Using Cold Calls to Boost Sales

In a sales slump? Turn up the heat on your cold calls.

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.

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