The nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise and is not preceded by a period of anxiety. — John Preston, Boston College
When I started my sales career, I did not fully understand how to “plan for success.” My overall excitement level when it came to planning probably fell somewhere below my excitement for root canals and colonoscopies. Safe to say, I preferred doing — not planning.
Why Plan Calls?
I quickly learned the value of planning and, more importantly, how closely planning was linked to my success in sales. I also learned that I didn’t have to spend hours wasting time planning.
When I was in (large business-to-business) sales, I was expected to develop and present detailed territory plans and account plans to my sales manager. In addition — especially with difficult customers or strategic accounts — my manager even wanted to see my specific call objectives.
He didn’t want anything left to chance when it came to reaching my assigned quota. And he knew that by checking my ability to plan he could accurately predict “probability of sale.”
Successful sales professionals don’t wing it. Nor should successful recruiters. Winging it makes as much sense as doing “exploratory sales surgery” and depends more on thinking on your feet or just plain luck. Who wants to undergo exploratory surgery with someone who is unprepared — or who is on an obvious fishing expedition?
Being in Control
I learned how to use planning as a control mechanism. We are not able to control all of the factors that affect our success — both in sales and in recruiting. For example, I was not able to control the specific features of my product. In recruiting, you may not always have the ideal location, the perfect schedule, or even right culture fit for your prospects or candidates.
And of course, I couldn’t always control my customers. Recruiters know that candidates or prospects may have negative perceptions that are extremely difficult to change. Or that rock-star prospects may not be in a position to make a career change when their “perfect opportunity” arises.
But successful sales professionals know there’s one thing that you can control — and that’s you! As a recruiter, you can develop various skills that are linked to your recruiting success. You can even control your attitude!
And … drum roll please …
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Yes, you can before engaging with your candidates and prospects.
Here’s my 5-point plan-for-success checklist, along with examples of how this checklist can be a valuable tool for recruiters.
The 5-Point Checklist for Success
- Set a call objective. Not having a clear call objective is like playing darts with a blindfold on. You might hit the target, but you’ll likely do significant collateral damage in the process — not to mention the fact that you’ll waste time and effort repeating the same motions without knowing how close you are to your target. Get crystal clear on what you want as the specific outcome of your call before you dial. A great call objective is: (a) specific and (b) results in forward momentum. Common call objectives like “build a relationship” or “collect information” are not specific enough to be useful. Specific call objectives state a clearly-defined purpose, not a global intention. A great call objective early in a recruiting process with a passive candidate might be to “uncover job satisfiers and dissatisfiers.” Remember to keep your call objective aligned with your prospect’s decision-making process. When you have a specific objective that makes sense for where the other person is, you can set “next steps” and keep the process moving in a way that is realistic for both of you.
- Have a short list of prepared questions. Once you have a clear call objective, develop a short list of questions that help you achieve your objective. During the call listen carefully to your prospect and ask questions accordingly. Too many canned questions can quickly turn your call into something that sounds highly scripted — resulting in a non-stop flight to the dead zone — especially with your passive candidates. But be sure you have at least one or two lead questions developed prior to the call to help get you started — questions that are completely aligned with your call objective.
- Do your homework. Doing your homework before you call is probably the price of entry in today’s marketplace — especially with your passive candidates. You’ll waste time — and add no value — if you spend time asking lots of fact-finding questions that can easily be answered by doing your homework. Remember, the two things your prospect probably does not have in today’s world: time and energy. If you don’t do your homework, you actually are asking your prospect to give up time and energy to get you up to speed. Most people simply won’t engage when asked to exchange time and energy for things that don’t give them a quick return for the investment. Become a wiz at taking advantage of the many, many sources of information about your prospects before you dial. When you do your homework, you can devote your planning time on developing key questions that will help you identify information that you won’t see on a resume or social networking site (e.g., LinkedIn). By doing your homework, you may differentiate yourself from the competition and more quickly build rapport.
- Anticipate and prepare responses to common objections. No one enjoys getting objections or dealing with resistance. But just dialing with no plan — and hoping that you don’t get an objection — is foolish. Take off your recruiter hat and put yourself in your prospect’s shoes for a moment. Think of the possible questions, concerns, or issues that you might have if you were them. Or recall similar conversations you’ve had with previous prospects — and make a list of the common objections you have encountered. Then, make a list of some approaches you used that were successful in managing those common objections. This list can become a powerful planning tool. If you have not created a list of common objections and/or successful responses, you can always begin collecting this important information! And don’t forget to prepare for the quick “no thanks” response. Build your skill at turning around that “reflex response” with a well-crafted reply that includes both an acknowledgement of their “no thanks” and a great question to help get them engaged.
- Know what you will say if you get voice mail. The reality today is that most calls (especially cold calls) end up in voice mail. Plan on it by ensuring that you are ready as soon as you hear the beep. Highly-paid professional athletes, actors, singers, and musicians spend hours and hours practicing key elements of their craft. Why? They know that when it comes to game day, they need to be ready. They can’t afford mistakes. So why do so many of us think we can nail a voice mail message without careful attention to practicing? Begin by leaving voice mail messages for yourself. Then, ask yourself if you would return your own voice mail! Practice voice mail messages. You also may want to find a trusted partner who would be open to having you leave messages and providing you with honest feedback.
Think of planning as your secret weapon, helping you keep control and more easily achieve your objectives. And, in the process, you may even find yourself a whole new outlook on your newest friend — call planning.