Five Questions to Ensure a Successful Sales Call

In his book, Spin Selling, Neil Rackham defines the four outcomes of any sales call:

  1. Win – the customer makes a firm commitment to buy
  2. Advance – the sales process moves forward towards a decision
  3. Continuation – the sales process continues, but does not move forward
  4. Loss – the customer actively refuses a commitment

The first two are successes; the last two are failures. It is important to realize that “continuation” is the worst outcome. With a continuation, our salespeople continue to waste time and effort for no real gain. At least with a loss, our salespeople can move onto another prospect or customer.

So, how successful are salespeople in making sales calls? Not very well I am afraid.

According to Forrester Research:

“89% of all sales calls fail.”

Yikes!! Think of it. Our salespeople are out there day after day working hard. Yet, nearly 90% of all the sales calls that they make do not lead to more business or an advance. What a colossal waste of time, energy, and resources!!

To improve our salespeople’s odds of success with each sales call, we need to ensure that they are asking five simple questions.

1. Is the Sales Call Necessary?

Many of the busiest salespeople do the least amount of business. They spend all day on sales calls that have no real chance of success. Popping in to say “hi” to a current customer and chatting about sports is not a necessary sales call. The best salespeople focus on the sales calls where their presence is needed. They can do a lot of work checking in with customers over the phone, then coming to visit when the customer needs something or when the salesperson has a new opportunity or something of substance to discuss with the customer.

2. What is the Goal of the Sales Call?

Before any sales call, the best salespeople have a goal for the call and a plan to achieve that goal.

  • Why am I visiting with this customer?
  • What can I do to make this sales call a success?

This preparation does not need to take much time. Even 15 minutes of groundwork for each call will work wonders in improving the salesperson’s overall level of success. Even if the goal of the call is to give bad news or just to collect money, a plan of action will help ensure that the salesperson furthers the relationship and makes lemonade out of (what would otherwise be) a sales call lemon.

3. How Do I Add Value to the Customer?

The sales call is not about the salesperson, it is about the customer. WII-FM (What’s in it for me). The best sales people focus their attention and effort on helping the customer succeed with their business. In doing so, they seldom prepare presentations. Instead, they prepare questions to determine the customer hot buttons; the problems that the salesperson can uniquely solve; the issues where the salesperson can give insight and add value.

4. How Do I Build Trust?

Successful salespeople build great relationships with their customers. Great relationships are built on a bedrock of trust. So, one purpose of every sales call is to further build the trust that the customer has in the salesperson. To build this trust, our sales people need to:

  • Know and Understand the Customer: With LinkedIn, the internet and a little research, we should know plenty about our prospective customers. For current customers, we should be constantly updating our notes about them.
  • Do What They Say: This includes specifically committing to do something and then doing it. It includes always following up.
  • Admit Mistakes and Take Responsibility for These Mistakes: This includes taking responsibility for failings of the company and not blaming others. The salesperson’s mantra needs to be:

    “It may not be my fault. But, it is my responsibility. And I will commit to solving this problem for you.”

  • Be Honest and Acknowledge Weaknesses: No company can be the best at everything. By admitting that our company may not be the right supplier for one product or service, our best salespeople significantly enhance their credibility on those products and services where we are the best supplier.

5.  How Did I Do?

After the sales call, salespeople, like all professionals, need to quickly review (if only for 5 minutes) how they did in order to continue to improve.  They need to ask themselves:

  • Did I achieve my goal for the call?
  • Did I add value?
  • Did I build trust?
  • What could I have done better?
  • What will I do differently next time?


It is incumbent upon us as business leaders to get our salespeople to ask and answer these five simple questions for each sales call. By doing so, we will see a significant increase in our sales team’s effectiveness and their sales numbers.


About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
This entry was posted in Improve / Turnaround, Perform / Execution, Sales and Marketing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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