The simplest, most cost-effective and most time-efficient way to win new customers is to pick up the phone and call the prospects. But the concept of "cold calling" sends shivers down the spine of most sales people. It seems totally unnatural to many of us.
As with most irrational fears, such as public speaking, heights and spiders, it is the fear of the unknown rather than anything else that puts sales people off. This is only enhanced by the fear of rejection, a phrase that surely also needs its own phobia name!
While technique is critical, this comes with experience and confidence. The first defining characteristic of a successful cold callers is their persistence. Recent research showed the enormous mismatch between what most sales people thought was a sensible amount of persistence and how many rebuffs prospect really give. 43% of the sample said they would give up calling after the very first rejection from the prospective customer. Another 23% said they would not call again if the customer said no a second time, 15% the third time and 11% the fourth time. This left only 8% of the sample of sales people chipping away at the prospect's resistance. However, the research showed that when questioned 73% of prospects said they would give 5 or more "objections" before buying!
So the major lesson is not to take now for an answer. The second lesson is to make sure you are speaking to the right person.
All too often, salespeople start selling to the first person that picks up the phone. This can be a waster of the caller and the prospect's time if the person at the end of the phone is not the MAN. This is not me being sexist, the MAN is an acronym for Money, Authority and Need. Someone who is happy to listen to your pitch but can't sign the sales order is merely a recommender.
So how do you make sure you get to speak to the MAN, not the recommender? My favourite question is to ask: "apart from you, who else is involved in [this buying decision]". The boost their ego by admitting they have a part in the decision and then you get them to say who else you should really be talking to.
However, when calling a business, the first hurdle to get past is the person we call the "gatekeeper". Often this is the PA, the secretary or the junior colleague who's explicit job it is to get rid of sales people. However, the target prospect does actually want to still hear from people that can do him good deals, save him money, provide a better product or inform him or her of market developments. But the gatekeeper thinks it is their job to stop ANYONE getting through.
The first tactic to get past gatekeepers is to make friends with them first. Then it is much easier to negotiate a contact with your target. The temptation is to show our frustration with the PA who keeps promising to pass on messages. But they will be pleasantly surprised when you show respect!
You are very likely going to have to speak to the gatekeeper several times before accessing your quarry so make notes about their likes, dislikes, family interests, holiday, anything that gives you something to ask about when you next call. It may sound contrived, but most gatekeepers will begin to crumble when you begin to emerge as a kind, empathetic person.
Don't be too proud to use the pity card: as an MD, I still find a winning hand with "my boss has told me not to speak to him until I get through to your boss, you could not help me out this one time could you?".
The reverse of this one is to simply state the first name of the person you wish to speak to with an upward inflection: don't ask to speak to the person, don't say please, just firmly say the first name. Many times it will be assumed you are a known contact and you'll be put through.
A classic is to get put through to accounts. Then tell the accounts people you have obviously been wrongly connected by the operator but "is there any chance you can connect me direct to Mr X to save me going around the houses". You will then be an internal call and may even find out their extensions!
And if you don't get to speak to the person you want, despite being put through DO leave a message on the answerphone. It may be a million to one chance, but it is still a chance they will call back. But keep it brief and don't leave them enough information to decide they can not bother calling you back. Use just your first name, abbreviate your company name - leave out anything that says what your company does - and leave your number, stating it twice.
A little confidence goes a long way. The first times you try these techniques you won't have believe in them and they won't work. But keep bashing away and you will be soon setting your self and your colleagues appointments as if you were born to it!
Andy Szebeni is director of sales training and telemarketing company A&P. For more information and free tips and hints go to http://www.a-and-p.com.
By Andy Szebeni