5.1 Setting Objectives: Getting SMART about Sales Calls

Identifying your prospect’s need is only part of your pre-approach research. There’s still more research and planning for you to do before you meet with or speak to the customer.

Determine Your Objectives

If you haven’t determined what you hope to achieve before going into your sales call, it will be difficult to figure out what to say once you arrive or once you have your prospect on the phone. Setting precall objectives – goals that are determined for the sales call before the call is made is a strategically important step. If you have clear goals, you will be more confident and appear more organized, and it’s more likely that you will see results. Your customers are busy people, and you don’t want to waste their time. They will appreciate your organization and will be more likely to trust your judgment if you come prepared. You also don’t want to waste your time or your company’s time. According to Hoovers, the average sales call costs a company nearly $400 (Duncan, 2006).

Success doesn’t always mean closing the sale. In some situations, you’ll experience a one-call close, a sales call that results in a sale after one call. But with larger sales, particularly in B2B sales, the sales cycle, or the length of time it takes to go from the first contact with the customer to closing the sale, is generally longer—sometimes even taking up to a year or longer. Consider Telegraph Hill Robes, a San Francisco-based company that sells bathrobes to upscale hotels with spas. Buying enough bathrobes to stock a hotel spa is a large investment, one that most customers have to carefully consider. The sale has to clear with two contacts at every company: the general manager and the head of housekeeping. As a result, when Telegraph Hill first started selling its product in 1996, its average sales cycle was two years (Greco, 2007).

If you know that you are facing a longer sales cycle, the goal of your initial call might be gathering and conveying specific information to move forward in the sales process or further qualify your prospect. According to Gary Duncan, principal of the sales training organization Leadership Connections, “In more complex sales it’s realistic to set a precall objective of establishing rapport and trust, making new contacts in the organization, qualifying your prospect’s budget, or discovering what your prospect’s decision-making process is. For instance, you might decide you want to find out who your prospect’s current vendors are, any issues your prospect has with the services she is receiving, and what her goals are for future purchases” (Duncan, 2006). You should also consider your prospect’s objectives: what outcome is she hoping for from this call?

Sometimes, setting strategic, information-gathering objectives may actually help you shorten your overall sales cycle. Take Acumen, a company that sells high-capability accounting software to corporations. Originally, the company’s sales cycle lasted around nine months. However, once the company became more strategic in its precall planning, designing a system of rigorous qualifying questions that its salespeople had to resolve before making a sales pitch, Acumen actually decreased its average sales cycle to somewhere between three and six months. Asking detailed questions during early sales calls allowed the company to cut back on the time it wasted brainstorming solutions and making sales pitches for underqualified leads (Greco, 2007).

Make Your Objectives SMART

So it’s early in the process of a complex sale, and you are setting your goals for your next meeting with your customer. You know it will primarily be an information-gathering session because you need to know more before you can propose a workable, specific solution. However, if you go into the meeting with a vague plan like “I want to find out more about my prospect’s business,” you won’t accomplish much (Skills Connection, 2008).

Instead, you might come up with a goal similar to the one mentioned earlier: “By the end of this meeting, I want to know who my prospect’s current vendors are, what issues or challenges he faces with this vendor’s services, and what three priorities he has for future purchases.” This objective, like all effective precall objectives, is SMART – an acronym to identify the elements of a successful sales goal: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-bound. That is, the goal is Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-bound (Virtual Strategist, 2008).

  • Specific. The goal should clearly define which actions you want your customer to take, what information you hope to convey, and/or what information you hope to learn from your sales call. In the example cited by Gary Duncan, the salesperson is setting out to gather three specific pieces of information.
  • Measurable. You want to be able to measure the results of your efforts so that you’ll know at the end of your sales call how close you came to achieving what you set out to do. This will help you strategize about which actions to take next. The first two parts of the example are measurable with a simple yes or no (Did I find out the names of the current vendors? Did I identify issues and challenges my customer has encountered?), and the last part of the goal is quantifiable (How many of my customer’s priorities was I able to help him articulate?).
  • Actionable. If a goal is actionable or attainable, it’s something you can actually do. It might involve asking questions, explaining something, or suggesting something. Whatever the case, it should be something on which you have the ability to act. In some instances, the actionable goal might be as simple as closing the sale: “By the end of the meeting, I plan to convince my prospect to sign a contract.”
  • Realistic. If you set your goal too high or try to move your sales process along too quickly, you will only be setting yourself up for disappointment and failure. Ask yourself, “What can I reasonably hope to accomplish given the current situation with my prospect?” If you decide you want to get appointments with ten top people in the organization during your first contact with the company, or if you intend to close a major account by your first call, you will probably not be able to achieve what you set out to do.
  • Time-bound. Not only should you know what you hope to achieve, but you should also know when you hope to have it accomplished. In the example objective, your time frame is “by the end of the sales call.” Other times, you might set a specific date—for example, “Get the prospect to agree to schedule a face-to-face meeting by the 15th.”
Table 5.1.1 SMART Objectives





















SMART objectives give you the power to sell strategically by setting goals you can achieve. Another powerful tool is the simple act of putting your goals down in writing. Not only are you likely to make a stronger commitment to your goals when you have them on paper, but you will also be able to use your written goals for reference later on—even during the sales call if you need to (Chitwood, 1997).

Table 5.1.2 Examples of SMART Objectives

SMART Objectives

Objectives that are not SMART

Complete at least 25 cold calls to qualified prospects by September 1, 2020. Conduct as many sales calls as possible as soon as possible.
Increase sales of waffle wraps to chain grocery stores by 8% over last year by December 31, 2020. Sell as many waffle wraps as possible this year.
Convert 33% of leads to customers within 30 days of initial contract. Convert some leads every day so that you always have new customers.
Follow up with every prospect and customer within 48 hours of sales call. Follow up with every prospect or customer after a sales call.


Video: “How to Get Better Results From Your Sales Meetings” by SkillsConnectionTV [6:54] Transcript available

“7.3 Identify Precall Objectives: Getting Smart about Your Sales Call” from Selling For Success 2e by NSCC and Saylor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

“Chapter 8 The Preapproach: The Power of Preparation” from Sales BA 121 by Lumen Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


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