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The power of appointments

The most powerful sales asset ever invented in history to date is the Outlook invitation. I have written over 150,000 words of sales advice in magazine columns in my career and authored four books. In all that work, nothing has resonated with me more than the power of an appointment. I devoted an entire chapter to the subject in my book, “Sales Economics,” and make it the foundation of my sales classes. It’s that important.

Consider for a moment the ubiquitous appearance of manufacturer reps who drive routes and show up unannounced at the branches of their customers. The supposition is that the customer expects and welcomes the visit because it’s a regular Tuesday thing. If you’re an LBM dealer, you know that this is not true; in fact, most consider it a nuisance. If you’re a manufacturer rep reading this and doubt it, just ask your customers for an honest answer.

A cold call has traditionally been considered an approach to a prospect, whereas an unexpected visit to a customer has somehow been translated into a “stop.” In reality, a cold call is any unexpected visit, phone call, or e-mail to a prospect or a customer. You can argue the point, but I assert that any cold call (to anyone) can only have one purpose: to set up a future meeting.

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Granted, there might be times when a salesperson makes that physical cold call and finds a welcome recipient of the visit. They may offer a few moments of time for dialogue, which can be considered a cold call that has quickly escalated into an invitation to meet. If that happens, it’s best to keep the meeting brief so as not to overstay your welcome, and then seek a reason for a next meeting, which leads us back to the power of an appointment.

An appointment is a lagging indicator that demonstrates a level of persistence in the salesperson. Think about Will Smith’s portrayal of Chris Gardner in “The Pursuit of Happyness.” Gardner was a single, homeless father competing for a position with an investment firm. In order to earn the position, he worked for free while cold calling constantly for months to build his initial book of business. It’s a story of persistence that every salesperson should emulate.

An appointment is a lagging indicator because it indicates that a salesperson has developed the skill to write the right script. It is proof that the salesperson identified a meaningful reason for a customer or prospect to invest time. It proves, in short, that the salesperson has demonstrated an ability to influence.

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More importantly, an appointment is also a leading indicator.Let’s presume that a salesperson sends an electronic calendar invitation that is accepted by the buyer. The numerous predictable outcomes make it seem silly that salespeople wouldn’t always strive to fill their calendars with lots of scheduled appointments. Some of the predictive outcomes include a) a prepared client, b) a client who is actually present (unlike a cold call pop-in), c) a potential new business opportunity that the client identifies, d) a defined purpose and outcome for the meeting, e) the likelihood of meeting additional staff members favorably, f) more time allocation for the interaction, and finally g) a level of professionalism and credibility that differentiates the salesperson from the cold calling competition.

The quality of calendar management is the difference between sales mediocrity and sales success. To the salespeople who feel like you just can’t pin down prospects and customers to schedule appointments, I remind them that those same buyers make appointments with their dentist, their customers, their job inspectors, and friends. They make appointments; they just might not be making appointments with you. Up your game by managing your calendar first. It’s the key to long-term sales success.

Rick Davis is the Sales Education Leader for ABC Supply and the President of Building Leaders. You can buy his books or learn more about his online sales training platform at buildingleaders.com.

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