As the economy comes under increasing pressure, I find myself wading through an email inbox increasingly filled with clutter. I am being too polite. It is filled with garbage. Sadly, much of that garbage comes from sales folk who think they are reaching out to me to generate much-needed business for their companies.
Cold-calling is part of a salesperson’s job, I know that, and it is hard. If you don’t learn to do it well, you won’t be in sales long, or you will be doing it for the rest of your life on increasingly less lucrative accounts with thinner commissions than you are currently receiving. If you are not hearing back from me and the many others you are bombarding with modestly tailored spam, I am sure I don’t have to remind you that you are not succeeding.
While overcoming objections is a pillar of sales, you aren’t doing that if I delete your pitch on sight. Given the lack of good training you might be getting, allow me to suggest a few things you might be doing wrong. At the risk of inviting further assault, I will then suggest some things you might want to consider doing instead. If you are a manager overseeing a platoon of cold-callers, this might be an excellent time to audit your strategies, tactics, directions, and results to help those under your wing succeed rather than struggle.
“Can I send you a gift card for your time?”
No, you can’t. I don’t trade my time for $10 per half-hour. I also don’t want a free Yeti mug. I am not taking a meeting as a thank-you for something I can buy on my own. Anyone who takes this paltry bait is either violating their company’s conflicts policy or stringing you along without decision-making authority. Don’t offer to have coffee, lunch, designer cookies, or anything else sent to my office as an introduction. We don’t know each other. This is not going to make us friends. It’s insulting and you must stop now. This is not the same as me agreeing to have lunch or dinner with you in person because you have caught my interest. It’s cheap, it’s icky, and it compromises both our integrity.
“Can we jump on the phone for a few minutes?”
No, we can’t. I don’t jump on calls. I choose them wisely. Remember the obvious: I don’t know you and you don’t know me. You’re selling to me. It’s not my job to pick a time from your calendar to hear a sales pitch you initiated. You are being presumptuous and overreaching if you think I am going to drop what I am doing to jump at your opportunity. Don’t make yourself look silly when you are introducing yourself.
“Are you the right person to consider a new service?”
Seriously, you can’t be bothered to do your homework and know the answer to this before you send your inquiry? Why do you think I pick the VOIP system here? Or the cleaning service? Or the door alarm? If you’re wrong soliciting me, do you think I’m going to tell you whom you should pitch when I don’t know you? If we’re considering a new voicemail platform, someone is already working on that and you’re too late.
“Did I drop below the top of your email list?”
Yes, each of the last three times you emailed me and I didn’t respond. Moving your fourth inquiry back to the top of my email inbox at best is going to remind me of the last three I ignored in my backlog or deleted. What’s that old saying about the definition of insanity?
Okay, enough timesink, I’m sure there are dozens (hundreds) more examples of these non-icebreakers. Your time is valuable, same as mine, and neither of us can afford to be wasting it. Your bosses may tell you they want to know how many cold calls you made yesterday (almost no one calls anymore so most of this is email), but what they want are prospects — warm leads they believe you can convert to business. Here are a few avenues that might get you an email in return, the start of a conversation, which is the best you can hope to achieve on a first solicitation.
Get a proper introduction.
Want to meet me? Find someone who knows both of us and get that person to facilitate an introduction. I just heard your head explore: “That’s so hard,” you bellowed. “It could take weeks, and then why would anyone volunteer to bother you about an intrusive sales call?” Yes, exactly. It’s going to be a rare occurrence, but if you know someone I know and they think meeting you could potentially help me, they will reach out on your behalf. This is the drumbeat of effective networking. When it’s mutually beneficial, all boats float. A warm introduction beats a cold introduction every day of the week. It is worth all your time to secure one.
Send me something I don’t know.
I may not want your canned demo, but if you take the time to prepare a custom report that clearly demonstrates how your product or service solves a problem I have, I might flip past slide one. It all depends on how hard you’ve worked to make your case, how much useful data you can amass that catches my attention, and how relevant your argument proves to be from the first sentence to the last. “I can’t possibly do that for every cold call,” you groan. I agree, you don’t have to do it for every unrequested approach, just the one you want me to acknowledge.
Establish a relationship based on shared interests.
There’s a lot you can learn about people you want to meet by doing research — the organizations where they belong, the charities they support, the articles they’ve written or talks they’ve given, If you find a way to establish an authentic bond or point of connection, there is a chance you might open a dialogue that leads to a business opportunity. This is a much longer road and it will fail more than it will succeed, but it is much easier to pitch someone when they’ve already decided you are credible, rather than evaluating your personal credibility and your pitch in the same instant. Would you be surprised to hear that people like to do business with people they know or have already done business with in the past? Getting that history is hard, but once you have it, a lot more doors open.
What’s the real secret?
The real secret to building a successful sales pipeline hasn’t much changed in a hundred or more years: It all comes down to advance work. As much as 90% of your sales success is in preparation. Once you get in front of someone, which is the shortest time on time on the calendar, your presentation skills will stand or fall on your offstage readiness. Shortcuts seldom work. It’s your time out of sight that makes your time in sight resonate. Your time is an investment in your outcome, and the more you invest, the more likely you are to establish the basis of an opportunity.
Or you can offer to send me a gift card for a luscious fruit basket I won’t redeem and add that send to the tally you report to your boss. Your choice.