“If only salespeople would go out and get it.” I’ve been hearing that from Howard Goldman, CEO of Humboldt United Van Lines agency in Milton, MA for most of the ten years I’ve been working with him, and his firm. And he’s right! There is an incredible amount of business waiting to be written, if only we could convince salespeople to go out and get it. As Alex Baldwin said in the film, Glen Garry, Glen Ross; it’s time to “put the coffee down, and go out and get the business. Stop complaining about the leads . . .the leads aren’t weak – you’re weak, etc.”  He was right too!

Cold calling, prospecting, networking, account development, and business development are but a few of the words used by salespeople to describe activities that they dislike doing – going out and getting the business. Intellectually, they know how important continuous prospect is, they just seem resistant to doing it, continuously. Not just when they have to. Like when they’ve lost a major account, or when a project ends. But when they don’t need the business, but want the business! That’s the best time to prospect. When you don’t need it. No one wants to do business with a loser. When you’re desperate and really need the business, it’s tough to get. Understanding the difference between needing and wanting is the first step in the process.

Most salespeople I’ve met when asked about how they prospect, usually think I’m referring to making “cold-calls.” And most admit to really disliking the process. In fact, “I’ve only met two types of people who really like making cold calls…. Liars, and people who have never really made one!” If this quote sounds familiar, it’s because it’s fundamentally true. Most successful sales people simply hate to make “cold” calls. They admit that it could be an effective way to talk with prospective customers, so why do they treat it as having all of the characteristics of a root canal?
Two possible reasons:

  1. They hate interrupting a stranger’s day and,
  2. Shrink from the concept of being rejected by someone at the other end of a telephone line.Maybe there is a third reason. Maybe they just don’t know how to make a call that works . . for both parties. A call that doesn’t sound like one you heard in the movie Tin Men. Instead, a consultative call that enables you to get through to the party you want to speak with, and to mutually determine whether or not you should meet or if they are a prospect for your services or products. Keep in mind that you are an expert in your field, with information, service and benefits to offer. Don’t put your prospective clients on a pedestal. They have a job to do, just like you.

Most of the star salespeople I have worked with remind themselves that every call, even one that doesn’t get an appointment or an order, has monetary and intrinsic value. If it takes you five calls today to get an order and that order is worth $500 to you, than each call was worth $100.

There are five things that could happen on every prospective sales call, and they all have value to you.

1. You could get an order
2. You could book an appointment
3. You could get a “no” – it’s over.
4. You could get a referral.
5. You could learn a valuable lesson.

The worst case occurs when you make a cold call and don’t get anything.
Preparing for a prospecting call.

Carefully research prospective companies within an industry that you are comfortable dealing with and take notes on all of the pertinent aspects of their business. Newspapers and the trade press are often good places to start as well as several of the commercial directories. Don’t overlook putting your name on their mailing lists as a way to learn more about the suspect (prospect). The web offers a great source of information about potential prospects. If you call the firm in advance and say “I am planning to send some information to the person responsible for . . . . , would you mind sharing with me his or her name?” Check the spelling and exact title. No one like to see their name misspelled.

RULE: Start at the top. You might be referred lower in the organization, but you’ll have access to the top if need be. Besides, the people at the top of the decision making ladder are usually open to new ideas that will help their firm and probably not hung up on the C.Y.A. syndrome that flourishes in the insecure halls of middle management today.

Send your prospect a clear, well written one-page pre approach letter, and follow up in a few days with a telephone call. The initial call can be the most frustrating part of the prospecting process if you’re not aware what is really going on. If you don’t shoot yourself in the foot by sounding like every other salesperson, you’ll find that your odds for success will rise dramatically.

Getting past the gatekeepers.

Receptionists / secretaries take calls all day long. The calls come in three flavors: 1) Customer calls. 2) Personal calls. 3) Sales calls.

They hate getting sales calls and they know how to get rid of them. The other two calls are routinely forwarded.  Make a call that sounds like a personal call and you’ll be forwarded to the person you want to speak with, and not get caught at the gate. Don’t lie. Struggle. Assume that your prospect probably knows you and why you are calling. If you don’t give a lot of information, and don’t sound like a salesperson, you’ll get through. Receptionists don’t interrogate personal calls. It only takes a little practice . . don’t give up.

When you do get through to your prospect.

This is not the time to revert to a feature + benefits, 1960’s hard sell. Be consultative. Ask questions and wait to listen to the answers. The first 10-20 seconds are the most important. Establish that you have expertise in your field, working with people in their industry and that you are willing to meet with them to share some information or to discuss an opportunity. Find a “pain” they’ll admit to and learn if they are committed to getting rid of the pain. Treat objections as opportunities. Remember, you can’t handle their objections. Only they can do that, with your guidance.
The point of this is that if you are new to sales and don’t have a large enough client base to be making referred calls ( the best), then learn how to make a good cold call. One day, soon, you will only make cold calls when you want to . . .not because you have to. It’s a lot more fun that way.
It takes more than cold calls!

Don’t get the wrong idea! There are far more effective ways to speak or meet with prospects for your business. Consider these:

  1. Attending formal networking events, at least once a month.
  2. Conducting Executive Briefings on a topic of industry importance.
  3. Utilizing a referral process for getting referrals from clients and prospects alike.
  4. Entering into joint venture / strategic relationships.

Details on these will follow in future articles.

Good selling,

Dave Rothfeld