Even the most agreeable salespeople can cringe at the thought of cold-calling – yet the technique remains among the most effective at generating leads. “Cold-calling is frustrating, but it’s a necessity, and salespeople have to learn that skillset if they plan to be successful in real sales – not in account management, but in sales for new business,” says Stephan Schiffman, author of Cold Calling Techniques That Really Work.
So, as the head of your company, what can you suggest to your salespeople to give them a cold-calling edge? Here’s some expert advice to strengthen your team’s approach.
Art Sobczak, author of Smart Calling: Eliminate the Fear, Failure, and Rejection from Cold Calling, believes it’s crucial to know something about the company you’re calling – and the Internet makes that an easier task than it used to be.
“At the bare minimum, you need to go to their website, find out what they do and get as much information as you can about the company itself,” he says. “As basic as that seems, not everybody does that, and there’s no faster way to look like an idiot than to have to ask somebody what their company actually does.”
For starters, Sobczak recommends your salespeople search out mission statements. “You might find something there where they really pride themselves on quality or customer service – anything that you might be able to use at the beginning of your call to spark a little interest,” he says. “What you really want to do is make sure you don’t sound like every salesperson who’s pitching their product.”
Sobczak suggests checking out a prospect’s social media channels, too, to learn about company news and recognition. “This might tell you something about them or maybe some awards they’ve won – anything that’s going on,” he says. “If they’ve got a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a company LinkedIn page, you want to go look at all that.”
Encourage Social Engineering
Once they learn the basics about their target, Sobczak thinks your salespeople should do some “social engineering” in an effort to become even more educated. “This is a term that I stole from hackers who do this for deceptive purposes to try to hack into a company’s computer and phone systems,” he says. “We’re basically going to call a company and ask questions. We’re doing it to gather some sales intelligence, and this is where you can get the best information.”
For example, maybe your distributorship has carved a niche supplying products for national sales meetings. Sobczak thinks your employees should call into a prospect’s sales department and ask questions about upcoming meetings, what they typically receive at those events, what themes are used and, of course, who’s in charge of planning. After this reconnaissance, your employees can start navigating throughout the organization. “Let’s say I get the name of the marketing director. That person’s going to have some information as well, and they might be the person who gets involved in the recommending and purchasing of some of these products,” says Sobczak.
The purpose of this research is simply to prepare a productive opening and create a proposition that will actually get the attention of the person on the other end. Finally, once salespeople learn the name of a decision-maker at a company, Sobczak recommends performing some more online research.
“Do a Google search. Pull up their LinkedIn profile,” he says. “Some people might think this is all overkill and, granted, if somebody is doing a high volume of relatively simple calls for a low-volume transaction, they probably wouldn’t do as much research. But if somebody’s really looking to make a big splash with a bigger organization for a larger sale, that’s when this type of thing really pays off.”
Focus on Opening Statements
When your sales employees pick up the phone to make a cold call, Sobczak warns they should avoid product pitches at all cost. “Once you start talking about products, it’s really easy for people to say, ‘We don’t need it’ or ‘We’re already buying our T-shirts from somebody else,’” he says. “You want to talk about the result of what you’re going to hopefully be presenting.”
Sobczak believes there are four steps to a successful cold call opening statement. “Step one is simply identifying yourself and your company. Step two is using some of your intelligence, where you might say, ‘I understand your company is planning your national sales meeting here for this fall,’” he says. “Step three is mentioning your possible value proposition, and step four is simply getting them to the questioning part of the call.”
The goal of these steps, according to Sobczak, is to get prospects into a positive, receptive frame of mind while demonstrating the call isn’t simply a scripted pitch.
Rally Around Reference Points
Of course, the reality is that many cold-callers won’t even get to step two on Sobczak’s list before they get interrupted by prospects claiming disinterest. When that happens, Schiffman advises salespeople to go against the grain.
“The reality is, when they hear that, most salespeople hang up,” he says. “The average salesperson hangs up when they hear, ‘I don’t need it’ and ‘I’m happy with what I’ve got’ because if they’re selling to a person who buys a similar product or the same product, why should they need it?”
At this point in the call, Schiffman recommends cold-callers bring up their “reference point” – a case study of a similar product they sold to a similar client. Good cold-callers acknowledge that it’s common for people to express lack of interest at first, but that changes once the benefits of a service or product are explained.
“You have to talk about another company and the success you’ve had with them,” Schiffman says. “You’re calling them specifically to tell them that you worked with another company in a similar industry and that you had success with your product in their location. That’s your reference point.”
Push Empathy, Not Scrutiny
Many cold-calling experts will offer tips for overcoming customer objections. Sobczak, however, believes this is the wrong approach. “If you try to overcome an objection, you’re going to fail because you’re essentially just telling somebody they’re wrong,” he says. “What we want to do at this point is simply get them talking.”
To do that, Sobczak suggests asking targeted questions that are meant to be helpful and understanding. For example, a cold-caller might ask prospects what types of ideas they’re looking for to boost their upcoming marketing campaigns. “Now what they’re doing is talking to you and they’re not talking about the resistance,” Sobczak says. “Is that going to work every time? No. But at least you had an opportunity to keep them talking.”
In this case, cold-callers’ success rate can only improve, according to Sobczak, because they’re showing empathy and acting like people, not robotic voices on the other end of a phone line.