Cold calling. Prospecting. Business Development. Client Acquisition. No matter what you call it, entrepreneurs are always looking for ways to encourage sales teams to step up their efforts in contacting decision makers and drumming up new business.
Unfortunately, the mere mention of cold calling can cause anxiety to those new to selling, and even seasoned vets can get the jitters. Salespeople who avoid prospecting usually do so for two reasons: fear of rejection and/or lack of preparation.
As the business owner, you can help your salespeople overcome these obstacles and succeed at prospecting. Here are five tips to get started.
1. Change the Meaning of Rejection
Encourage sales reps to reframe the way they view rejection. Instead of feeling personally slighted after an unsuccessful call, suggest they say to themselves: “Our service might not be right for that company at this particular time.”
They can also ask disinterested decision makers if they would be willing to keep the reps contact information, in case they need a new vendor in the near future.
By ending calls on a positive note, your sales reps will feel they at least have some control over the prospecting process.
2. Block Time for Calls with No Distractions
Be resolute when telling your sales staff to schedule a daily, uninterrupted block of time to make prospecting calls. Making many calls in a row allows salespeople to gain a sense of rhythm and momentum. Insist they stay completely focused, no checking email or texting while on hold.
To incorporate prospecting into your company culture, tell employees that no meetings with your salespeople are to be scheduled when they're making cold calls.
3. Do Your Homework
Sales reps must be knowledgeable about the decision makers they’re trying to reach. During your next sales staff meeting, create a list of questions that reps should be able to answer before picking up the phone. Those might include:
• What does this particular company do?
• How many years has it been in business?
• How long has the decision maker been with the company?
• Are there multiple facilities or one central office?
• Who are their customers?
• Are there any recent developments (negative or positive) within their industry?
• How might our product or service benefit them?
Taking the time to develop a solid understanding of prospective clients will help your sales staff become more confident in their approach.
4. Leverage Social Engineering
Art Sobczak, president of BusinessbyPhone.com, encourages sales reps to learn more about potential clients through social engineering, which essentially entails gathering outside information from others that will enable you help your prospect.
Ask your reps to have conversations with employees in customer service, sales or human resources of the company their trying to sell to. Sobczak recommends saying something like, “So that I’m better prepared when I talk to your CIO, I have a few questions you probably could answer…”
Few sales reps bother to make these calls. But by doing so, your sales staff will set themselves apart from many others trying to get a few minutes of any decision maker’s time.
5. Have a Script to Use as a Tool
While sales pros might cringe at the idea of having a canned speech, Sobczak says they can be a useful tool. In his book, Smart Calling: Eliminate the Fear, Failure, and Rejection From Cold Calling (Wiley 2010) Sobczak writes, “…not using a script often makes you sound like a moron; and failing to prepare a script for your opening and voicemail message is just plain dumb.” Sobczak defines a script as “the conversational combination of well-planned words, that, when delivered naturally elicit the listener response we desire.”
Work with your sales staff to craft a fine-tuned script, but don’t stop there. Give them a chance to practice their scripts with you and each other until they sound natural and relaxed reading the words.
Suzanne Paling is the principal consultant of Sales Management Services, a consulting and coaching firm in Boston. She's the author of The Accidental Sales Manager, published by Entrepreneur Press. It was a finalist for a Best Books 2010 Award from USA Book News and a bronze medalist at the Axiom book awards. She is also author of The Accidental Sales Manager Guide to Hiring.