An east coast entrepreneur I know said when he was a top salesperson for an adhesives company, he always turned in his call reports on time--sometimes even early--depending on when his assistant finished writing them, that is.
Unfortunately, his attitude isn't that unusual. Since the inception of call reports, salespeople have viewed them as tedious, homework-like tasks that have little to do with closing sales. In fact, many feel the reports get in the way of their jobs: Instead of being online, on the phone or in the customer's office, salespeople are sitting at their laptops entering data about who they saw, when, and what was accomplished--information they feel can easily be figured out by whether or not they got the order.
Most salespeople are also suspicious of call reports. Although they're told the purpose of these reports is to help them sell, salespeople are pretty sure they're actually used to monitor their work (which, of course, they are).
Still, entrepreneurs and their salespeople can learn a lot from these reports. The key is to make certain this old stand-by extracts crucial information and is presented as a tool to assist salespeople, not as something to help you keep tabs on them.
First, remember that call reports have two goals: to prepare a salesperson for a sales call, and to help a salesperson and manager (or owner, depending on the size of your business) analyze the call so future meetings with the client can be more successful.
Bill Kelley is an Arcadia, California, business writer and former editor of Sales and Marketing Management magazine.
It's Your Call
Call reports share the same basic format regardless of industry. For example, they should include the prospect's name, address, business, buyer's name, assistant buyer's name, personal assistants and so on. If relevant, the report should also note the buyer's habits. Perhaps one cares more about delivery than after-sales service, while another won't see salespeople before 11 a.m. All this is critical information to help your sales force get through to clients, especially if more than one rep handles each account.
Effective call reports contain key demographic information, including the time of year the customer usually makes purchases, prior purchases made, other suppliers used, the method of payment, and interest shown in other products. The call reports should also list new projects the client is working on, and match them with the products or services your company offers. Keep in mind the client's promotional and marketing schedules. Other call report tips to consider:
- Include the amount of time spent with a client. Although it may not seem significant at first, sales reps might be surprised at how much time they're spending with nominal accounts where they've established strong personal relationships.
- Use your call reports to rate clients. The most common way to rank your clients is by categorizing them with letters. For example, "A" clients being the best; "B," second best; "C," third; and "D," strong prospects. Do this with your individual salespeople, with the goal being to move the "B" accounts and those below into higher categories. By looking at the demographic information and time spent with clients, you and the salesperson can often devise more effective sales strategies.
- Keep them simple. Despite all the information required, reports don't have to be complicated. Much of the information can be listed numerically or alphabetically. The name of the company and key people aren't, of course, going to change before every call. Reports should be customized for your business, yet consistent throughout the sales force--that's the only way they can be analyzed.
- Make sure the report states a quantifiable objective--a specific and measurable goal or set of goals. The objective may be to get a six-month consulting contract, sell 24 cases of coffee, or get an order to design new software for a medical group. Having a concrete objective is crucial and not just because it gives the salesperson something to shoot for: It gives a salesperson a reason to make the call in the first place.
- Finally, use them. Make the time to read the reports. You may find buying patterns the salesperson missed or see ways a rep can spend his or her time more efficiently. In a nonconfrontational manner, talk to each salesperson about the reports, and let them know you want to help them. Tell salespeople what you found and make suggestions. In other words, manage your sales force effectively, and you'll see results.