When you call a prospective client to request a meeting for the first time, the primary rule is, have something useful to say. It’s data they might be interested in. It’s a transaction that is similar to one they did or might do. It’s a problem they might share, that you’ve already solved. It’s data information or research that might be relevant, or it’s how you are connected or linked to them. (It’s also best if you can pre-deliver this info.) That’s the legwork that makes a cold call less chilly.
Once you know what you are going to say that’s either potentially useful to them, or connects you to them (or both), then you’re ready to call.
Before you call take five minutes to practice what you want to say and how you want to say it. Write it down. Read it. Say it. Say it without reading it, from memory. Then get your calendar, a pen, and we suggest making the call in the morning. (But that depends on you and, something that’s difficult to know at this point, how they use their day.)
“Hi Jon, this is Tim Wills at Berenger. I know you through Bill Stern at the K of C Club. Berenger developed a new add-on to our product that you should know is out there. I’m going to be in St Louis in three weeks. Can we meet for 30 minutes?”
When Jon says “yes,” make the date and get off the phone. Your goal is to meet your new client face to face. Save your ideas and thoughts for the meeting itself when you are better prepared.
The chances you get Jon on your first try are pretty slim. Even after eight bounces to voicemail, assume that every call you make will be the one that is picked up by your client prospect. Even on your ninth call, you still do a quick in-your-head rehearsal. And, you haven’t left eight messages, especially on voice mail. That’s a great way to lower yourself to pest status. You might have left one or two so your client knows you are calling to set up a meeting, delivering on the promise you made in your initial correspondence.
Preparing to make the meeting request call is one of the differences between being a pest and persevering.
The battle over cold calling rages on.
Is cold calling a necessary part of being a salesperson? Or should a good salesperson never be cold calling?
The battle continues because the answer is contextual. Both of the above statements are true, depending on context. Whether cold calling is useful depends on your situation, your industry and your product.
Cold calling is a viable option if the following criteria are met.
- There are many potential buyers of your product. Many means many, like nearly everyone — examples are insurance and shoes.
- The opportunity cost to a ‘no’ to your request, whether that request is for a meeting or to actually buy your product, is low. In other words you don’t really care if they say no, presumably because there are many more folks out there whom you can find. As an example, you have a hundred more names on a list of people who clicked a web link identifying their interest in Florida real estate, and that happens to be what you’re selling.
- There are many routes into a client organization. If you are selling facilitation services to run meetings more effectively, any departmental manager could use your services. If one manager at Aquacorp says no, you are not closed out from calling on another.
- Your pitch can outline a need quickly. People have to get it. And to get it, the problem your product solves must be universally understood. “Tired of sewing patches on the ripped knees of your children’s pants? Toughskins will outlast any other pair of pants.” Parents who have that problem get it right away. (Still, my brothers and I wore a lot of holes in the knees of Toughskin jeans.)
Another way to think about it is the reverse. Would you be disappointed if the person on the other end of the phone said no to your request? If the answer is ‘yes,’ then don’t cold call.
Employing the Loose Connection
Loose connections may be a nightmare for an electrician, but they are wonderful for sales people. If you want to get a yes to your request for a meeting, it’s useful if you’ve found a connection you share with your client, and even better if they know what that connection is. That’s what this post is about — activating the connection you’ve found.
The process for activating your loose connection is important. Use two separate communication methods (a belt and suspenders strategy is usually enough to ensure that the message gets through). Your email might go to a spam folder, your phone message will likely be listened to, a handwritten note might end up in the circular file, but it will probably be read. Send two types of missives, a call and a note, a call and an email, an email and a note, or an email from someone they know, then an email from you.
The content of your initial message explains who you are, the connection you have to them, and either asks for a meeting or says you’ll be calling to ask for one in the next week. If it’s an email, it’s less than a hundred words.
Your note, email and/or message might say, for example, “ Hi I’m Mary Snell at Berklee. I saw you speak on a panel at the user conference last week. I asked you the question about advanced interfaces [reference to how you’re connected]. I’d be pleased to get together with you and talk about whether working together might benefit us both. I’ll give you a call in the next week [and you do call in next week] to set up a time that works for you if you’re willing. Thanks.”
You can decide if this is better than the unconnected alternative: “ Hi I’m Mary Snell from Berklee. I’d love to get together with you and talk about whether working together might benefit us both. I’ll call you this week to set up a time if you’re willing. Thanks.”
You’ve found the connection to your prospective client. You communicated that connection so they know how they’re connected to you. Our next post will talk about the call for the meeting request; what you say and how you say it.
… and Getting Yourself a “Yes”
You pick up the phone — to call a prospective client with whom you’ve wanted to meet for a while. Today feels like the day. You make the call, get them on the line, and ask if you can come by their office for a meeting.
They say, “No thanks.”
Once a prospective client has said “no” to your request for a meeting, it’s even more difficult to get a “yes” later. You’ve already been disqualified. Getting a “no” switched to a “yes” is like getting someone to add an item to their to-do list that they’ve already crossed off. They disqualified you. From their perspective, that was progress. Getting an initial “no” is a situation to be avoided.
How might you increase the odds of a “yes” when you make that call?
Getting a “yes” rather than a “no” to a meeting request usually requires just one thing: a connection, however loose, between you and your prospect. Establish some connection, any connection, and your request for a meeting will usually be answered affirmatively.
What do we mean by connection? Here’s a list of reasons people are more likely to say yes to your request for a meeting. (Lists are useful to spark creative thinking.) When you read the list, let your brain make a creative connection — in this case a connection to a connection you may have to your client. (These are loosely ordered, starting with the strongest connections first.)
- Someone your client knows referred you, especially if they sent an email saying so first. (This is gold.)
- You share a professional network. Someone in your company knows someone in theirs.
- You work with a well-known individual (or company or entity). For example if your clients are scientists, and the National Science Foundation is a client of yours, this is often enough of a connection to get a yes.
- You are connected to people who might be useful to them, service providers, researchers.
- You know people in common outside of work, through a club, a sport a hobby, or simple geography.
- You can execute demonstrably faster or better than your competitors, and this might matter to your prospect.
- You have new capabilities of which your prospective client is unaware, which they might be able to profit from.
Your Business Knowledge
- You offer interesting insights into your client’s business.
- You have intelligence relevant to an initiative your client is undertaking.
- You work with companies in their supply or delivery chain, (and sometimes even a company who is a competitor.)
- You have specific experience in a niche they occupy.
- You can point to specific tricky problems that you solved with your creative and innovative capacity.
- You are going to be in their neighborhood or city.
Find a connection. Once you have a connection, we’ll tell you in the next post, how to employ that connection to get a yes to your request.