From sending singing telegrams and direct mail to e-mail marketing, tradeshows and mixers, salespeople go to extraordinary lengths to avoid making cold calls. The reality is that even in our internet-based world, few tools are more effective and necessary for generating sales and sales appointments than the good old telephone. And I don't think much of farming out the cold-calling to someone who does not actually sell your product or service, which probably leaves it to you.
So what's the big deal? For some reason, telephone cold calls inspire fear. Perhaps that fear is driven by the fact that most of us, at one time or another, have been less than gentle with a caller who has interrupted our dinner or called right in the middle of a family discussion to ask, "How'd you like to save money on your phone bill?" Click.
I have 10 tricks to help you succeed at making cold calls.
- Get over your fear. It's not personal. To recipients of your calls, you are a voice coming through a small plastic device, someone who has interrupted whatever they were doing. No matter how badly someone treats you, realize that the minute the call is over, she will forget about you, so you can do the same. Second, understand that telephone cold calling is a numbers game. You need to get enough no's to get to a yes. When viewed this way, "no" simply becomes one more step toward "yes."
Once you are over the fear of making calls, there are a number of techniques and tricks that will help you be more effective.
- Leads. Lead generation is an entire subject in and of itself, so for the sake of brevity I will assume you have identified a list of target customers to call.
- Plan your calls. Set aside enough time to get into a rhythm--at least two hours per block. And plan to get through a set number of calls. Usually morning is better than afternoons, but after hours (see below) can also be very good. Note that I did not say to avoid calling at other times. More calls equals more sales. I have even had success calling during the holidays.
- Plan each call. What is the objective? Normally, it won't be to introduce yourself, describe your product and make a sale all in a single call. Typically, it should be limited to one of these. So if your objective is to set up a sales appointment, craft your script to this goal and stick to it. Avoiding getting drawn into a discussion outside of this objective will improve your success rate and earn you credibility with the target, as she will recognize that you are also a busy professional.
- Your voice. Businesspeople may be courteous toward amateurs, but they like to do business with other professionals. Your voice can convey either. If you're nervous, your voice gets higher. In addition, nerves increase the speed with which we speak. Deliberately counteract these tendencies. Before you call, lower your voice. Think of yourself as a very important person about to call another important person. Say your first words extra slowly. Be polite but not overly "sweet." Remember, you are important. Also, smile when you speak. This will add warmth to your voice.
- Your script. This should be uncomplicated and direct. Introduce yourself with confidence and credibility, provide a brief explanation as to why you are calling and ask for your objective:
"Hi John, this is Mary Jones, president of XYZ company. I have a product that we use with several other companies like yours, such as example 1, example 2. I am working in your area next Tuesday and Thursday morning and would like to briefly show you how we saved these companies $___. I have a slot at 9 a.m. on Tuesday. Would that work?
Note: When you get a question, one good technique is to answer directly and briefly and follow with a question. Example:
"How do you save them money?"
"We have a new proprietary system that reduces waste by more than 50 percent. I see I also have an 11 a.m. slot...does 9 or 11 work best?
- The gatekeeper. This is the person whose job it is to shield your target from unwanted telephone calls. This person is not your friend, but don't make her your enemy. Your first call to a gatekeeper will be telling as to how hard your target will be to get on the telephone. Assuming you have already figured out who your target is, when you make your first call and the receptionist or assistant answers, simply state in a polite but authoritative manner:
You: "This is Mary Jones. Is John in?"
Gatekeeper: "Who? Pertaining to?"
You: "Yes, Mary Jones with XYZ. Is he there or should I call back?"
You'll know fairly quickly how hard it will be to get through the gatekeeper. I suggest that you only leave messages on a cold call as a last resort. Your target will not call back. However, you can always get useful information from this interaction. Example:
Gatekeeper: "I can take a message if you like..."
You: "Oh, thank you. I'm on my way out but can try back later. What time do you expect him?"
Gatekeeper: "About 4 p.m."
You: "OK, how late is someone there answering the phone? And what time can I reach you in the morning?"
These last two questions sound innocuous, but if she answers them, you'll know what time to call to avoid the gatekeeper. Often executives and owners work later than the gatekeeper or come in before the gatekeeper arrives, and they will often pick up an unanswered phone. Also, many phone systems have an individual extension directory that you can access after hours.
If this doesn't work, you can call at another time and simply ask for the sales department. Virtually every receptionist in America knows that when people call for sales, they get directly to a salesperson. Like you, salespeople are busy. When they answer you say, "Oh, I must have gotten the wrong extension, I was trying to reach John. What is his extension?" Don't be surprised if this person simply transfers you directly to the boss. And when that happens, be ready to launch into your script as though he would be happy to hear it.
"Oh, hi, John. Mary Jones here with XYZ company. I have ..."
- Hang up. Once you achieve your objective, say, "Thank you, I will see you at 9 a.m. on Tuesday. Goodbye." Many people succeed at getting consent or closing a sale. Then, feeling good, they open up a new line of discussion with their new friend, only to see the sale unravel. Again, stop talking and hang up.
- Don't let your phone give you away. Most office phones have caller ID. Find out what a receiving caller's caller ID says when you call. If it says, "XYZ Sales Company," you are starting off at a disadvantage. If it has your personal name or "private," you are much more likely to pique their curiosity enough to answer.
- Get started. The anticipation of making calls is 100 times worse than making them. And you will get better every time you make one.