The bad news is … if you want business, you need to put a lot of effort into chasing it. And the really bad news is … that will mean doing some cold calling. From my business coaching experience I know that many entrepreneurs look forward to cold calling like they look forward to a visit with their dentist. However, there is some good news: if it's done properly, cold calling is a (sort of) effective sales tactic. It really needn’t be the futile, gut wrenching experience it’s so often pictured as.
I really do not believe that there is a "right" way to do this. But attempting to make a sale with someone who doesn't know anything about you is a futile excercise. I will say that to a large degree the success of your cold call is determined before you ever pick up the handset because the key to cold calling success lies in the preparation you make beforehand. Here’s some advice on how to prepare to make a business winning cold call from a business coach that doesn't envy you the task.
Understand the goal of a cold call
It’s NOT about making an immediate sale; it's about getting the chance to make the sale. Specifically, the purpose of a cold call is fact finding, creating a dialogue (a request for you to send more information or even a quote means another contact) or, perhaps best of all, arranging an appointment with your contact where you can make your sales pitch.
Prequalify your targets
Find out as much about the prospect’s business as you can and work out where your product or service meshes with what they do. Local newspapers, industry journals, and their website make good starting points for discovering this information. In this way you can start your call by discussing some aspect of the prospect's business and what need your product/service could answer to. If there’s no mesh, there’s no chance of getting the appointment – or if you did it would be a waste of time for all concerned.
Identify the decision maker
If you have done your homework and prequalified your prospect you should have some idea of who the decision maker for the type of product/service you sell is likely to be. That’s the person to ask for when you ring. Treating a gatekeeper (say, the company secretary) with respect can get you that information and an open door (or phone connection) to the decision maker. Have a story in mind to encourage them to put you through – something that makes them an ally rather than a barrier.
Have a prepared opening gambit
Your opening statement can make or break your chances with the prospect. Base your opening statement on the business need you have identified in your research. It might go like this:
Good morning, Mr Reese. This is Ray Jones from Enviro Plumbing. I read in the local paper that you recently won the contract for Prime Estate development. We specialise in supplying and installing hot water systems that substantially reduce electricity charges and comply with the latest environmental regulations. They also attract a government subsidy in some cases. I'd like to ask a few questions to determine whether our product might meet your needs for the buildings on the new estate.
Practise your opening gambit before ringing – you don’t want to make it sound like you are reading from an autocue. Rather, use your statement to arrange your thoughts so that during that critical first few seconds with the prospect you stay relevant, remember the hot buttons and keep their attention.
Prepare a script for the rest of your cold call
Having prepared a winning opening, don’t blow your chances by mishandling the succeeding conversation. The conversation may flow freely and widely but through it all you should know the questions you need answers to, points you want to make about the benefits of your product/service and how to answer any objections or questions the prospect may raise. So this ‘script’ isn’t a piece of dramatic dialogue – you can’t control the conversation to that extent. It is more like a set of notes to yourself to keep you focussed and make sure you are prepared for anything that comes up. It can include information on the features of your product/service (you’ll be selling the benefits but technically inclined prospects will have some features in mind they’ll consider necessary as well) and factual data, such as statistics or case studies, to knock down objections. If an objection arises that you hadn't anticipated, react as best you can. Then write it down and prepare a detailed response before you try the next prospect.
Practise until it’s perfect
As with any job requiring some level of skill, the more cold calling you do, the better you'll get. Rehearse your pitch out loud with friends or associates until you have all the points clear in your mind. Then go make that call!