12 December, 2010

I hate cold calls

Melbourne Herald Sun, Friday December 10, 2010

I don’t care what they say, every business person hates cold calling. They might tell you it’s the exhilaration of the hunt, or they have the hide of a rhino, but there’s always that moment’s hesitation before picking up the phone or ringing the doorbell.

If you’re in business there’s always a time when you have to be pushy and forward. Though what some regard as pushy, others would call a mouse squeak. However the rules remain the same.

For a start you have to know who your prospective customers are. The best way to start is by looking at who you have already, what they like about your product, and where you can reach more people like them.

Imagine you’re selling ladies’ shoes. Who are your market? “Women with feet” defines your market a bit too broadly.

Certainly you want women but are they looking for the latest fashion, or the greatest bargain? Do they want dress shoes or work shoes or runners? Initially you just want a few hundred of the best prospects, and their contact details.

Now prepare a story. Maybe they bought from you before, in which case the story is, “Do you remember the shoes you bought from us last year?” Don’t worry if they don’t, you just want to start the conversation.

If it’s business to business the story might be, “We’re specialists in software support for the freight forwarding industry, with customers like (name a few leading companies).”

Next, in your best “I’m your friend who’s doing you a favour” voice, make an offer with a time limit. “Because you are our customer we want to give you 10 per cent discount on our freshly arrived Italian shoes.”

Or with the business, “Can you spare me a few minutes next Wednesday morning so I can show you how I saved your competitors thousands?”

Always remember it’s not about you, it’s about them. What they want and need - it’s not because you’re a nice person to meet.

What matters to them is saving money, improving their product, increasing profits, or making themselves look good. So research your prospect’s business and your own products thoroughly, be able to talk with knowledge and authority.

Write out your script so all the important points are covered and make sure you have checked any facts. But don’t read off the script - that inevitably sounds stilted - improvise around it. Most importantly, try to start a conversation.

Over the years I have made many thousands of cold calls. They’re still not easy. I’ve had some pretty rude responses, but most times people are polite and will give you a minute. But if you don’t grab their interest in that time, you’re gone.

However there is one more important factor, and that’s persistence. You have to call a lot of people for every response. And you have to take a lot of noes for every yes.

But from experience I agree with the words of an American sales trainer: "Eighty percent of new sales are made after the fifth contact,” he warned. “Yet the majority of sales people give up after the second call."

So grit your teeth, take a deep breath - and pick up that phone.

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