Founded in 1990, Dayton, Ohio-based ManaVision Inc. develops and implements communications programs for clients in a variety of media-video, film, multimedia and print. Its client list is solid and includes McDonald's, AT&T, NCR and The Iams Company.
Owner Maureen Manavis (a former staff producer for NCR's audiovisual department) operates ManaVision as a virtual communications agency. She is the company's sole employee. Independent contractors are used for specialized skills (in video, multimedia and so on) on an as-needed basis. "There is plenty of creative talent available in Ohio and neighboring states," says Manavis. "Our product can compete with those produced on the East or West Coast."
"Getting new clients and growing the business has been very difficult for me," says Manavis. "Cold calls are hell. It can take me an hour to work up the nerve to make a call. If I'm lucky enough to get someone to talk to me, I still find it difficult to persuade a prospect to see me. In meetings, my close rate is fantastic. But over the phone, my success rate is dismal. How can I get through to my prospects?"
Does Manavis' plight sound familiar? If there's one thing most entrepreneurs hate, it's cold calling. We took Manavis' problem to Danielle Kennedy, author of Selling-The Danielle Kennedy Way (Danielle Kennedy Productions) and a recognized pro at overcoming inner obstacles to selling.
Kennedy's first words are ones of warning: "Many small businesses fall victim to the illusion of security. They forget they can lose their existing clients in an instant. That's why it is so important to always be prospecting for new business, no matter how busy you are."
Manavis' dislike of cold-calling is typical. "Most entrepreneurs think it's like being a stereotypical used-car salesman," says Kennedy. "The antidote is to change your thinking about cold calls. In fact, they are not cold calls-they are 'exploratory calls,' where you introduce yourself to the other person. You don't close a deal in a call. Don't put too much importance on them."
To make prospecting easier, Kennedy offers a multipart plan:
Build new business development into every workweek. "You need to be developing new business two hours a day," says Kennedy. "Most entrepreneurs don't spend even an hour a week on this, but the really successful ones know it's essential. Doing it becomes a matter of discipline. You've got to designate time for it every week. It's a matter of survival."
Eat a lot of rubber chicken. Better than cold calling in many cases is to establish prior, even if casual, acquaintances with prospects by meeting them via professional organizations and charities. "I cannot tell you how many big jobs have come to me through these groups," says Kennedy. "Manavis needs to network and do a lot of it."
Be persistent. "What Manavis needs most is what many entrepreneurs need to jump-start their selling-persistence and tenacity," says Kennedy. "She needs to put herself in the mind-set for making calls, just as an athlete puts himself in a mind-set before the Olympics."
To do this, Kennedy suggests, "Surround yourself with letters from customers who are really excited about your product or service. Put them on your desk or framed nearby, along with pictures of family or other images that put you in a happy frame of mind.
"Read positive, practical how-to books on 'warm calling.' Try George Walther's books, Power Talking and Phone Power [both Putnam]. He also has audiotapes and videotapes.
"Another strategy is mixing cold calls with calls to past customers-people you know will respond well. After calling a few past customers, immediately make an introductory cold call, keeping the same mind-set you had while talking to your existing customer."
Finally, she recommends, "Surround yourself with positive people-other entrepreneurs or salespeople who are really good at cold calls and don't see them as a big deal. Associating with fearless and courageous people will help play [cold calls] down in your mind."
Eventually, Kennedy promises, "You'll learn to flick an internal switch and get psyched up for making calls. Pretty soon, the calls get to be fun-because you get better and better at them. And that's how you build a successful business that's around for the long haul."
Dialing for dollars:"Cold calls are hell," says Maureen Manavis of her search for new clients.