Lisagor: Make it short and sweet

Columnist Michael Lisagor offers guidelines for sales calls.

I usually see both sides of an issue — my way and why can't they see my way? But when it comes to making sales calls, there usually is a right and a wrong way. Here are some guidelines based on the many mistakes I've made over the years:

Be prepared and do your homework before requesting a visit.

Assess the buyers' needs, not your wants.

Establish a personal rapport; find common interests.

Remember, a first impression is often lasting.

Uncover their areas of concern — what keeps them up at night?

Make your overview pitch as short as possible.

Watch for body language. If there is no interest, change the subject.

Don't promise what you can't deliver.

Try a trial close — anticipate objections, but don't push.

Follow up or someone else will.

Finally, in the interest of putting government

customers out of their misery, I offer my First Annual Sales Call Quiz for industry and government salespeople. What is the most effective way to work with potential clients? Select "a" or "b" from each of the scenarios and then check below to see how you did.

1a) Hello, Mr. GS-15 Government Contracts Director. I would like to tell you all about my agency's contracting services.

1b) Thank you for taking the time to see me. You recently had 17 programs receive Office of Management and Budget approval, and I am wondering what contracting approach you will be implementing.

2a) Ms. Chief Information Officer, I didn't have time to learn about your agency, but I'd just like to begin by making a 50-slide presentation to explain my company's services.

2b) Ms. CIO, I was hoping I could ask you some questions about your information technology needs based on my research into your agency's mission.

3a) I understand you have been a little unhappy that my company replaced all 10 of our key staff on your contract last month. But, since it's the end of a sales quarter in my company, I was hoping you might have some new jobs for us.

3b) I want to apologize for the lack of coordination regarding our recent staffing changes and discuss with you how we can improve our communications.

4a) I'm afraid we don't do database design. Do you need any Web integration?

4b) I'd be happy to refer you to an excellent database design company. I'll e-mail you that information when I get back to my office.

5a) My five-person company provides a full range

of IT services including systems integration, Web design, network engineering, meeting logistics, lawn mowing, etc.

5b) Thank you for asking. We specialize in Web content management.

Answer key

If you selected all the "b" answers, take the rest of the day off. If you selected all the "a" answers, consider a career change — please! n

Lisagor is program co-chairman for the 2004 E-Gov Program Management Summit. He founded Celerity Works LLC in 1999 to help IT organizations accelerate and manage their business growth. He can be reached at