Estimated reading time: 8 minutes.
Now that you’ve prepared, it’s time to get in the zone and start dialling.
Since you’re cold-calling, chances are you don’t have a direct line to the decision-maker you’re trying to reach. It’s likely that somebody else will pick up the phone – a receptionist, a PA, or an intern.
The best way to get past a gatekeeper like this is to reframe how you approach the call. The first person you speak to is essentially the first decision-maker. They’re not gatekeepers or obstacles to overcome, they’re potential allies who can help champion your product within their company. Don’t underestimate anybody you speak to, the first responder is often one of the most influential people in the company.
I once worked in a biotech company with over 200 employees and the person who answered the phone had been there since day one. June knew the company inside-out, she handled payroll, HR, the front desk, organised events, sent the company newsletter, booked catering, and meeting rooms. June was the person you went to when you needed something or needed something done. She was the most connected person in the company.
Every company has a June. The key is to align your goals with June’s goals so she can buy into your vision.
Once you reframe it like this, everything boils down to the basics of influence and persuasion. You need to prove that you have something valuable to share so that they trust you and will be proud to refer you to the influencer you’re trying to reach.
Besides, they could be the very person you really need to convince. It’s easier to convince an office manager that they need your purchasing software than it is the CEO. The office manager is closer to the problem you solve. Your mission lines up with their personal goals and motivations.
Once they’re on-side, you have an internal ambassador championing your solution.
If you really do need to speak directly with somebody at Director or board level, and you haven’t been able to reach them, try calling outside of regular office hours (8am to 5pm). Unlike CEOs, admin don’t work 100-hour weeks so there’s nobody to screen calls.
‘Smiling and dialling’ got a bed rep from the Wolf-of-Wall-Street style boiler rooms, selling junk penny stocks without any moral compass.
But some evidence suggests that smiling can trigger positive physiological effect by releasing neurotransmitters that can reduce stress and lower your blood pressure, helping you feel more composed and confident.
“…there are both physiological and psychological benefits from maintaining positive facial expressions during stress.” – Tara L. Kraft and Sarah D. Pressman.
It might even work when you force a smile by placing a pencil between your teeth.
Learning to communicate with fewer, simple words confers confidence and knowledge of your product. If it takes you 100 words to explain an idea, you don’t understand it well enough and nobody will trust you.
Concise conversations aren’t just respectful of your client’s time, they’re respectful of yours too. It frames you as a capable and efficient professional who makes things happen. It places you in demand.
This Key and Peele sketch makes the point perfectly (strong language, don’t play this around your kids).
It takes time to develop a relationship but it can be worth the investment, especially for enterprises with long sales cycles and higher revenues as a payoff.
“if the person never engages with your email beyond opening it, you won’t stand a chance of building a relationship.”
It can take up to 5 emails, before you get any traction. More than 5 and it’s probably time to move on.
“Once I get some sort of response, I try to schedule an exploratory call. If/when I schedule this exploratory call, it’s critical that I keep the call “exploratory” and not “sales.” I ask a lot of questions — I’d say at least 50% of them personal in order to learn more about the person as an individual.”
“After that, I regularly follow-up with the person, often by sending articles or videos I think he’ll find interesting. I try to do this once a month.”
Social media outreach probably works even faster. You should already be using social as part of your thought-leadership strategy to build a genuine network of influencers and peers. You can also use social media for background research on new leads and find some common ground to start with. Use your CRM or something like FullContact to gather rich intel on your prospects. Follow them on Twitter and respond to something they’ve posted. Ask their opinions – people love to share what they think.
Too many people use Twitter as a broadcast medium to push their own stuff. It’s much more valuable when to have real conversations. Don’t pitch or talk about yourself – social media is about casual flirting, not moving in together.
Scale this across whatever channels your customers use – Linkedin, Facebook groups, Industry forums, Angellist.
But what do you talk about when you don’t have the time to invest in the social media long-game?
Some people loathe the pointless small-talk: “How is work, today? Busy?”
I’m probably any sales person’s worst nightmare. I haven’t owned a TV since 2011 and I don’t follow any team sports so the usual chit-chat openers fall flat. And seriously, nobody likes talking about the weather.
One way is to be straight up, but to reverse the obvious sales overtone. In Pitch Anything, Oren Klaff talks about frame control, where you position yourself in a position of scarcity. Ask questions that make it seem like you don’t really need to talk to them. Instead invite prospects to qualify themselves.
The approach disrupts their normal expectation and makes them pay attention. It puts you in control and respects their time by getting straight to the point.
For your first call, your mission is to qualify your client, find out if they have a use-case for your product and to establish the next steps.
You need to find out if they’re problem-aware, solution-aware, product-aware, or just unaware, so that your sales process can meet them where they are.
This means asking great questions that encourage people to open up and share.
To understand their problems, ask open-ended questions and encourage them to keep talking:
Get to the core of the problem to understand their real motivations. Use the 5-Whys to unpack the problem.
If the client is a good fit, you need to learn about their internal buying process so you can move towards the sale. Ask:
The temptation in any conversation is to interrupt or respond immediately to what somebody has just said. But on the first sales call, your main purpose is to uncover the data you need to move forward with the next step of the sales process. Your client has important information that you need to understand so you need to actively listen to what they’re telling you.
Taking notes help you focus on listening rather than waiting for a gap in the conversation to jump in.
Listen to the language they use. Do they describe their situation as disastrous or merely tiresome? That’ll help you figure out if they need a painkiller or a vitamin.
Do they have internal jargon or acronyms you should understand?
Use their own language when you recap and reflect the conversation back to them in plain English. Incorporate this language into your content and marketing collateral.
Connor James Blake says a good sales script accomplishes six goals.
One salesperson on Reddit /r/sales suggests you represent yourself not as a salesperson but as a tech consultant:
“Sometimes what can be beneficial is what’s called a disarming statement. ‘I save my clients a LOT of money. To do this I have to ask some questions you may not think are relevant but absolutely are.’ Then proceed to offer these technical upgrades as avenues of cost-efficient business practices. Make sure to tell them that this process is what sets you apart from everyone else in the industry. ‘We aren’t selling you a copier, we are streamlining your entire business model’.”
Presentation is King. WHAT you say doesn’t matter nearly as much as HOW you say it.