John Allenbach, President of Sales
John Allenbach, President of Sales

I started my career in sales at Stanley Tools, managing a territory in the South for 10 months. I then moved back to Black & Decker where I had started out in a service center when I was 18. Stanley and Black & Decker both had excellent commitments to sales training. As a salesperson for Black & Decker, I moved to eight cities in my first 10 years. I often think back to those days and the core sales skills I learned that I still use as president of sales here at AgoNow.

Whether you’re just getting started or you’ve been in sales for 30 years, it’s worth revisiting the basics from time to time. Sales is a craft – you have to constantly develop it. I’m a fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers,” in which he says you have to put in 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert. I have found a tried-and-true approach that, now strengthened by technology and data, has stood the test of time. It has helped me and my sales teams to get the most out of every sales call. I’d like to share it with you to help you continue to develop your sales skills and those of your team.

The sales call has three critical parts: the pre-call planning, the actual call and the follow-up. The mistake some salespeople make is that they just put their heads down on Monday morning and start their weekly route. They skip or put very little time into the pre-call. In reality, pre-call planning should make up about 60 percent of a salesperson’s time, with 10 percent at the call itself and 30 percent on follow-up.

Pre-call plan and objectives

Everything in sales seems to have an acronym and for a pre-call, it’s ECHO: Every Call Has Objectives. For any call – especially those that will move the needle for your company –document your objectives, as well as who is going to be in the room and what they care most about. You may even want to do a mini-SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) to better understand your position relative to your competitor’s. Take advantage of CRM technology in your preparation; review opportunities and your company’s history with that customer.

If you’re calling on an organization that you don’t know well, visit their website; find out as much about them as possible including their vision and core values as well as something about their market and end-users. Look up the people who you will be meeting with, whether on LinkedIn or in an article that may be have been published in an industry publication. If you have CRM, add those notes. Your goal is to make a connection. My wife frequently gives me trouble about the amount of sports I watch; but while I do love sports I also find that it gives me a way to make a connection with customers on a personal level. Knowing something about what is going in their community gives you that opportunity. It shows people you care more than just about their business.

Now go deeper. Today’s technology combined with the right data can help you to create a complete profile of your potential customer before you even step foot in their building. Pull data from your system on similar customers to better understand what they are buying. Tap data sources such as MDM Analytics to profile the customer segment; you may uncover categories that you may not have initially considered.

Also identify the influencers on the sale. Recognize the economic buyer, who gives the final approval; the user of the product or service you’re selling; the technical buyer, who judges the fit for the product or service for their organization; and the coach – your cheerleader at the organization who has helped you get in the door and walked you through what needs to happen to get the deal done. At the end of the day you have to really win them all over, and close all of them based on their needs.

How will you move the conversation toward accomplishing your objective, whether that be to set up a new meeting or close the million-dollar order? Be sure to ask questions that are high-gain and open-ended and result in active engagement from the customer. The customer will appreciate your preparation.

A sales manager can help with the pre-call planning by providing an opportunity to role play. Sometimes sales managers join a salesperson on the call, as well. When managers do join in calls, they should take care not to take power away from the salesperson; if it’s a small deal, it can be good to let your salesperson fail, which provides a coaching opportunity.

Actual sales call

If you’ve done your pre-call planning, the actual call should be straightforward. Make sure you know the players in the room, and understand your offer, including terms. Understand how your product or service aligns with the customer’s needs. Consider how technology can support your value proposition with that customer, as well. For example, they may place a high value on the ability to place orders and check order status online. A contractor may value mobile support, with the ability to order on an app while on a jobsite. Tracking inventory usage may be another area where you can add value.

Remember the acronym, ABC: Always Be Closing. It’s not just about closing the sale. If they aren’t far along in the sales cycle, you may be just focused on getting the next meeting, scheduling a demo or meeting another person in the company. It may feel awkward, but you need to get comfortable with  asking for the order. After all, that’s what the person sitting across from you expects. It’s why they’re giving you their time. Always ask for something to move the sales process forward.

Sales call follow-up

Follow-up can mean a lot of things. If you received an order, make sure that order is put into the system correctly: the right SKUs, pricing, terms, shipping directions and so on. I’ve seen salespeople throw the order over the fence to Customer Service and then they move on. Tether yourself to that order and make sure that everything happens correctly the first time. Take ownership throughout the process.

Document your sales call and follow-up in your CRM. It’s a powerful tool that is only as good as the effort you put in to it. The data you input this time around will make your next activity with that customer much more effective, helping you to not only close that individual sale but contribute to a pool of data that can be used to build a sustainable and profitable relationship. Sharing this data with your team also creates a consistent experience for your customer.

Whether you got the order or not, you’ll need to send a follow-up communication. Email is great, but take care you don’t come across as impersonal. Use email to create a connection. Be as specific as possible. Point out something you learned about the person that helps with that connection about their sports team, kids or a hobby like fishing, hunting, skiing, etc. Outline what was agreed to in the meeting on both sides and what you’re going to do to follow-up. Commit to dates and times that those things will be done and make sure it happens when you say it’s going to happen.

If nothing was agreed to in the meeting, a follow-up is still necessary. Simply send a message thanking them for their time. Rather than copy everyone in the meeting, it may be worth your time to send a specific more personal email to each person.

Sometimes, a letter or handwritten note is well worth the time; it’s a lost art and may be old school but it could be the thing that separates you from your competition – which may be just what you need to grow your business and take market share.

John Allenbach is president of sales at AgoNow. Contact him at or call 443-255-2488.