The term "sales call" makes any prospect cringe.  It even makes sales reps themselves cringe as they hate making calls themselves and facing rejection and sales resistance. The good news is you can stop making sales calls altogether.  One of the most important aspects of accomplishing this is to makeover your mindset, and to do that you have to take the term "sales" out of your initial goals altogether.  Take it out of your title, your introduction, your email, your thinking.  

What do you replace "sales" with? Just have a conversation. Executives have conversations all day long, they have conversations with people they don't know, with people that call them to make introductions, with people they meet at events, and with just about anyone that doesn't come off like they are trying to "sell" them something. A conversation is non-threatening, it's not something they need to reject, push back on, or's just a conversation.

Most traditional sales training even today is focused on numbers. Treating leads as numbers, calls as numbers, activity as numbers, goals as numbers, all the metrics are impersonal measurements based on numbers—so what that does it also converts the tone of the dialog you are having into something very impersonal.  They are 1 of 50 you need to call today, if they don't do what you want them to—then move on to the next one. Ask if there's a budget, are they planning to buy, when, will they meet, and so on. 

That worked (kind of) during the era when prospects were highly dependent on sales reps to provide information about the company, they needed a rep to engage with to make the changes they needed at their company.Before the internet became a very sophisticated infrastructure of finding information on just about anything they want to implement, they HAD to talk to a rep before they could get a demo.  The HAD to meet with a rep to get more precise information, to get references, to evaluate if your company had the solution they need.  Now the tables have turned, and sales reps need prospects to talk to them. However, the prospects don't need a rep until they are very far along in their decision. Up to 75% of the initial sales cycle that reps controlled and were heavily involved in is now in the control of the prospect—which is why they have such a low tolerance for "sales calls" today.  

So how do you transition from a selling mindset to a conversation mindset?

  1. Reframe your mental objectives for an initial call. Is the goal really to know if they have a budget or is it to know if they are planning to do some work in your solution area and are open to further discussions?  Two very different discussions.
  2. Change the dynamic of the conversation from creating an immediate class distinction, i.e.,"am I calling at a bad time?" or "if I can have just 2 minutes of your time?" to "I'm calling to see if it makes sense..." Talk like a peer and you will get treated like one, if you open a discussion by talking up to your prospect, you immediately set the tone you are beneath them and potentially undeserving of their time. It creates a dynamic that is subtle but exists. This is key. If you open a discussion instead of selling, you get responses. Email is a perfect example of missing the point of opening a true peer dialog. Here are a couple opening lines from recent emails I have received that are for enterprise business solutions or services:
  3. As Chief Executive Officer of The Vanella Group Inc, would you be interested to purchase.
  4. Don't wait, buy today....
  5. Register today for 25% off with the coupon codes...
  6. Become curious, ask questions before you over-inform. One of the biggest mistakes reps make is to do all the talking before assessing what the prospect wants to talk about. During coaching sessions with sales teams, one thing often becomes clear is reps get shut down early from going down a path in terms and using language their prospect isn't connecting the dots with. Remember, they weren't thinking about this topic when you called necessarily,  so you have to create the frame for them to have the conversation in and use terms they are viewing the requirement in. Something to try, is prepare some questions that you normally wouldn't ask until you have already qualified a prospect, that way you'll see how they are perceiving a requirement so you can speak in the language of their need they use.  
  7. Don't try to sell on the first call, use it as a platform to connect and establish it makes sense to talk further.  Some reps feel anxious they need to cram everything in on a first call or get to the close, or ask if there's a budget, and in doing that the prospect senses their self interest and backs off.
    One of the most effective coaching points I give, is to visualize the conversation happening somewhere else. In an informal setting, with someone you know, in a tone you speak with people you are comfortable makes a difference if you are imaging yourself standing in front of a CIO anticipating rejection or thinking of it as a conversation in line at the bank.
  8. A good way to measure the difference, is how many times do you feel you failed at a conversation—do you ever feel like that?  It is really just part of your day and normal interaction. We have conversations all day long, we feel confident and successful having when you turn it into a "sales call" that we mentally set a different stage and anticipate roadblocks.

Next time you call a prospect, set your goal to have a conversation and just understand more about'll be surprised the lack of resistance and push-back you'll get, and in return you'll see a much higher level of actual opportunities as a result of removing the "selling" from your call.