What an opportunity! Here was the chance to start a discussion with the CEO of one of the top companies in the industry. Something in the back of Maria’s head said, “This could be big. Don’t push too hard. Don’t lose this.”
Here’s what happened:
Maria: “Bill, I’ll be in your area next Tuesday. I’d like to drop by and tell you a little bit about how we can help you reduce your production-line defect rates.”Bill: “Sure. I should be around in the afternoon. Come on by.”
And with that, Bill hung up.

When Maria showed up on Bill’s doorstep the following Tuesday, though, she learned that Bill had been called away to give a presentation at an industry conference in another city. After that, Bill would be on vacation for three weeks. Could Maria check back in when he returned? Maria was right back to square one. Her instinct not to “push” Bill, not to “lose” anything, was an expensive one. She didn’t have anything to lose yet.

Suppose her conversation had gone in a different direction. Consider this possible dialogue:
Maria: “Well, Bill, based on what you’ve just said, I believe we can help you reduce your production-line defect rates. Honestly, though, I’m not sure right now whether what we’ve done for other companies facing the same kinds of challenges would work as well for you – since I don’t have all the specifics of your situation. But, if it would work, would it make sense to find that out?”

Bill: “Of course.”

Maria: “I believe so, too. Why don’t you pick a day to invite me over when we can invest an hour with each other and determine whether there’s a fit. During the meeting, it would be helpful if you could provide me with some of the details about what you’re doing now to reduce defects, and perhaps share some examples of your production line’s quality problems. Would you be comfortable sharing some info on that when we get together?”

Bill: “Sure.”

Maria: “Now, I’m sure you’ll also have some questions for me about how we work, which I’ll do my best to answer. After which, you can tell me if you even want the kind of help we provide. And, if you don’t, that’s OK. On the other hand, if you do, we’ll have to talk further about what the next steps are. Perhaps we’d have to schedule another time to do that – but let’s not jump too far ahead. Why don’t we first see if there’s a fit, and then you can tell me if you want to take the next step? Are you OK with that?”

Bill: “Sure. Can you come in tomorrow around 8:30 a.m.?”

In the conversation you just read – the one Maria should have had – both sides have agreed to an up-front contract. This is simply an agreement between you and the prospect (or customer) about what will happen during an upcoming interaction. It’s comparable to an umpire describing the ground rules of the stadium to a pair of managers right before a baseball game. Everybody understands and agrees to the rules of the game that’s about to be played.

Your most productive sales discussions with prospects are likely to involve multiple up-front contracts. The most important one, however, is the first one. It sets up the whole relationship. You’ve got nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by establishing an up-front contract with your prospect!

Bob Bolak, president of Sandler Training in Boulder, can be reached at 303-376-6165 or


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