During A Joint Sales Call, Are You A Potted Plant?

Before we started a recent training program on Sales Call Planning and Execution we asked the participants to tell us what they would like to achieve from the training. There was one question that arose from several of the participants. It was as follows: “How do you avoid having people from your organization go on sales calls with you when all they do is take over the sales call and not let you talk or worse yet, attend the sales call but not say anything except hello and goodbye.

Since we have both observed this situation and answered the question in previous workshops, we were happy to answer it. Here is our response. We call it the Potted Plant because someone is planted in the chair and does nothing!

Our Response

This is a theme that we stress frequently: sales calls must be carefully planned to be effective. Every sales call is a live performance that involves an investment of your customer’s most valuable commodity…their time.

Every sales call or meeting has an underlying business rationale. Either the customer or the sales representative has an interest or need that is being served by the meeting. There are two questions that every sales representative should use as the foundation for a call plan:

  1. What business interest underlies my customer’s investment in this call?
  2. In what ways will this call enhance my position to win a specific sales opportunity or to strengthen relationships that may prove vital to a future opportunity?

Planning is especially important when the sales representative has someone else from the selling organization on the call. Most often a joint sales call is undertaken for one of the following reasons:

  • A manager is doing a routine ride-along
  • Someone from product service is attending the call to discuss a service related problem
  • A product manager or technical specialist is attending the sales call to obtain customer experience, knowledge and insight or to provide expertise
  • A key account review is being performed

Let’s look at each situation and a sample solution.

Ride –Along

It’s not uncommon for managers to do routine ride-alongs with their direct reports. In fact, it’s a best practice that provides the manager an opportunity to mentor and coach the sales representative. The key to success is to orchestrate the call jointly. The sales representative has to conduct the sales call in order to establish or maintain credibility. Sales representatives serve as the contact point for the customer or prospect. The sales representative should introduce their manager and state why he/she is present. The manager should ask enough questions to be a part of the conversation without dominating the call. Their role is to observe their sales representative in action. If a manager takes over the sales call they inadvertently make the sales representative a Potted Plant!

Service-Quality Issue

Products occasionally fail and our response times and associated repair costs may exceed customer expectations. When this occurs, it may be necessary to bring in a product or technical resource to provide additional clarity, respond to specific questions and offer resolution. If this is required it is important that the sales representative and the service specialist act in concert so that the customer sees them working together and not at odds. If the service specialist dominates the call the sales representative is left looking like a Potted Plant.

Marketing-Technical Specialist

When someone from product marketing or a technical specialist who lacks field experience participates in a sales call, they oftentimes succumb to a tendency to sit back, listen and take notes. Since no specific role has been defined, they fail to interject themselves into the conversation. It’s easy for the product marketing or technical specialist to feel intimidated. If they do not contribute to the conversation in a meaningful way, the customer may view them as a Potted Plant. After the sales call the customer will want to know why they were present and why your company is spending money having them travel with you. This lessens your credibility and the credibility of your company.

Key Account Review

The account manager is responsible for the account and should always initiate and conduct the account review. We have all seen a senior manager take over an account review by asking questions and then answering them on behalf of his/her company. While the conversation can be meaningful and create a dialogue that is welcomed, the senior manager may inadvertently dominate the call and position himself/herself as the point of future contact. As a result, the call diminishes the role of the account manager and makes the account manager appear to be a Potted Plant.

An Ounce of Prevention

Always plan the joint sales call in advance. Yes, that means writing out a carefully crafted and thorough sales call plan. It also means that the rhythm and cadence of the sales call should be discussed in advance so that each person knows their role and is reminded of what they should say and not say during the interaction. They should also agree on a verbal or visual cue that allows for a transition from one person to another. Following the joint sales call a verbal de-brief should occur to discuss what went well and what could be improved. This should be an open and honest exchange that is meant to be beneficial to the sales representative and the company representative.

Parting Thoughts

In our opinion sales calls are too important to be left to chance. This is especially true when it is a joint sales call. They should be carefully planned. Sales professionals always have a written plan—they’re never accused of “winging it.”

As always we welcome your thoughts and opinions.