Sales lessons: Activity Is Not Progress

Sales Sales Excellence

Written by:

Bio not available.

Five lessons to get the most out of each sales call.

John Moran, sales kingpin and one of the most respected men in the medical/veterinary industry, called me to ask if he could ride with me and make some sales calls. The year was 1990, and I was a 22-year-old sales know-it-all with a medical manufacturer. When John traveled with you, it was an honor and an experience you did not want to screw up.

On our sales day, we were calling on an important distribution customer with whom I had an excellent relationship. I told the VIP C-Suite customer that I would be in the area around 2 p.m. with the bigwig and that I wanted to stop by to visit. Two o’clock rolled around; we stopped by for about 45 minutes, shot the breeze, and then left. I felt like a million bucks and thought for sure “The Godfather” would feel the same way. I was wrong!

John asked me, “What was the objective of the call?” After bumbling for a few seconds, I told him I just wanted to stop by to see how our customer was doing.

He asked, “What was your objective in seeing how he was doing?”

I said, “To make sure he still liked our company and what we were doing.”

“What does that mean?” John responded. “What was your objective in seeing if he still liked our company and what we were doing?”

This little exercise was driving me nuts, but the man in the passenger seat was my boss’s boss’s boss, so I had better play the game.

I said, “By liking us, it is easier for me to get him to commit to running a 60-day promotion on our products,” I suggested.

John persisted: “So why wasn’t our objective to get him to commit to a 60-day promotion on our products?”

I said, “Because I didn’t think of it,” I admitted.

He said: “You just did.”


Lessons learned

I learned several valuable lessons from that interaction with John:


Lesson No. 1: Never mistake activity for progress. Just because you feel busy on a sales call doesn’t mean you are getting anything done.


Lesson No. 2: Never make a sales call without a precise objective. A precise objective is what you want the prospect to do as a result of the call that gets you closer to a sale or a closer relationship.


Lesson No. 3: It’s not about what you do in a call; it’s about what they do as a result. For instance, a lame objective would be something like: “I am calling on a current customer to find out their needs.”

A precise objective would be: “I am calling on my current customer to get them to share with me their 2023 budget and to agree to a more detailed company/product presentation with key decision makers over the next ten days.”

Will we find out their needs to get to our ultimate objective? Yes! But it’s not why we are there. We are there to get them to do something that takes us closer to a sale.


Lesson No. 4: Do your homework. Lack of preparation in a sales call leads to wasting a prospect’s time. Face it, we would all like to spend less time with salespeople, and it’s because countless unprepared salespeople have ruined it for the rest of us. Today, web and social media technology allow us to find information that in the past might have taken several sales calls. The days of “Mr. Prospect, tell me what keeps you up at night?” are over for top-performing sales pros. They know what’s keeping Mr. Prospect up because he posted it on his LinkedIn account and followed it with several tweets on Twitter. And the pro found it!


Lesson No. 5: Don’t turn one sales call into three. Many salespeople do a great job of delivering the benefits of their solution but go into financial convulsions when it comes time to talk money and get a commitment. If you are the type whose greatest closing skill verbiage sounds something like, “OK, Mr. Prospect, I’m glad you like the product. Let me get back to my office, run some numbers and shoot you over a proposal,” then we have some fixing to do. Don’t ever show up unprepared and unwilling to tell them how much. And make sure it’s in writing.

Pre-call preparation that includes crafting a clear and measurable objective is one of the easiest aspects of the selling formula to control. Despite this, too many average and below-average salespeople don’t invest the time needed and, as a result, don’t make the most out of each opportunity. This often leads to time management problems and frustration.

So this month, focus on preparation. After you do, prepare to make 2023 the year you became your company’s top performer.


Sales Coach and Business Consultant Brian Sullivan, CSP is the author of the book, “20 Days to the TOP – How the PRECISE Selling Formula Will Make You Your Company’s Top Sales Performer in 20 Days or Less.” To learn more about PRECISE Selling Bootcamps that create top sales performers, go to


Photo credit: Somsuk