If you are anything like me, you are sick and tired of hearing reports that cold calling is dead, especially when as part of your role you are required to cold call. I know, I know, management provides you with these snazzy Web leads and purchased lists and calls it "warm calling"—whatever that means. "But these prospects raised their hands," they tell you. Just because someone downloads a white paper or attends a Webinar doesn't mean they are even remotely interested in doing a sales call. In the description of the job you applied for, they specifically said there would be no cold calling. Anything to make us feel better about our job—as if cold calling is somehow evil or a virus to be spread. And then you sit down and get to work for the first day and—guess what—it sure feels a whole lot like cold calling, doesn't it? You are calling a bunch of people who don't know you. You can call it cold calling, warm calling, or quasi-cold calling, but in the end, it is up to you to have the skill, ability, and savvy to take the first conversation and use it to advance the sales cycle—while your VP stands on his soapbox and or on a Webinar proclaiming cold calling is dead.
Let me ask you this…how do you feel about making an introduction face to face with a person you are meeting for the first time at a trade show? Some 95 percent of salespeople I work with inevitably say it doesn't bother them in the least. In fact, they kind of like it. After all, they got into sales because they like working with people. Why is it then that people have this phobia of making introductions by phone? If anything, the phone gives you the comfort of anonymity and space that potentially could ease a first interaction. The phone gives you the ability to be anywhere, anytime. There is so much training and support for people who conduct sales face to face, but what about the phone? Most salespeople dread calling simply because they were never taught how.
We do phone sales training with a Fortune 50 wireless telecom client that has a large SMB field sales team in the Midwest. Let's call them Anycom. Anycom's reps are required to hunt and farm out of predetermined geographic regions. When we started working with them, they avoided the phone in favor of pounding the pavement. Much of the territory is sparsely populated with businesses far apart from each other. The reps spent a ton of time driving from location to location dropping off materials (brochures, discount vouchers, etc.) at the reception desks. Once in a while, the strategy paid off, and they got a call back with an invite to meet and offer a proposal. However, the vast majority of the time nothing happened except a finger point to the "No Solicitors" sign. Rather than gaining access to the head of the IT department or telecom, they instead might be greeted by a random assistant from inside. They had a problem. They needed access to the decision-makers at these mid-sized local businesses.
Tips and Tactics
1. Flip the gatekeeper paradigm on its head. When first cold calling into a switchboard, most sales pros simply ask for the name of the person they want to speak to or the head of the department. Try switching it up and instead saying, "I'm calling to verify the spelling of a name for Ann Durant." What we're trying to do here is get the switchboard operator to pull up the directory record. Most companies will have an electronic directory. Once the record is in front of them, pepper them with questions to gather the contact info, reporting structure, etc.
2. Lead into the conversation like a pro. When you get a prospect on the phone, always ask, "Do you have a quick sec?"This differentiates you from the telemarketers who launch right into the spiel because it shows you respect that they may be in the middle of something. When they say yes, then ask, "I was pointed in your direction as the head of marketing, is that right?" Using the person's title shows you have done your homework and are not simply smiling and dialing through the Yellow Pages.
3. Get the direct line. There is a perfect correlation between the proportion of direct lines you have on your calling list and the number of meetings you are able to land. Invest the time to get the direct 10-digit phone number. Why? Think about caller ID. If you are an executive sitting at your desk and you see a call come in through reception, are you going to answer it? What about the same call to your direct line?
4. E-mail and voicemail can do a lot more for you than meets the eye. Use your social media tools such as LinkedIn to learn a little bit about your prospect and tailor a message to that person. A little bit of customization goes a long way. The purpose for e-mail and voicemail is not simply to get a call back. Have you ever spent time customizing an e-mail with no write back? Try going into your sent items folder and forwarding the same message with the original date and time and this line on top, Just a brief note to ensure you had a chance to see my note. Please let me know if I may work with your assistant to find some time.This works incredibly well.
5. Plan your week for the greatest returns. Statistically, you are more likely to have a conversation with an executive during certain key call windows—early, late, lunch, five minutes before the top and bottom of the hour, etc. Plan your days by phone stalking the executives during these key call windows and reserving other times for different sales-related activities. Remember that travel time is the enemy of the salesperson. If you meet with prospects in person, set up appointments in the middle of the week during the middle of the day when airports and roads are less crowded.
Anycom adopted these tips and tactics and increased the number of new lines by 10 percent across 60 reps. It filled the top of its sales funnels with a ton of potential opportunities. Michigan, previously the lowest-performing Anycom state, jumped to the middle of the pack of the 50 U.S. states. This happened while Michigan's unemployment soared to 15 percent, the highest in the nation. If these ideas worked in the rust belt during the downturn of 2008-2009, they will work for you.
Steve Richard is head of training at Vorsight (http://www.vorsight.com/). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org