Whether you’re making outbound cold calls or preparing for a scheduled discussion with a new prospect, the last think you want to do is sit down and dial without any preparation.  Successful selling, primarily over the phone but in field sales environments as well, has as much to do with preparation as it does with your natural skills in reacting to the situation unfolding before you.

The good news is that, with practice and the right tools, preparing for your next sales tool can take just a few minutes, and will have a significant impact on your conversion rate and success.  Here are a few tips.

What does success look like?  Have a clear image of what success looks like at the end of the call, both for you and for your prospect.  What next steps do you want from the call?  Based on your knowledge of the prospect (or at minimum your expectation of their needs if they’re indeed qualified), what do you anticipate they would consider a successful outcome of your conversation?  This includes both progress made during the call as well as expectations and an anticipation of what’s to happen after the call (including next steps, promises and deliverables on either end).  With this success explicitly in mind, you can ensure your call is always focused or getting back on track to meet that outcome.

Have you done your homework?  What do you know about your prospect?  What they’re thinking, what they care about, what they’ve recently done or written, who they know that you might also know?  Take advantage of tools such as LinkedIn and Gist to quickly do your homework and customize parts of your pitch to improve the likelihood that you’ll achieve that mutually-successful outcome.

Why would the prospect take your call?  Your prospect is busy, and either didn’t anticipate your call (if you’re cold calling) or was nice enough to give you a few minutes out of their busy schedule (in anticipation of something you might give them of value). For the qualified prospect, knowing what’s keeping them so busy (what their primary focus areas are right now) and what you have to contribute to that is key to getting and keeping their attention.  If you can’t answer this question, or you identify early in the call that you don’t have something to contribute to their priorities, the prospect is likely not qualified.  Politely end the call so you can both give yourselves back the valuable time.

What does your first 10 seconds sound like?  You can’t script a sales call word for word, but you can script the first 10 seconds.  It’s what you say immediately to get the prospect’s attention and earn the right to continue.  Especially when cold calling, your prospect is more likely to blow you off than give you a couple minutes.  Those first few seconds are critical to not only determining if the prospect is worth your continued time, but also to ensure what you’re talking about is important enough for the prospect to continue the conversation.

How will you immediately follow-up?  The conversation goes well, and next steps have been planned.  Do you follow-up right away, or wait until later?  There’s value in batching follow-up activities together after multiple sales calls, but I believe the value of immediate follow-up outweighs the efficiency of batching.  Getting the next meeting on the prospect’s calendar, or sending the follow-up information immediately (when they’re likely still at their desk and in their email), gives you a higher likelihood that next steps on the prospect’s end will be followed.  It also shows the prospect that you’re on the ball, a professional, someone they can take seriously.

How quickly can you get ready for the next call?  Cold calling is hard.  Grinding through a slug of calls, cold or planned, takes focus and discipline.  It’s extremely easy to get off of your last call, especially if it went well, and defocus.  It’s easy to get up, get some more coffee, do a victory lap and tell others or your manager about your progress.  But the best thing to do is complete your next steps, then start the whole process over again.  Get back on the phone, and keep building your pipeline.  Promise yourself a break, or some small reward, after staying focused for the next 60 minutes.  I guarantee you’ll be far more productive and happy with your results.