Learn two proven methods for using the phone to get appointments with decision-makers.
Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go.
– William Feather
You’re about to discover two proven techniques for using the phone to sell in the short and long term. Short-term success is defined as setting a sales appointment with a decision-maker who wants the result you can produce, and is willing and able to pay for that result now. I’ll show you how to accomplish that objective by designing and implementing a high-volume dialing process, and handling the various outcomes that are likely to occur as a result of your phone calls.
Long-term success can come in many forms, from setting sales appointments to getting an article published in a prominent newspaper, and it will be achieved by building relationships with decision-makers and influencers. I’ll show you how to create these relationships by allowing others to vent their frustrations and/or brag about their successes.
If you learn these cold-calling techniques you will never – I repeat, never – find yourself without new sales opportunities if you want them.
Is this easy? Hell no! It’s very hard work. Will you sometimes get negative responses from prospects? Absolutely! But you can drastically reduce the number by applying the collaboration model of sales to your cold-calling efforts. Does it work? Well, experts disagree, so allow me on my soapbox for a minute:
Of all the subjects in sales, cold-calling is one of the most divisive and one that elicits the highest level of emotion on both sides. Does cold-calling work? First, I define “work” as “Produce a sufficient number of sales opportunities to warrant the cost of the activity in time, money and energy.”
Second, everyone I’ve ever heard say “cold-calling doesn’t work” fell into one of these categories:
- A sales expert trying to sell you an alternative to cold-calling
- A salesperson, manager or expert who simply hasn’t figured out how to make cold-calling work
- A salesperson who hates cold-calling
- A prospect or gatekeeper who hates receiving cold-calls for any of a hundred reasons
- An executive who hired an external cold-calling company that failed to produce any good opportunities
- An executive who hired a sales trainer to teach her team to cold-call, only to see her money wasted
- Someone who was told by one of the people above that cold-calling doesn’t work
Does cold-calling work?
It’s a telephone, people. It’s device that permits two or more users to conduct a conversation when they are too far apart to be heard directly.
- Joe dials.
- Sally answers.
- Joe says something.
- Sally responds in words or action.
It’s a conversation. Of course it works. If, that is, the conversation doesn’t suck.
Literally Just Received A Cold-Call (Not Kidding)
It’s 10:35 a.m. on Saturday, March 17, 2018. I’m sitting at my kitchen table going through this book to revise and update it so I can put it on my website for free. I just finished adding the <soapbox> above, when the house line rang. Cindy answered. It was for me. She handed me the phone.
The guy on the other end was from CCL Research. He said he was conducting a political survey about our state’s two senators, told me it would take only a few minutes, and asked me whether I would agree to answer a few questions.
I replied, “No thanks. Actually, I’d prefer not to get these political phone calls. Please take me off your call list permanently.”
Does cold-calling work? YES! This guy just learned that I am unwilling to answer political surveys. I’m sure 90+ percent of the people he calls are also unwilling to answer political surveys. So, if he wants to make his cold-calling work, he should remove my name immediately, along with the names of everyone else he calls who is unwilling to answer political surveys. Then after he filters out 90 percent or more of his call list, he can add new people and go through the filtering process again.
If he takes that action – an action over which he has absolute control – he will eventually end up with a list of tens of thousands of Missouri citizens who, when available, will answer their phones and take a short political survey.
Or, he could invest enormous amounts of time dialing guys like me over and over, trying new ways to get us to do something we simply refuse to do. (And then he’ll probably join the minions of people who say “Cold-calling doesn’t work.”)
“Everything in life has a natural flow,” Dad said. “So to get something done, you must look for the flow and match it as best you can.”
Avoiding Mistakes That Can Damage Your Credibility
While avoiding manipulation is always a good idea, it is especially critical when cold-calling, because of the potential to do massive harm to your credibility in such a short period of time. No other method of hunting for business is so wrought with potential negative outcomes, because you’re starting from a position of annoyance – you interrupted someone with a phone call that he or she neither expected nor requested. Do anything that creates sales resistance in a cold-call, and you’ll learn just how slippery a slope can get.
Following is an example of what I mean by creating a negative outcome during a cold-call – an outcome that could have been avoided if the salesman (let’s call him Joe Jones for this example) had used a nonmanipulative approach.
It Doesn’t Have To Be A Lie To Do Damage
One morning as I sat at my desk writing …
Me: Good morning, this is Gill.
?: May I speak to the owner of the company, please?
Me: I’m one of them. How can I help you?
Joe: This is Joe Jones, with the Better Business Bureau. I’m calling today because of some recent positive interest in your company.
Stop for a minute and imagine getting this call from the Better Business Bureau – an organization that polices ethical behaviors in all aspects of business. What would you think when you hear, “I’m calling today because of some recent positive interest in your company”?
Here’s what flashed for me: “Cool. The marketing plan is working. Someone is checking out my firm to see whether he wants to do business with us. That’s great!”
What odds would you give that this is the exact reaction the creators of that cold-calling script sought? (Perhaps 100-1?) But, as the salesman rambled on and on about the Better Business Bureau, my reaction turned negative, and it occurred to me that this might not be what I originally thought.
Me: Hold on. Who’s interested in my company, and when was the inquiry made?
Joe: Actually, inquiries are kept confidential unless they’re negative and we need to follow up. I’m calling to see if you want to–
Me: Wait a minute. You started this call by telling me someone was interested in my company. I need to know who that was, or, at least, when the inquiry was made.
Joe: I don’t have a list of the inquiries that have been made, either positive or negative, so I can’t tell you who might have made one or when.
Me: But you said there was recent positive interest. How do you know there was recent interest unless you have a record of someone contacting you about us?
Joe: I never said someone contacted us about your company. I said, “I’m calling because of some recent positive interest in your company.”
Me: Oh … I get it. So the “recent positive interest” is your being positively interested in my company writing you a check to become a member of the Better Business Bureau. Is that it?
Me: It’s okay. You can admit it.
Joe: Well, yes, but if you’ll listen to me for a minute, I’ll …
I won’t go into the subsequent barrage of exchanges that occurred between me and this salesperson, but suffice it to say that I called him on his manipulative tactics, and he defended them to the end by informing me he did not tell a lie. At one point he even arrogantly said, “But that’s just your opinion,” as though the opinions of his prospects don’t count.
In reality, of course, the salesman from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) did not tell a lie – he was interested in getting my company to join. Nonetheless, his words were carefully chosen to create an image that was not true – that a third-party company had made an inquiry about my firm – and that type of cold-calling manipulation almost always backfires. In this case, it created an outcome that was opposite of what the salesman wanted – instead of having a prospect who said, “No,” but who could be sold to again in the future, he now had an adversary. Not only did I tell him to permanently remove me from his call list, I did something I have never before done. I went to the BBB website and filed a complaint … against the Better Business Bureau.
Perception is truth, and if you do anything that can be perceived by the prospect as manipulative – especially doing it thousands of times every month through cold-calling – you will create negative outcomes and drastically reduce your long-term results.
About two weeks later the president of the BBB called me about my complaint. I related my experience to her. She stood firm in her position that the salesperson did not lie, and I stood firm in my position that it doesn’t have to be a lie to do damage. We agreed to disagree and hung up. About six months later I received another cold-call from them and this time it was straight-forward and honest.
Decision-makers love to share their opinions, provided they see a benefit associated with doing so. Sometimes emotional benefits will get you the interview, and sometimes it takes economic benefits to do the trick. In either case, since decision-makers love to tell you what they think, it only makes sense to ask them for their opinions whenever you can.
There are many reasons to interview a prospect. Here are some of my favorites:
- I’m writing an article.
- I’m writing a book.
- I’m writing a case study or white paper.
- I’m helping a charity raise money.
- I’m doing research for client work.
- I’m doing work for one executive and want to know what impact my work might have on other executives at the same company.
- I’m organizing an event or preparing for an upcoming speech, and the executive in question is either attending or sending someone from his company.
- I’m helping an association create a calendar of events that will appeal to its membership.
Of course, you must follow through with whatever activity you choose to pitch, but any time you find your internal voice saying, “I wish I knew how a decision-maker would feel about this,” you have an opportunity to build a relationship – if you’ll just pick up the phone and ask your prospects to tell you what they think. Be careful, however, not to try to sell anything during your interview. Focus on building the relationship.
Why Would I Bother To Create This Type Of Relationship?
Three key things will happen if you use interview prospecting to get appointments with decision-makers and adhere to the following rules for conducting those appointments.
- You’ll establish credibility with the executives who hear your name and hear about what you do. Even the executives who say, “No,” to the interview will have heard your name and company name associated with something positive – an oh-so-important marketing drip. And with those who agree to the interview, your credibility will be greatly enhanced through the interview itself.
- You’re going to end your interview with a question that identifies a problem the executive has today, and you’re going to follow up by introducing him or her to someone who can help solve that problem – even if you have to work to find that person. This gives you the opportunity to position yourself as a valuable resource for two executives at once, which doubles your ability to leverage this time-consuming marketing activity.
- You’ll position yourself as someone who can be trusted, which will result in the executive’s listening to your future sales offers or reading the sales material you send. Imagine how much more successful your marketing will be when you’re selling to executives who open your mail, carefully analyze your message and make yes/no decisions every time!
Yes, this is a lot of work, but the long-term payout is well worth the effort.
To avoid the negative outcomes of trying the decision-makers’ patience or creating sales resistance, follow these simple rules:
- If you conduct the interview by appointment, either in person or over the phone, request no more than 20 minutes of the executive’s time, and adhere to the time frame. An exception is if you do the interview in person over a meal, then a one-hour interview is fine. (Be sure to buy the meal.)
- If you conduct the interview during the cold-call itself, use the five-question, five-minute rule. Ask no more than five prepared questions, and don’t let the call go a second over five minutes without the executive’s permission.
- Do not ask leading questions or yes/no questions. Instead, ask open-ended questions that require the executive to offer an opinion. A simple trick is to start all questions with who (or whom), what, where, when, why or how, followed by “do you think .…” For example: “Whom do you think makes the best salesperson?” “Why do you think some companies use behavioral assessments and others don’t?” “What do you think the biggest problem is regarding your company’s information technology support?”
- Do not sell! Whenever you’re interviewing an executive, you must avoid selling at all costs. Even if the executive asks you questions about what you do or what you sell, you should deflect them to a later date – “I’ll be glad to answer your questions later, but I’m not here to sell you on my services, so, if it’s okay with you, I’d rather stick to the interview for now.”
- Do not offer your own opinions. You aren’t there to convince the executive of your viewpoint; you are there to learn his or hers.
Follow these rules, and you’ll not only avoid most negative outcomes, you’ll position yourself as a person who can be trusted, because you will have lived up to your word about wanting nothing more than an interview.
Warm-Calls Are Better Than Cold-Calls
I know this is a chapter about cold-calling, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that warm-calling (having the path paved in advance) works better, and that you should always first examine the potential for warm conversations before dialing cold. So before you pick up the phone to get interviews, follow these simple procedures.
Start by going through your database to find executives you want to interview. These should be executives with whom you have no prior relationship, at companies that would make great clients. Next, look for people you already know at those companies – perhaps you met them at networking functions – and contact them through e-mail or over the phone. When you reach one of them, explain the article you’re writing and that you want to interview the executive in question. Tell your contact about the value the article will provide to the executive, and that you’ll send a free copy to him or her and the executive if the interview is granted. Then ask whether your contact would be willing to:
- Make a personal introduction to your targeted executive
- Find out whether the executive would be willing to give an interview and, if so, make an introduction
- Allow you to use his or her name when calling the executive
In cases where I’ve exhausted the approach above and don’t have enough interviews (I like to get at least five interviews for every piece I write), my next step is an e-mail blast to my database of contacts. In that effort I simply explain what I’m writing, describe the profile of the executive I want to interview, and ask for introductions or recommendations to anyone they know who fits the model. For those who provide an introduction or recommendation, I go through the steps above to see how much help they’re willing to give.
An important aspect of warm-contacting these executives is to follow the lead of the people who gave you the introductions or recommendations, because odds are they know how the executives want to be contacted. For instance, if your contact uses e-mail to contact the executive, you should use e-mail to contact the executive, and if your contact uses the phone, you should use the phone.
How To Cold-Call Executives And Get 20 Minutes
So you’ve exhausted your attempts to get warm introductions, and it’s time to make a totally cold call. Here’s a simple strategy for using humor and frustration to secure the 20 minutes you seek.
Most executives are hot under the collar about something and have very few chances to get it off their chests. At the same time, most salespeople are stuffy as can be when cold-calling, which really doesn’t help matters any. By combining a bit of humorous wording with an offer to let an executive vent without risk, you’ll get far better results than you might think. Here are two examples of wording I’ve used to get decision-makers to spend 20 minutes with me and tell me what they really think:
Interviewing Sales Managers About Something I’m Writing
“This is Gill Wagner.
“I’m writing an article that will tell salespeople how to keep sales managers informed without driving them nuts.
“I’m calling to see whether you’d be willing to tell me what salespeople do that wastes your time, so I can cover it in my article. Is there anything you can think of that really drives you nuts, and that you’d be willing to share?”
Interviewing CFOs About A Client Project
“This is Gill Wagner.
“I have a client who sells to your industry, and he wants to know how people in your position would like to be approached.
“Bottom line, I’m hoping you would be willing to tell me what you really hate about how salespeople behave.
“Is there anything you can think of that really drives you nuts, and that you’d be willing to share?”
Any salesperson in any industry can write an article about how buyers like to be sold, and use the writing of that article to get interviews with buyers. Just be certain to follow up with the executives you interviewed, so you can leverage the relationships you create.
Right-Now Prospecting™ (RNP)
Okay, now it’s time for the high-volume stuff – where you dial the phone hundreds of times in the search for someone who wants to meet with you for a sales appointment. I call this Right-Now Prospecting, because the goal is to find someone who wants what you’re selling and is willing and able to buy it right now.
Note: Before I get into this, I feel compelled to tell you that even when you know how to do Right-Now Prospecting well, unless you’re a Rachel Robot, you probably won’t enjoy doing the work. After all, once it’s planned and organized properly, RNP is a brainless, repetitive task. So before you embark on the mission to learn and perfect this type of high-volume dialing, you had better make a conscious choice that you’re willing to either do the work yourself, or outsource it to someone else.
Speaking of “right now,” how about we get started by going over some issues that must be true for Right-Now Prospecting to work:
- Your product or service must produce a positive result – a decrease or increase that positively affects your prospects’ bottom lines or fulfills their emotional desires – and you must be able to describe that result in the prospects’ terms.
- At any point in time, at least 1 percent of your prospects want the result produced, cannot produce it themselves, and are willing and able to pay to have it produced right now.
- You have a means of securing a list of prospects’ names, titles, company names and phone numbers, and a reasonable expectation that everyone on the list is a valid potential buyer. (I had a client who sold services to companies that have $200,000 in litigation expenses per year but no on-staff attorney. There was no way to buy a list of only those companies, so Right-Now Prospecting was not a fit in that case.)
- Investing six to eight hours of dialing and getting one high-quality sales appointment is a worthwhile investment of your time. (If you sell low-dollar stuff at high quantities, this probably is not the best way to sell.)
Major Components That Make RNP Successful, And The Definition Of Success
Four key things go into making Right-Now Prospecting work. If all of them have been planned carefully, tested, perfected, organized, etc., you can repeatedly and predictably sell your products or services over the phone to totally cold prospects.
In no particular order, the keys to successful Right-Now Prospecting are:
- The offer or script
- The list of prospects you’re calling
- Your demeanor on the phone
- Your preplanned actions for every likely outcome
Once you perfect RNP, you should be able to hit the following numbers in three to four hours of dialing:
- 90-150 Dials: This will depend on the size of the company called, rank of executive in your prospect list and technology used – from manual to automated dialing.
- 15 Percent Dial-To-Offer Ratio: On average, you should speak with 15 percent of the executives you call, resulting in 13 to 23 offers given per session. (List refinement will gradually increase this to 25 percent or higher.)
- 2 Percent Appointment Rate: If you make your offer to 50 executives, one of them should say, “Yes,” and set an appointment. (It could easily take you two or three full sessions to set one RNP appointment.)
- 70 Percent Or Higher Close Rate: Since RNP finds decision-makers who want the result you can produce and can authorize purchasing that result, you can expect a very high close rate.
- 6 Percent Interest Rate: Of the same 50 executives, you can also reasonably expect three of them to not want an appointment, but to have some level of sincere interest in the result you produce – interest that can result in a sales appointment at a later date.
Five of these sessions per week should eventually produce two new clients or customers each week. So before you commit to RNP, you must do the math and determine whether these results are a worthwhile investment of your time.
Now let’s discuss exactly what must happen to produce these results.
What Makes A Great Right-Now Prospecting Offer – Results
Real estate speculators learn early that location, location and location are the three most important factors regarding buying and selling real estate. In a Right-Now Prospecting offer, the three most important factors are results, results and results. I don’t care whether you’re selling insurance to a senior citizen, forklifts to a warehouse manager or consulting services to a Fortune 100 company executive, every purchase boils down to a decision-maker’s wanting some result.
Results for which a decision-maker will pay come in two forms and two forms only: either increases or decreases. A good RNP offer (or script) will always offer results to the prospect in terms of something that increases or something that decreases – or both.
But what turns a good RNP offer into a great RNP offer is how you manage the rest of the prospect’s buy/sell puzzle, so here are some things you must consider when crafting your final RNP offers.
Prospects Have A Language Of Their Own
Unless you speak your prospects’ language, they will not understand or care about what you’re saying. Part of crafting any successful offer is determining what keeps your prospects up at night – what result, in your prospects’ words, do they want to produce right now?
In my quest to determine restaurateurs’ greatest concerns, for example, I learned “increasing butts in chairs” was always priority one. So “butts in chairs” became the three words my client always used in their message to restaurateurs.
Prospects Are Busy, And You Just Interrupted Them
Be brief with your offers. A great RNP offer will always consider the prospect’s time above all else. If you can’t deliver your full message in 18-22, the likelihood of getting a “Yes” response will dramatically decrease.
No, I’m not asking you to talk fast. In fact, the faster you talk, the less your prospects will listen, so that 20-second offer must be given at a painfully slow pace. To experience what I mean by painfully slow, time yourself as you reread the previous paragraph out loud. (I’m not kidding – do it now.)
I’ll bet on your first read it took you 13 seconds or fewer – which means you need to slow down considerably, because, at the appropriate pace, it should have taken you about 18 seconds. Try it again, only this time slow down, put full two-second pauses between sentences, and enunciate every word.
From the first word (“be”) to the last word (“decrease”), the copy has 39 words and takes me 18 seconds to read out loud at the appropriate pace. So doing some simple math, I suggest you use 40 words as your benchmark for all offers, until you settle into a faster-but-comfortable cadence that allows you to be understood by your prospects.
Prospects Expect Bad Behavior From Salespeople
Don’t behave badly. Remember the Better Business Bureau manipulation example? I detected the manipulation, because I’ve experienced it in the past and have developed a keen sense for detecting it now. Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth in your offers, and you’ll get the responses you’re after – yes or no, either is fine. In addition, don’t do things that most salespeople do, even if they aren’t manipulative. Never, for example, start by asking, “How are you today?”
Prospects Have What I Call A “Yeah, But” Response
You must understand and short-circuit the prospect’s response (but not invalidate it). Basically, any time you offer to produce a result for someone, his or her instinctive behavior is to resist by saying or thinking something negative. For example, if I were to say, “Using our methods, your salespeople will shorten their sales cycle,” the prospect’s yeah-but response might be, “Yeah, but what do I have to pay you to make that happen?”
The best way I’ve found to short-circuit the yeah-but response is to offer two results joined with a word like “while.” In this example, I might say, “Using our methods, your salespeople will shorten their sales cycle, while closing a higher percentage of their sales appointments.”
The key to short-circuiting most yeah-but responses is to put a very short pause before the word “while,” because that pause gives the prospect’s brain barely enough time to start its natural yeah-but reaction. So just as the prospect begins to form the negative response to the first result you offered, you short-circuit that reaction by offering a second positive result. This doesn’t work all the time, of course, but nothing in sales does!
Use “while,” or other variations, such as “without,” and you’ll eliminate most of your prospects’ yeah-but responses.
Prospects Won’t Say, “Yes,” Unless You Ask A Yes/No Question
End your offer with a yes/no question, or don’t bother calling. And make sure your yes/no question is strong enough to have value. I mean, what value would a “Yes” response be to something like, “Is this something you might want to consider sometime in the future?”
“Is this something you want?” – now that’s a question with meat!
Creating Great RNP Offers
What we’ve already learned: A great RNP script is one that offers to produce a result the prospect wants – to increase and/or decrease something – using the prospect’s language. It is honest and nondeceptive, avoids standard practices used by other salespeople and is crafted to short-circuit the natural yeah-but response. And finally, a great RNP offer is one that is understood by every prospect who hears the offer, and to which a prospect can reply, “Yes, I want that,” or “No, I don’t want that.”
I keep my offers close to 20 seconds in length, because that seems to produce the best results for me. However, I have crafted shorter and longer offers that worked equally well, so feel free to experiment with a variety of offer lengths.
Personally, I like opening with “This is Gill Wagner, with [Company],” and then waiting a full two seconds before I utter another word. In my experience, this long pause gives the prospect’s brain the time it may need to engage in the call, and the chance to say, “No thanks,” and hang up should he or she choose. (I wouldn’t have gotten a “Yes” out of the person anyway, so I just saved about 17 seconds.)
The following example contains four concepts – who I am, what I do and two results (see the portions in italics) – followed by a yes/no question. That’s not to say that four concepts are required for success, it’s just that this format works for me, so I use it. In this case, it’s an offer I used to find law firm managers who wanted sales training for their associates. (Note: I did not offer “sales training” because attorneys “don’t sell” – their words.)
“This is Gill Wagner, with Honest Selling.
“I specialize at protecting the investment that law firm partners make in associates, by teaching associates how to bring in new business, without sacrificing billable hours.
“Do you want this type of training for your associates?”
This offer worked for me, because I did the research, to:
- Identify a major problem for law firm partners – associates leave after the firm invests five years to make them good attorneys
- Identify why most associates leave – those not on a partnership track tend to leave for greener pastures
- Identify the primary key to making partner – associates who bring in business are offered partnerships
- Identify the primary obstacle – no sales skills – that keeps associates from bringing in new business
- Identify the prospect’s language for the result sales training will produce – “bring in new business”
- Identify the most likely yeah-but response that my offer will produce – “Yeah, but then his time will be spent selling, and his billable hours will drop.”
- Craft an offer based on everything I had learned
There are many formats you can use to create great RNP offers – don’t limit your thinking to the format that works for me. For example, a local auto glass company calls me about every 30 days with the following cold-call offer:
“This is Joe Jones, with Auto Glass Plus.
“We fix broken car windows on site.
“Do you have a car window you want fixed at this time?”
Every time Joe calls, I say “Nope.” He says, “Okay, Goodbye.” I hang up the phone. It is never an unpleasant experience for me, so I let him keep calling.
Note: Fully 14 years after originally writing this book with that example, my truck window broke. I called Auto Glass Plus. Joe is no longer there and I haven’t received a call from them in years. But to this day I remember the ethical approach they applied to cold-calling, and that approach earned them my business.
Just stick to the guidelines for creating your offers, and you’ll be well on your way to success.
Securing Your List Of Prospects
Unfortunately, good list brokers come and go quite frequently. And since “good” is both a relative and always-changing classification, I won’t point you to any one vendor. But there are places you can look to find what you seek quickly:
- Turn to other salespeople, such as those on list servers. If you ask enough of them, you’ll eventually get a referral to a broker who is doing a good job today.
- Many trade magazines will sell you their subscription lists, but you need to be sure to choose a magazine that your prospects read. When you’re in your clients’ or prospects’ offices, pay attention to the magazines sitting on their desks.
- If you participate in lead-sharing groups filled with people you can trust, you can trade contact lists.
- Search the Internet for “list brokers,” and you’ll find some that will let you do online searches and filter your lists to the size you want before buying the data.
Unless you get a “lemon” vendor, the more you pay, the better quality you’ll get, and the more rights to the data you’ll have. Some vendors limit your rights to only one contact, such as the right to send one mass mailing. So, when making your final purchase decision, make sure you’re buying all the rights you’ll need to implement your entire campaign. I won’t buy a list without unlimited phone call and mailing rights, because I have too much to think about to keep track of such limitations.
You should also try to negotiate a discount for bad records. That way, after you go through the list one time, you’ll be able to return bad records for a discount. Since any newly purchased list will have from 20 percent bad records or greater, this can produce a significant savings over the long haul. (The good brokers want to know when their data is bad, which is why they offer these refunds.)
Selecting your prospect demographics is key, because you want a list where every prospect will eventually want what you offer. But depending on what you’re selling, this may be difficult to find. Just do the best you can to narrow your focus – using as many criteria as possible when making your selection. I start by creating a “best client” profile – I look at the best clients I’ve ever had and search for commonalities. Then I attempt to buy a list of prospects who meet the same stringent criteria – in the hopes of replicating the best. If I have too many filters and can’t find enough prospects that fit, I jettison the least-important filter and try again.
In the end, your results will be as good as the homework you did.
Demeanor Dos and Don’ts
Perkiness is the kiss of death when it comes to Right-Now Prospecting, unless you’re that rare individual who is so naturally perky it doesn’t seem phony. So please do not try to be over-the-top excited about what you’re selling.
Attitude, however, is the key. Your first attitude adjustment when Right-Now Prospecting comes from changing your objective. Most people who cold-call do so with the objective of getting an appointment or closing a sale. So, with every call, they are hopeful that “this will be the one.” It’s this attitude that makes people so miserable, because every “No” becomes a failure – and even with one success out of 50 dials, 49 failures can take an emotional toll.
So, what is your objective if not to get the appointment or close the sale? It’s to learn whether what you’re offering is something the prospect wants, and to learn whether the prospect wants an appointment with you or wants to buy right now. By keeping this objective in mind, every “Yes” response and every “No” response are an equal success – you learned what you set out to learn.
Once you adopt this attitude, your cold-call reluctance will diminish, if not disappear, because there is no longer a high volume of rejection associated with the activity. (It’s still very hard work.)
I get my best results when I’m conversational in tone, but unattached to the outcome of the call. My only conflict comes when I get any form of “Maybe.” But since I have predefined responses to all “Maybe” situations, even this conflict is eliminated.
How Do I Handle All The Likely Outcomes From Every Dial?
Successful cold-calling requires strategic event management – preparing for the most likely outcomes of every call before you initiate the cold-call event. In making thousands of phone calls, I’ve found 13 frequent outcomes. So preparing for them is one of the four components to a successful Right-Now Prospecting campaign.
It’s important to note that when using RNP, you will typically start off slow and then build momentum – you’ll “get in the groove,” so to speak. Therefore, you must eliminate anything that disrupts your momentum – like texts, phone calls, e-mail or coworker visits – during your dialing sessions, because these disruptions will damage your overall results.
Following are the outcomes you will most likely experience, and suggestions for handling them. Use the suggestions as is, or modify them. But do not make a single dial without preparing in advance!
Auto-Attendant Hell: You reach an auto-attendant phone system that is so time-consuming and complicated that you can’t get to your prospect in a reasonable amount of time.
Set these aside for review, so you can decide later whether they are worth your time. If they are, call back to see if you can find a shortcut through the auto-attendant system. If you can’t, place the prospect into one of your other marketing campaigns, such as one of your cold-letter processes. If you can’t shorten the time the auto-attendant takes, never again waste your time cold-calling this company’s executives.
Bad Record: The phone number is dead; the prospect retired 18 years ago (I actually got that one once); or perhaps the prospect was promoted to another division at the company.
If the phone number is dead, but you’re given a new number, simply make the change and redial. If no new number is given, record the bad record, and flag it for review later.
If the executive is gone, then you’re in a bit of a sticky situation. Basically, what could happen is a gatekeeper could say, “Bill isn’t here anymore, but I can transfer you to Sally Smith.”
You must know immediately whether Sally Smith is on your do-not-call list, so you can stop the gatekeeper from transferring you. Or, if Sally said, “No,” to your offer a short while ago, you must know that as well. To accomplish that, you must have a list of prospects, sorted by company name then prospect name. If you have the list, you can easily stop the gatekeeper from putting you through, by saying something like, “Before you transfer me, let me see whether I’ve already spoken with Ms. Smith.” Then take a quick look at your list.
Do whatever you must to never make an offer to an executive who doesn’t want a cold-call from you, or who has already said, “No,” in a recent call.
When you get a busy signal, move the prospect down your call list about 20 spots, so you’ll call back in a half hour or so. If you get a second busy signal, move the prospect into tomorrow’s session. Once you get the third busy signal, flag the record for review, because something is probably wrong with the number, making dialing it again a waste of your time.
Don’t Call: The prospect requests to be removed from your list.
First, most state and federal laws require you to honor this request – many even have a reporting mechanism in place and a method for fining you for violations. Besides that, if a prospect doesn’t want you to call, the odds of actually selling something through a cold-call become zero, so why would you waste your time?
Honor all don’t-call requests, and simply move the prospect into one of your other marketing campaigns.
Gatekeeper: The executive assistant manages the entire call.
Truly professional gatekeepers are rare, but occasionally you’ll find one who would rather deal with you than dump you into the boss’s voice-mail.
In these cases, treat the gatekeeper just as you would a prospect. Give the offer directly to him or her but change your final request to something like, “Do you think Mr. Jones would want to hear about this?”
Be certain to get the gatekeeper’s name, so you know it for future calls. On those calls, ask for the gatekeeper by name instead of the prospect, give the gatekeeper your offer and ask him or her to make the decision on the prospect’s behalf.
Handoff: The prospect or gatekeeper wants to forward you to another executive at the company.
Again, you’re at risk for being passed to someone with whom you’ve already dealt, so be certain you know whom you’ve called in the past and whether it is acceptable to call again now. If not, or if you don’t know, simply get the new person’s name, title and phone number, then tell the gatekeeper you’ll call back.
Left Voice-Mail: You are asked to leave the prospect a voice-mail message.
As a rule, don’t leave voice-mail messages, because it takes too many messages to get a response, and that costs productive dialing time. However, sometimes a gatekeeper will listen to the offer and ask you to leave the prospect a message. In that case, do as asked, but get the gatekeeper’s name, so you can indicate that he or she specifically asked you to leave the message: “This is Gill Wagner, with Honest Selling. I told Mary why I was calling, and she asked me to leave you this voice-mail message. I …”
No Answer: The phone rings and rings and rings and rings …
If you’re calling larger companies, phones that keep ringing are probably bad numbers, because businesses typically have auto-attendant systems. If you’re calling smaller companies, or individuals, however, then use your own judgment as to how many times you’ll call before moving the prospect into another marketing campaign.
Offer Declined: You reach the prospect but receive “No” to your offer.
Many prospects say, “No,” but offer explanations. Always make a record of exactly what they say, because you can learn more about your offer from the “No” responses than you can from most “Yes” responses.
Don’t call back for at least four to five weeks, so that you’re not seen as a pest. And use an offer with different increases and/or decreases as well.
Out Until: Someone tells you, “She’ll be out until next Thursday” or “He’ll be out until 3 p.m.”
Do whatever you must to note this fact and call back then, especially if it’s a specific time of day.
Send Information: The prospect asks for information to be sent and isn’t just blowing you off.
There are two levels of “send information.” One is a brush-off – a “No” in disguise – and the other is an indication of interest. Here are two examples (after you gave your full offer):
- “Can you send me something about that?”
- “Actually, that’s a hot topic for us right now. In fact, I’ve got an executive meeting on this next week Tuesday. Is there any way you can send me something that explains this fully, so I can talk intelligently about it at the meeting?”
With the first response, assume this is a “No” in disguise, and see whether you can turn it into a flat-out “No,” by saying something like, “Honestly, I typically don’t send information, because I find that most people don’t really want it – what they really mean is ‘No thank you.’ Is that the case here?”
If the prospect says anything like “No, I actually would like to see something on this,” then ask whether he or she wants to be added to one of your other marketing processes, such as an e-mail newsletter. This way the prospect will get the information requested, and you’re not doing a ton of additional work sending information to someone with no immediate desire to buy.
On the second response, ask two questions. The first is designed to get a better handle on the prospect’s situation: “I have a ton of stuff I can send, and I’d like to be sure it addresses your specific issue. Can you tell me more about your situation?” After you get the information you need, say, “I’ll be sure you have something on your desk before your meeting. However, I’d like to schedule a follow-up call for after your meeting, so we can talk about where you stand. Are you willing to do that?”
In this case, never send anything without a commitment to follow up. If the prospect balks, you can press the issue until you get a commitment. In the rare case where you don’t get one, you can decide not to mail anything at all. In each instance, play this one by ear, because all situations are different.
Voice-Mail Not: You end up in the prospect’s voice-mail, but you don’t leave voice-mail messages when cold-calling, so you hang up.
Call this prospect back at a different time of day and/or on a different day of the week, so you can eventually determine when he or she is likely to be available. If you’ve dialed the number a half-dozen times and have gotten voice-mail each time, try calling on a weekend, in the early morning or late evening, or perhaps on a holiday. If you simply can’t get through, remove the prospect from your call list and find another way in.
Yes High: The prospect says, “Yes,” to your offer (indicating a high priority for you both), and you set an appointment.
Be certain you’re prepared to set appointments, because, if you get caught off guard, you’ll blow your chance. Determine what types of appointments you’ll take, know whether you want them at the prospect’s office, your office, over a meal, etc., and have the plan well-thought-out before you dial your first number.
Right-Now Prospecting is hard but rewarding work, provided you plan everything in advance and actually pick up the phone.
The [Your Name Here] Sales System: Cold-Calls
The telephone is one of the most powerful tools in sales, and hunting for business is always easier and more efficient if you are willing to use it to reach out to prospects. On the other hand, many people suffer from call reluctance, which is rooted mostly in the fear of rejection or hostility. If you suffer from call reluctance, then you have a choice to make:
- You can abandon cold-calling completely and design other hunter methods for identifying sales opportunities.
- You can ignore your fears and push on, dialing the phone and suffering.
- You can design cold-calling processes that virtually eliminate the possibility of hostility and rejection, and are actually comfortable and effective to use.
Don’t let the unfounded claims of others keep you from searching for ways to utilize this powerful tool.