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  • Writer's pictureLance Tyson

How to Open a Sales Call: Use the Affinity Rule to Improve Sales Effectiveness

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How to Open a Sales Call

Coaching your Sales Team to Set More Meetings, Close More Deals, and Surpass Their Performance KPIs

As a sales manager, you’re always looking for ways to improve your sales process and improve the performance of your sales team. One of the ideas that we constantly coach salespeople on in our sessions is that the most important part of the sales call is how you open. As mentioned in a past article, if you open a sales call correctly and follow your sales process, the close will follow as a natural part of the process.  

If your sales team can open the call effectively, not only will they put the call on a solid foundation to move it through the sales pipeline, but it will also improve several important KPIs—including number of meetings set and their close ratio. So the question becomes: “Since the entire call hinges on the opening, how should they open the sales call to give them better odds of moving a deal through their pipeline?”

To answer this question, I’ll use an example from the time when we were selling generalized performance training programs to a manufacturing customer base.

An Example of How to Open a Sales Call That Gets Results

Back in the latter half of the 2000s, I attended a Dale Carnegie session in which the future manager of my inside sales team, Jessica, was enrolled. During that session, I heard her deliver a remarkable story about opening a sales call, displaying exceptional sales acumen for someone just starting their sales career.

Jessica had been trying for weeks to get time with the HR manager at a local manufacturer to discuss our company’s latest offering, a new assessment service. Despite her best efforts, the manager kept giving her put-offs.

Responding Effectively to Prospect's Put-Offs to Get Their Attention

Now, you’ve probably heard the same litany of put-offs I’ve heard from my team when I asked them for a status on their leads and how they are doing on their conversion KPIs. The responses your people get when opening a sales call probably sound something like the following:


  • I’m busy right now. I don’t have time to talk to you

  • We aren’t buying anything right now

  • I’m on my way out the door. Call me back later

  • Now is not a good time

On this particular day, Jessica caught the manager at “an inconvenient time” just like she had all the previous days.

However, this time Jessica had given some thought about the daily challenges her prospect faced. She said, “Let me ask you a question. I know that you spend a lot of time pouring over resumes, trying to find the right person to fill a position. And you have to go through several rounds of interviews before you find a few suitable candidates who may potentially accept the position. What would it be worth to you if you could reduce the time you spend searching through resumes, and increase your certainty of finding the right candidates for a position in your first round of searches?”

Apparently, Jessica hit a nerve. There was a long pause before her prospect said, “We need to talk. Do you have some time now?”

Using the Affinity Rule as a Component in Your Agile Sales Arsenal

In our training and coaching sessions, sales reps are always searching for that “magic bullet” that will give them an edge. They ask us questions like:

“How do I open a sales call?”

“What do I do to keep my contact on the phone when making a cold call?

“My contact says that they aren’t buying anything in this economy. What should I say?”

In every case, my advice to them is the same:

When you open your sales call, don't talk about you, your company, or your product. Instead, talk about what's of interest to your prospect.

This is such an important part of opening your sales call that in our sales training, we call it the Affinity Rule. And it’s an important, governing element of any sales methodology.


If you want to get your prospect’s attention, focus on the things that’s of interest to them.

Help Your Team Discover Their Buyer’s Interest before They Open the Sales Call

Prior to the year 2000, when we all used Fred Flintstone technology to sell, you could get away with opening a sales call by talking about that picture of a boat on your prospect’s wall or that fantastic restaurant down the street from their office.

Today, your sales team has it a lot tougher. Their buyers don’t have time to waste talking about minor interests. And they have a lot more information at their disposal, probably more than your salespeople. In today’s economic climate, thanks to the internet, your sales team is up against global competition. And their prospects’ tolerance for wasted time is less than zero.

So what’s of interest to your sales team’s buyers today? These are some of the challenges we review when training management teams:

Time, cost, and quality are always in tension. If your sales team can provide relief in any of these areas, it’s a win for them. In the above example with Jessica, time was the issue. Jessica’s offer allowed the manager to consider reclaiming much of her time spent sifting through potential candidates to find the right ones.

Their buyers are looking for some kind of career growth while maintaining job security. They are always looking for ways to maximize rewards while minimizing risk.

In small and medium size businesses, cash is king. Your sales team can win their buyer’s attention if they can increase their cash flow while minimizing their resource consumption.

Your sales team’s buyers want to talk with someone who can provide relief from their most challenging issues. Those issues always have their attention. So, your salespeople need to be able to put aside their own mental challenges, get out of their heads, and get into their buyer’s mindset because that’s where the sale really takes place.

Coach Your Sales Team to Open the Sales Call Using the Affinity Rule and Put the Sale on a Solid Foundation

Do you want your team to have that unfair advantage? Then have them do what Jessica’s did. Coach them to take time to discover the challenges their buyers face daily. Coach them to slow down, listen to their buyers and see the world through their buyers’ eyes. Then, coach them to open their sales call by talking about the things in which their buyers are interested.

Remember, selling is an away game. It happens in your buyer’s head. So coach your team to get out of their heads and get back into the game. 

Good Selling!


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