You’ve got an excellent targeted list of companies and, with some, you have the decision makers’ names. You have the perfect solution for them. If only they knew you existed.
Whether you wear steel-toed boots or Prada pumps, the key to getting your foot in the door is generating curiosity. The goal is for the prospect to understand that learning more about who you are and what you do might get them something that they want. And the best way to get them curious about you is for you to be curious about them.
The first contact is not about getting an order – a common mistake among overeager sales reps. Any prospect can sense when you are coming from a place of desperation in which case, you are most likely to be met with a slammed foot in the door; painful even if you’re wearing steel toed boots. The first contact is about engaging the prospect in a conversation, learning more about them, their company, and their place in their industry.
At the point of first contact, being prepared with targeted and insightful questions will demonstrate that time spent with you is time worth investing. After all, you have already invested in them. This means you should have already done your research – at minimum spending some time on their website.
Developing these focused and specific questions can take time. I like the market intelligence service First Research which provides information on hundreds of industries and can significantly reduce the time it takes to develop these questions (check out the “call preparation questions” in this sample report).
As first contacts are generally made over the phone, let’s take a brief look at the first contact phone call.
You aren’t in high school any more. You don’t have to wait by the phone pining for it to ring to get invited to the party. You know you have a lot to offer. Just invite yourself. If you don’t contact them, it’s unlikely they’ll be buying from you.
In most industries, it takes an average of 6 phone calls to make 1 connection (a connection is when you actually get the intended person on the phone) and of those contacts made, there is between a 5-20% success ratio of booking a calendared appointment. Targeted prospect lists will improve the odds on both fronts, but with or without those lists, you still have to dial.
The Four Step Plan
So, you got through to the decision-maker. Now what? We’ve already established that the goal of the first contact is not to get an order, but to put the possibility of some value on the table. You are here to engage your prospect, learn more about them, while also giving them enough information about you that they will be willing to invest more time with you.
The follow-up that you want to calendar, ideally a face-to-face meeting, will be one of the most time-consuming parts of the sales process. With this in mind, gather as much information about your prospect, their company, their needs, their problems, their decision-making process, etc. as possible, now, to make that investment worth your time and your prospect’s time.
How do you make the call about them when you’re the one that’s initiating it? Let’s divide it into four parts:
- Introduction – The goal of the introduction is to greet the person and provide brief insight into who you are and why you are calling. This is a teaser to keep them on the line and agree to answer some questions in order for you to determine “fit.” You want to offer as little information as possible while still suspending their disbelief. It can be as simple as explaining that your company’s solution has been very effective with other companies in their industry, but it’s possible it’s not for them. Asking for a small amount of time to figure out whether there is a fit disarms them as you have acknowledged the possibility that this call could be your last contact and that it is OK with you.
- Qualification – Once you have permission, the goal of the qualification is to ask targeted questions about them that demonstrate your familiarity, however small, with their business. While many will claim listening is the most important sales skill, it is an end result skill. In order to be able to listen, you have to be able to ask great questions; questions that home in on their challenges and frustrations and prompt them to open up to you.
- Broadcast – The goal here is to offer a more extensive explanation of what your company does tailored to how you may be able to address their pains. In the Introduction, you held back. This is your opportunity to illustrate more fully the ways that you have helped others in similar situations without assuming you can help them. It allows them to consider the possibility that the solution may also work for them without you overtly pushing it on them.
- Follow-up – Now you want to calendar the next contact – be it by phone, in person, or via email. Take advantage of the momentum you have created during this initial phone conversation and aim to book that follow-up as soon as possible.
Exceptional Sales People Use Scripts?!
Some sales people are reluctant to use scripts, believing, “scripts are for rookies who don’t know the ropes.” Can you be a great sales person without a script? Absolutely. Can you reach your full potential? No. Studies show again and again that well written scripts are the proven method to getting better results, more often. A script states the goal of the call, some of the specific language that has given you the best results in the past, and any key questions you want answered. It does not have to be “stuck to.” It is a plan for success. A guideline to follow. A foundation to build from.
Build your script from your specific goals with your prospect and test it on a friendly audience, like your manager or one of your best clients. Even a voice recording of yourself will provide significant insight. After a few test rounds and some fine-tuning, dial that number and start talking to your prospects. Scripts are fluid – they change with the circumstances and the prospect – but the best points and the best wording of those points remain rooted at the core.
A Word on Procrastination
People responsible for prospecting procrastinate for many reasons:
- It’s more comfortable to call on existing clients
- It avoids the possibility of rejection
- It can feel invasive to make a “sales-y” call
- They don’t set the time aside to do the action of calling
- They are intimidated by the idea that it will consume more time than they have
The best antidote for the procrastinating but well-intentioned sales rep is to be well prepared and clear about the value you have to offer, with a specific plan of the questions you want answered and the information you want to convey (AKA a script). With preparation, the call will proceed more smoothly, success is more likely, and you will be left with a sense of accomplishment and confidence to fuel future calls.
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