There are many reasons salespeople don't like to make cold calls. To begin with, the term "cold call" is a turnoff. I propose we rename it "introductory call." My friend Jim Cathcart came up with that term in his bestselling book Relationship Selling (Perigee). It makes sense: All you're trying to do is get an introduction.
It's important to understand the purpose of the call so you have a realistic attitude about this type of business development activity. Phone prospecting takes longer to pay off than other niche marketing efforts. So go into it knowing you're exploring a new frontier and it's going to take some time before anybody inhabits the land.
It's a waste of precious time to make introductory calls without a predetermined plan. You wouldn't go up in a plane to seed the land below without knowing weather conditions and soil composition, would you? If this is what you've done in the past, no wonder the mere mention of cold calling sends shivers up your spine. Here are three ways to do the task better:
1. Use a list as your lever. Success starts with a targeted list. If your product is household cleaning services, why call a random neighborhood if you have no knowledge of income levels, number of household wage earners, or number of children? If you sell nutritional products to hospitals, why call nurses or doctors if a third-party pharmacy makes all the buying decisions? Get the right list.
I sell video training systems to commissioned salespeople and sales managers. The lists my staff and I use determine our success. For example, back when the price of my system was more costly, our lists were targeted to sales managers. Now that videos are more affordable, we use a list that includes salespeople as well.
You can obtain the information you need about your market from the company you buy your list from or by doing your own research. If you do your own research, try a survey call like the following: "We provide mobile pet grooming for dogs and cats. Would that be a service your customers would want to know about, Mr./Ms. Veterinarian?"
2. Determine optimum time frames for calling. If you are selling financial services to upper-income CEOs or entrepreneurs, wouldn't it be nice to know when their corporate fiscal years end? Perhaps most of their investment purchases are made two to four weeks prior to that year-end close out. That's when they know how much extra income needs to be sheltered in a pension plan.
Sometimes timing is your ace in the hole. Granted, follow-up calls throughout the year may make that one important sale possible, but knowing when to instigate the first call is a priceless piece of information.
Timing and targeting were the keys to my recent phone success in booking eight speaking jobs with Sales and Marketing Executives International. I spoke at the group's yearly convention, and the response was positive, so I took advantage of it. After the meeting, I got a list of attendees from the organization. Within 30 days, I made follow-up calls to all 160 names on that list, saying: "I thoroughly enjoyed our morning together in Norfolk, Virginia. If your company or chapter would want a full course of my sales training in the upcoming year, let's talk further about how we can make that happen."
I left voice mail messages, instead of leaving messages with the secretaries. I've found that strategy to be very effective. No one can transmit your enthusiasm for your products or services the way you can.
3. Ask a past satisfied customer or mentor to warm things up. This applies when the past customer and the new prospect are friends or business associates. What better way to turn up the heat on a cold call than to politely ask a satisfied customer to make a call to the prospect before you do?
Tell the past customer you are on a mission to convert more prospects to satisfied customers. "Please help me grow my business. A good word from you is worth far more than dozens of unsolicited cold calls." Say it with a sincere and grateful heart.
Perhaps doing the previously mentioned preparations before phone prospecting is easy for you, but you find the act of making calls quite painful. Here are seven easy steps to get you back on the phone fast.
1. Personalize each call by preparing mentally. Your mind-set must be aligned with your language, or the conversation will not ring true. I teach salespeople how to develop a warm, but not sugar-coated, telephone voice that has that "Don't I know you?" or "Gee, you sound so familiar" ring to it.
For me, the ability to feel and sound personal over the telephone developed over time. I credit most of this flair to my father and my down-to-earth Midwestern background. I grew up with Irish and Italians in a Chicago neighborhood. These people could start a conversation with anyone. Either they knew you, thought they knew you or knew someone who did know you.
"Aren't you related to the Pope?"
"No, but my mother was."
"I thought so. I went to school with your mother's sister Ann. You resemble that side of the family."
By the time I was an adult working in sales, however, I had picked up a mild case of call reluctance. I wasn't alone: I noticed some of my colleagues were also self-conscious about using the phone. We're the same people who as teenagers used the telephone around the clock to troll for dates. So what happened?
Fear set in. The salesperson who breaks into a cold sweat prospecting by phone once got rejected, burned or wounded and took it so personally that it stifled the easygoing style of conversation and rapport-building that came so naturally as a teen. It happens to the best of us, but just remember: Deep inside each of us lives a friendly, adolescent persuader.
2. Perfect your phone style alone before making any calls. If you are still self-conscious about calling, you need to feel safe to act uninhibited. Try this: Gather a tape recorder, a mirror, a sales journal of incoming and outgoing phone scripts, a pen and a legal-sized pad. Either write or select a favorite phone dialogue, then talk to yourself in the mirror. Do you look relaxed, or are your facial expressions rigid? Our exteriors reflect our inner selves. If you look like you're in knots, your voice will sound strained as well.
Push the "record" button on your tape recorder, and pretend you're talking to a new prospect. Play back the tape, and listen to your conversation. Ask yourself how you could improve your delivery. If your voice seems unnatural and the dialogue contrived, don't despair. As you practice and participate in real phone experiences, you will improve. Mastering the art of cold calling is no different than improving your golf swing or skiing techniques.
3. Create familiarity all around you. I use family photos, framed testimonial letters and motivational quotes like "Do it now!" to put me in the mood. Before you begin, play music that excites your spirit.
4. Use your imagination. Pretend you're a prospective customer calling a bookstore to see if they have a book in stock. If it helps, record how you sound to get the feel of your inquiring phone voice. It's always easier to imagine you're a customer in need of information than a salesperson trying to force your way into the customer's time.
The inquiry call is good practice because the tone of the conversation is "Can you help me?" or "I need some information." Try to convey that same attitude when you use the phone to contact future customers.
5. Watch your tone of voice. You don't want to sound sheepish and embarrassed, nor do you want to be arrogant. The ideal tone is warm, businesslike, curious and straight to the point. I like cut-to-the-chase statements or questions such as: "I've got a problem. We are offering a two-for-one special during the next 30 days on all our coffee drinks, just to get people into the store. I need to know if you have ever stopped in while shopping at the mall, and if not, why not? We've got the greatest ice-blended mochas in town."
6. Make your goal a fast "50 in 150"-that is, 50 calls in 150 minutes. Three minutes per call is all you need. With so many voice-mail systems intercepting calls today, this should be easy. Never give people the impression you have time to chat. Chatting is not prospecting. You are on a mission. Get to the point, then move to the next prospect.
If you're faxing in conjunction with voice mail (which I find effective), be sure you tell the prospect to check his or her fax machine. Never fax with abandon. Faxes don't always make it to their destinations, so follow-ups or forewarnings are critical.
7. Take five after 15. After 15 calls, take a five-minute break-stretch, eat an apple, sip a soda, turn on some tunes, and pat yourself on the back because you are making it happen. Then grab the phone for 15 more calls.
If you find yourself becoming so comfortable with phone dialogue that you are improvising-and your spontaneous dialogues are eliciting excellent responses-stop in your tracks after you hang up and write down your brilliant scripts in your journal. Those spontaneous dialogues may turn into bestsellers someday . . . and before you know it, you'll be writing about your phone techniques in a national magazine.
Danielle Kennedy presents sales and marketing seminars and keynote addresses worldwide. She is the author of five sales books as well as audio and video sales training programs. Write to her in care of Entrepreneur, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92714.