4 Stages of a Sales Call And Sales Success


4 stages of a sales call And sales success 


Almost every sale call you can think of goes through four distinct states as shown in the figure picture- 



Let’s take each stage in turn and examine what it is and how it contributes to sales success.


Preliminaries:  (In Sales Call)

These are the warming-up events that happen before the serious selling begins. They would include such things as the way you introduce yourself and how to begin the conversation. Some people believe that preliminaries are much more important than the word suggests. Neil Rackham has been confidently told by a number of very successful salespeople that it’s during the first two minutes of a call that the customer forms crucial impressions which will influence the rest of the sale. 

How important is that initial impact? How much does first impression count? 

I am sharing with you some research that led us to conclude that in larger sales, The Preliminaries have less influence on success than Neil’s would first think. 


Investigating: (In Sales Call)

Almost every sale involves finding something out by asking questions. You may be uncovering needs or getting a better understanding of your customers and their organizations. As we’ll see, this is much more than the simple collection of data. Investigating is the most important of all selling skills and it’s particularly crucial in larger sales. 

   Neil Rackham has described some case studies in his book which show that the average person in major account selling can increase overall sales volume by more than 20% by developing investigating skills.


Demonstrating Capability: (In Sales Call)

In most calls, you will need to demonstrate to customers that you’ve something worthwhile to offer. Most of us in larger sales are selling solutions to customer problems. In the demonstrating capability stage of the call, You have to show customers that you have a solution and that it makes a worthwhile contribution to help solve their problems. 

   Sometimes you demonstrate by a formal presentation, sometimes by actually showing your product in action, and sometimes by describing some potential benefits which you could provide. But, however, you do it, in almost every sale call you must convince your customer that you’ve something to offer. 

There are some very effective ways to demonstrate capability in major sales. But, as we will, some of the methods for demonstrating capability in smaller sales will no longer work for you like the size of the sale increases. 


Obtaining commitment: (In Sales Call)

Finally, a successful sales call ends with some sort of commitment from the customer. In small calls, the commitment is usually in the other commitments you have to obtain before you reach the order stage. Your call objective may, for example, be to get the customer’s agreement to attend a product demonstration, or to test new material, or to give you access to a higher level of decision-maker. In none of these cases is the commitment order. Larger sales contain a number of intermediate steps which we call Advances. 

Each step advances the customer’s commitment towards the final decision. It’s in this area, unfortunately, that the classic closing techniques which are taught in most sales training programs are ineffective and may even hinder your chances of success.

Neil Rackham has said the typical stages of a sales call are preliminaries to open the call. Then investigating to find out facts about your customers and their needs. Next, you have to demonstrate capability, showing that you can help the customer and, finally, you have to obtain commitment to continue to the next stage of the sale. 

It’s an offensively simple model, but we’ve found it very useful because it’s allowed us to break calls down into a series of steps which we can study using the behavior analysis techniques described earlier. 

   The importance of each step, of course, will vary with the type of call. Once Neil was watching a southern banker in Kentucky selling trust services to a customer who looked like Colonel sanders’ twin brother. In that case, preliminaries took up almost 80% of the discussion. 

Before either party was ready to talk about business there was a careful ‘sniffing out process which established some of the things essential to doing business in the rural south, such as where you were from, who you knew and whether your uncle kept horses.

Only after an hour of cautions, the asocial talk was the customer ready to reveal something of his business needs. 

In Contrast, Neil recalls the first time He ever went on a sales call in the garment district of New York. There were no chairs in the buyer’s office. Neil assumed that meant They weren’t supposed to stay long enough to sit down. On the wall behind the buyer’s desk was a stark notice. ‘Spit it out and get out, it read. In that call, preliminaries consisted of ‘Hello, He’ll brief’, from the seller a grunt from the buyer. 

Sometimes the investigating stage can take up almost the whole call.

 In selling consulting services, for example, you would have to find out a great deal about the customer’s needs before you could determine whether there would be a basis for a business relationship. Neil has watched an all-day sales call by a management consultant where all but 15 minutes was spent on investigating. But, at the other extreme, Neil has seen calls where the investigating stage consisted of just one question, the rest of the call being taken up by an elaborate product demonstration. 

                    So The Exact balance of the four stages will depend on the type of call, its purpose and where it comes in the sales cycle. But most calls do include all four stages, even if some stages are very brief. 



Success in the larger sale depends, more than anything else, on how the investigating stage of the call is handled. Neil has collected data on investigating skills from massive studies involving many thousands of sales calls. Out of all this data, They were able to derive the SPIN process, a powerful sequence of questions that successful people use during the investigation stage of larger sales. But before They look at this SPIN process, we should first define what They mean by a successful call. 


Neil Rackham – The Method They used in their research was to: 


  • Choose key behaviors which They thought might be important to effective selling 
  • Watch sales calls to count how often key behavior occurred 
  • Divide calls into those which succeeded and those which failed 
  • Analyze the different frequency levels of key behaviors in successful and unsuccessful calls. 




The effectiveness of this method rests on one deceptively simple condition – the ability to define the success of a call. You can’t understand what makes an effective call unless you have some objective definition of ‘success’. If Neil Rackham’s book (SPIN SELLING) was about simpler sales, then there wouldn’t much need to explain what ‘success’ means, or to worry about its detailed definition. In simple sales, you take an order and you’re successful – you don’t take an order and you’ve failed. 


So, calls in a simple sale can have one of two outcomes: an order, where you take the business, or a no-sale, where the customer turns you down. But, as the sale becomes larger, it’s not so straightforward. In major sales, relatively few calls result in an order or a no-sale. 

Earlier Neil mentioned the case of a Friend in the aircraft industry who went for three whole years without taking an order. At the same time, He didn’t have any outright refusals which could be called no-sales. All his calls were somewhere in between. They made slow but modest progress towards his ultimate goal – an order in several years’ time. 

In larger sales, where only a small percentage of discussions with the customer results in an order or a no-sale, it becomes difficult to judge the success of individual calls. For example, suppose you’re selling me a computer software package to help me with my inventory control. At the end of the call, I say to you, ‘Look, I’m convinced that your inventory system is what we need. 

  But I can’t make such an important decision alone, So I’d like to arrange for you to come back next week and talk to our production controller’. It’s clear that the call has achieved something, yet it hasn’t resulted in either an order or a no-sale. It’s somewhere in between. However, because it’s brought about another meeting, perhaps we could say that the call has been successful. 

But can we say that about every call which results in an engagement to a further meeting? Suppose, After you’ve explained the benefits of your inventory system, Neil says, ‘I’m not sure, perhaps we could talk about it again some other time – why don’t you call me in a few months to arrange another meeting’.

It’s quite possible that Neil is agreeing to a future meeting just to get rid of you. When you call next month you won’t be able to get through to him and the meeting may never happen. Just getting an agreement to a further meeting isn’t an adequate measure of call success. 



So what’s the test of call success? What’s the result, or outcome, which allows us to say that one call has been successful while another has failed? In Neil’s early research they took coward’s way out. Neil said that a call was successful if it met its objectives. He soon discovered that the amazing human capacity to rationalize away unwanted events would make this definition unworkable. 

Neil’s been traveling with a sales rep in New York City. They made a disastrous call on a customer who became so irritated with the sales rep that They were asked to leave. Afterwards, as They stood on the pavement recovering from the experience, Neil was filling in call details on His research form. 

In response to the question, ‘Did the call meet its objectives? 

Neil had replied, ‘No’. This upset the sales rep mightily. ‘But I did meet my objectives’ They prospected, ‘ Neil decided, halfway through the call, that Neil did not want to do business with that guy because That guy sounded like a poor credit risk. So rather than insult That guy by telling that guy directly, Neil engineered things so That guy threw Neil out. In that way, Neil was able to terminate the call without the embarrassment of explaining that Neil couldn’t do business with that guy because His credit was poor.’ 

Over and over again, In Neil’s early research, Neil had salespeople respond in this way, telling them that whatever happened in the call had been exactly what they had planned. Call objectives can too easily be rationalized afterward to fit events. Obviously, Neil needed a better criterion of call success than the simple question, ‘Did the call meet its objectives?’ 

Neil’s next attempt was a little better. Neil asked the seller to give them objectives in advance. Neil then assessed whether the call had succeeded in meeting the objectives They would be given. In this way, Neil was able to prevent sellers from rationalizing away their failed calls. But it wasn’t a perfect system. 

Neil remembers one person telling him in advance that the objective of the call was a ‘detailed exploration of the customer’s organization structure’. At the start of the call, the customer unexpectedly revealed that, as a result of an evaluation they had carried out, they had decided to place a larger order with the seller. 

Neil walked away, an hour later, with all the paperwork completed for $35 000 of business. Neil didn’t find out a single thing about organizational structure. Yet Neil could hardly call it a failure just because that initial objective hadn’t been met. Neil still needed a better way to measure call success. 

The method Neil finally chose involved dividing the possible outcomes of the call into four areas as illustrated in this pic.





Where the customer makes a firm commitment to buy: ‘We’re 99.9% likely to buy would not be an order – as generations of sales managers have wearily pointed out to their new and inexperienced people. 

To be an order, the customer must show an unmistakable intention to purchase, usually by signing some kind of paperwork. Needless to say, calls which result in orders are less common in larger sales than most sellers would like. When they do occur, there’s little about that they should be classed as successful. 



Where an event takes place, either in the call or after it, which moves the sale forwards towards a decision: Typical advances might include: 


  • A customer’s agreement to attend an off-site demonstration 
  • Clearance which will get you in front of a higher level of decision-maker 
  • Agreement to run a trial or test of your product 
  • Access to parts of the account that were previously inaccessible to you. 

All of these represent an agreement with the customer, which moves the sale forward towards the ultimate decision. Advances take many forms but invariably they involve action and that action moves the sale forward. Because of that, any call which results in an advance can be considered successful. 



When the sale will continue but no specific action has been agreed with the customer to move it forward. These calls don’t result in an agreed action, yet neither do they involve a ‘No’ from the customer. Typical examples would be calls which end with a customer saying: 


  • ‘Thank you for coming, why don’t you visit us again next time you’re in the area.’
  • ‘Fantastic presentation, we’re very impressed. Let’s meet again some time.’
  • “We like what we saw and we’ll be in touch if we need to take things further.’

In none of these cases has the buyer agreed to a specific action, so there’s no concrete sign that call has caused the sale to move forward. Neil classed continuations as unsuccessful in their studies. This may strike you as a little unfair. After all, it seems harsh to say that a call has failed if the customer says positive things such as ‘We’re impressed’, or ‘That was a great presentation’, however, having worked closely with buyers over the years, I can go longer accept positive strokes and compliments as a reliable sign of call success. 

Too often Neil has seen customers make positive noises at the end of a call as a polite way to get rid of an unwanted seller. In Neil’s studies, He wanted success to be measured by actions, not by nice noises. That’s why Neil classed advances as successful and continuations as unsuccessful. Success should be judged by the customer’s actions, not by their words. 


NO-SALES: (In Sales Call)

Our final category is where the customer actively refuses a commitment: At an extreme, the no-sale customer makes it clear that there’s no possibility of any business. In a lesser way, it can be a no-sale, for example, if the customer won’t agree to a future meeting, or denies your request to see a more senior person in the account. 

The test of a no-sale is that the customer actively denies you your principal call objective. There’s not much dispute that a call which results in no-sale should be classed as unsuccessful.  

Why am I making such a fuss about the different outcomes of a sales call? 

Surely only researchers are interested in defining call outcome – There’s nothing useful here for practical salespeople. On the contrary. 

Neil’s Studies of top salespeople consistently showed that they had a clear understanding of these different outcomes and they used this understanding to help them turn continuations into advances. 

Let me illustrate this by contrasting the performance of two salespeople each selling industrial pumping equipment. First let’s look at John C. He’s relatively inexperienced, having spent only a year in major sales. 

In this extract from an interview with him, judge for yourself whether he’s clear about the difference between an advance and a continuation and whether He understands how that difference relates to sales success. 


Interviewer: What were your objectives for this call?

John C.: Oh, … to make a good impression on the customer. 

Interviewer: Good impression?

John C.: Well, yes making the customer feel positive about us. 

Interviewer: And any other objective? 

John C.: To collect data?

Interviewer: Data? What kind of data?

John C.: Oh, useful facts. Details about the account, just general information. 

Interviewer: And were you trying to get a specific action from the customer? 

John C.: No. As I say, it was mostly building a relationship and finding facts. 

Interviewer: In your judgment, how successful was the call? 

John C.: Quite successful I think. 

Interviewer: why do you say that? 

John C.: Well, for example, the customer said he was impressed by my presentation. 

Interviewer: did the customer agree to many actions as a result of the call? 

John C.: Uh, … no. but I think he liked my presentation. 

Interviewer: So what will happen next with this customer? 

John C.: We’ll meet again in a couple of months and then we’ll take things further. 

Interviewer: But, looking back on the call you just made, the customer didn’t agree to an action which moved the sale forward? 

John C.: no. but I’m sure the call contributed to building a good relationship with the account. That’s why I think it was a successful call. 

John C.’s reaction is typical of inexperienced sellers. He thinks the call has been successful because he received some positive strokes from the customers. But turning to Neil’s definitions of call outcome, his call has resulted in a continuation. There’s been no specific action agreed with the customer which moves the sale forward. Like many new salespeople, John’s call objectives – collect data and build a relationship – don’t directly contribute towards getting an advance. In contrast, let’s hear Fred F. one of the company’s top salespeople, talking about his approach to a typical call. 

Interviewer: What were your call objectives? 

Fred F.: I wanted to get some movement because I knew we’d meet competitive pressure and I didn’t want to let the grass grow under my feet.

Interviewer: movement? 

Fred F.: Yes see, I feel that If a call’s worth making. It’s got to do something – to move the sale forward in some way. Otherwise, you’re wasting both your time and the customers. 

Interviewer: Could you give me an example of a call objective which shows this movement? 

Fred F.: Sure. In this case, what I wanted was to get their chief engineer to come to our factory for a feasibility discussion with our technical people. Now that moves the sale forward – and it would also mean that while he was talking with us he wouldn’t be spending time with the competition. 

Interviewer: And was the call successful? 

Fred F.: Yes and no. I didn’t get their chief engineer because of some initial issues. So, in that sense, I failed. But during the call, I saw a chance to move forward in another area. The customer told me that they’ve just got the go-ahead to build a new plant in jersey. They’re setting up a project team to write specifications and choose suppliers. So I asked him if he’d call the team’s hydraulics engineer and arrange a meeting for me. 

Interviewer: And he did? 

Fred F.: Yes, we meet on the 23rd.

Interviewer: And that moves you forward? 

Fred F.: Of course. It puts me in on the ground floor. On the 23rd I’ll try to get their hydraulics man to specify us a supplier both for pumps and specialist pipework. 

Notice how Fed F.’s objectives were about getting action or advance. And that he judged the call’s success in terms of the movement is produced. It’s that action-oriented approach which characterized the successful people we studied. They wanted advances, not continuations. 

Neil’s often asked by sales managers for advice on how they should train their people to make them mor4e successful in major sales. The simplest and most effective advice Neil can offer is this: Teach your people the difference between continuations and advances and help them become dissatisfied with setting call objectives that only result in a continuation. 

Even experienced people slip up here. Neil’s sure that many readers have come out of calls feeling good because the customer has said positive things. Yes, when you stop to think about it, the sale hans’t moved forward. Let me issue you a little challenge. 


  1. Think of your last ten sales calls. 
  2. On the basis of your own feelings about the call, decide whether you think each was successful or unsuccessful. 
  3. Go back over each call and ask yourself what specific action was agreed with the customer which moved the sale forward.
  4. Look for any calls which you judged as successful but where no specific action was agreed upon. If you’re like the top people we studied, almost all your successful calls should have an action associated with them. But if you find you’ve had several calls which you judged as successful where no specific action was agreed, then it may be a sign that you’re setting the wrong call objectives. Ask yourself whether you’re accepting continuations when you should be trying for advances. 




When you’re planning a major account call, question your objectives ruthlessly. Don’t be content with objectives like ‘to collect information or ‘to build a good relationship’. Of course, these are important objectives – after all, every call has opportunities to collect information and improve relationships. The problem is that objectives of this kind just aren’t enough. 

They lead to continuations, not to advances. In your call planning, always include objectives which result in specific action from the customer – objectives which result in specific action from the customer – objectives such as, “To get her to come to a demonstration’, ‘To get meeting with his boss”, or ‘To get an introduction to the planning department’. 


In this way, you’ll be planning like the top salespeople in Neil’s study. You’ll be looking for advances, not for continuations. 

This is it about 4 Stage of Sales Call and How we can make call success.
I hope you understood What are the sales call stages and How we can make the call successful.


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