From the April 1998 issue of Startups

When Donna Chaiet looks for new students to enroll in self-defense classes at Prepare Inc., her New York City-based business, she does something many start-up entrepreneurs consider totally outside their comfort zone: She makes cold calls. Her goal: to encourage the person to request information about Prepare Inc., drop by the school for a tour or sign up for a 20-hour Impact Personal Safety training seminar.

"I make 20 to 50 calls a day, depending on my schedule," says Chaiet. "I found it intimidating [at first]. But I took a deep breath and told myself to believe the person wouldn't be turned off by my call but would want to hear about my seminar. This shift in my attitude, plus being passionate about my services, makes cold calling more palatable and a successful marketing tool."

Calling strangers to get their business can sound daunting. The process becomes easier once you practice what you plan to say, map out your prospects and learn how to handle their objections or rejection. Here are six proven techniques you can use to turn your cold calls into hot sales:

1. Analyze your fear. Fear is simply an anticipation of negative results. Once you understand this, you can turn the adrenaline fear produces into a positive motivator. Rather than thinking about the rejection you might experience calling a stranger, think about the potential business you could gain by making the call.

2. Develop a target market. The key to effective cold calling is identifying the right prospects before you call. Rather than randomly selecting names from the phone book, target individuals who have an interest in your product or service and the money to buy it. Chaiet finds her ideal cold-call prospects by inviting the public to attend open-house graduations after the completion of each series of classes taught at her school.

"We invite the general public to watch what the students have learned. They sign a guest book when they come in the door. I follow up the next day or two with phone calls to these people to see if they're interested in enrolling in a training seminar," she says.

Other ways to find prospects include asking existing clients for referrals; calling people you meet at civic, business or service organization meetings; or taking the names of people attending a trade show or conference and calling them afterward.

3. Know what the prospect wants. Prospects aren't interested in what your product or service is (its features); they're interested in what it will do for them (its benefits). That's why it's critical you talk in terms of benefits. Will your product or service help the prospect make a profit, reduce costs, save time, improve productivity or attract more customers?

4. Use a script. Once you have your prospect's attention, ask specific questions to learn more about what your prospect wants and how you can fulfill his or her expectations. Chaiet asks prospects if they're concerned about personal safety, want to increase their self-confidence in threatening situations and would like to learn techniques to protect themselves. "I speak from a list of prepared questions," she says. "It gives me confidence, lets me concentrate on what the person is saying [instead of what I'm going to say next], and helps me direct the conversation in a fairly organized manner."

5. Be a good listener. "Listen more than you talk," advises Chaiet. "This way, you find out what the person's needs are rather than simply telling him [or her] all about your product and how wonderful it is." You'll also score big points with prospects by not interrupting and by asking relevant follow-up questions to clarify or acknowledge what they're saying.

6. Accept "no" and go on. Not everyone wants or needs what your company offers. Don't take rejection personally; just proceed to the next call. Says Chaiet, "Your success rate definitely increases as you make more and more cold calls."

For more information on heating up your cold calls, check out these resources:

  • Red Hot Cold Call Selling: Prospecting Techniques That Pay Off, by Paul S. Goldner (Amacom, $16.95, 800-250-5308). Learn to define your market, develop a personalized script and free yourself of cold-call jitters.
  • Successful Cold Call Selling, by Lee Boyan (Amacom, $16.95, 800-250-5308). Develop a great cold-calling script and get advice from the nation's top sales trainers on increasing your cold-calling effectiveness.
  • Cold Calling Techniques (That Really Work!), by Stephan Schiffman (Adams Media Corp., $7.95, 800-872-5627). Learn all the cold-calling basics, from targeting your market and writing prepared questions to handling objections with ease.

Carla Goodman is a freelance writer in Sacramento, California.

Absent Without Leave

As a small-business owner, you rely heavily on the few employees you have. But what happens when employees don't show up for work? Of course there are legitimate reasons to be absent, but when your key employee starts calling in sick every Friday during ski season, it's time to take action. Here's how:

  • Set a good example. In a small office, employees know when the boss doesn't show up on time. Be prompt, and whenever you're out of the office for any reason, let employees know where you are and how you can be reached.
  • Look within. Are there good reasons employees are shirking work? Perhaps your productivity goals are unrealistic or your office is uncomfortable. A few simple adjustments can get people excited about working for you.
  • Be flexible. When an employee asks for time off due to stress, family problems or personal needs, use your judgment. An employee is more likely to respect your attendance policy if you show you understand his or her needs.
  • Offer rewards. Give an extra vacation day or a small cash bonus to reward an employee for excellent attendance.
  • Be prepared. Establish a relationship with a temporary employment agency that can provide backup when a key employee is absent.

Voice Lessons

Fine-tune your cold calls with the following tips:

  • Use the words "you" and "yours" rather than "me" and "my company." This shows prospects you're interested in their needs, not what you can sell them.
  • Practice with a tape recorder. It's a great way to catch unwanted "you knows" and other distracting phrases.
  • If you tend to ramble, use a timer. It will limit your conversation and keep you on track so you cover the necessary points without losing your prospects' attention.
  • Put a mirror next to your phone and smile when you make calls. Let your enthusiasm for your product or service and what you can do for your prospects come through over the phone.

Just For You:

Humor Yourself

It's been one of those days . . . You arrive early for your first interview with a new client and discover your appointment was yesterday. Then the airline calls. Your flight to Puerto Vallarta is overbooked, so you'll have to delay your vacation.

How do you cope? Have a good laugh. As the old adage goes, laughter is the best medicine.

Finding humor in business situations is your best coping mechanism. Laughter lifts your spirits, puts your problems in perspective and lets your creative energies flow. Besides, laughing feels good, and most of us don't laugh nearly enough--especially at work.

Developing your humor potential is easy. "Just be yourself," says Joel Goodman, director of The Humor Project Inc., a resource and training company in Saratoga Springs, New York. "Do those things that come naturally to you." Here are four tips to get you started:

1. Take a humor break. Some people take coffee breaks, so why not take a daily 15-minute break to read the comics, share a joke or draw funny pictures? It will remind you that nothing is all that serious.

2. Spend time with good-natured people. Humor is contagious. Get together with friends and family members who see the bright side of life. You will, too.

3. Keep a humor kit. Fill your kit with items that make you laugh: cartoons, humorous anecdotes, cards from friends, videotapes of "Saturday Night Live" reruns. When you're upset, angry or blue, open your kit and have some fun.

4. Lighten up. If you can't change the situation, ask yourself "How could this be any worse?" Your response might make you chuckle.

Contact Sources

The Humor Project Inc., 480 Broadway, #210, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866-2288, http://www.wizvax.net/humor/

Prepare Inc., 147 W. 25th St., 8th Fl., New York, NY 10001, (800) 345-5425