Cold calling is all about the numbers. But it requires being very well prepared. For me, telephone sales is the quintessential sales discipline. Those who learn to excel at it will also excel at Internet and face-to-face communication.
Do your homework
Under normal circumstances, cold calling operates according to the principle, “Don’t hesitate, and get straight to the point.” But for major prospects with high revenue potential per call, things work a little differently. There the preparation means detective work. And no, I don’t mean spying on your client or acquiring secrets that can be used against them. Particularly with major potential customers in the project business or with long-term deals, the salesperson has to have done some in-depth research beforehand: What are the decision-making channels? Who are the actual leaders behind the scenes? Who is my main contact? Who is on my side? Who is against me? Who makes the decisions? Is it an individual or a committee?
With individual or first-time clients, you are seeking information that is available to everyone anyway. What the client can do, so can you. Go ahead and start Googling: What does your contact do? Where was she before her present job? Does her company have branch offices? What are her interests? What brings her joy, and what is she proud of? Whom does she work with? How important is media coverage to her? Does she have hobbies? Is she a member of a club or a society? Has she ever won an award? Trophies, distinctions? When is her birthday? Did she recently get married? Has she recently become a mother or a grandmother? Does she have her own website? Is she on Facebook? On LinkedIn? Top-level management is not often to be found in social media, but the second and third levels may well be. Take advantage of mutual contacts.
Use your knowledge to make a connection
What is the point of all this? I simply wish to explain to you how top sales professionals think. Before me stands a potential customer, the sales director of a large firm. It’s our first meeting. On the previous day, it took me no more than two minutes to find out that my prospect had recently run the New York City Half Marathon in an hour and thirty minutes. That’s my way in: The client introduces himself, tells me his name, what he does, where he’s from . . . and instantly I can segue to, “You forgot to mention that you completed the half marathon in New York City in an impressive time.” Then a deliberate pause. The man looks like a deer in the headlights. And in the blink of an eye a connection has been made.
Be careful with the information you collect
Let’s be clear about this. I’m not referring to small talk. Nor am I saying that you should address topics that you know nothing or little about. You are walking a fine line here. When using the Internet, be aware that not every piece of information you come across is up to date or even remotely true; indeed, some of it may even be completely inappropriate. Things can go horribly wrong if you ask your client if his son still enjoys riding motorcycles and you missed the fact that he was fatally injured on one only a week ago. Or if you ask how the merger with X company went, only to find out that it didn’t go at all. Or if you ask the pope how his wife and kids are doing while trying to sell him a king-size bed.
Small talk: only If the customer initiates it
Please take note: Small talk is called for only if and when the customer initiates it. Check your ego at the door, and opt for a bonsai instead of a fifteen-foot Christmas tree. Don’t brag, even if you know more than the client does. And don’t lie. Finally, avoid babbling, be it about the weather or any other mindless subject.
You may talk about sensitive subjects like religion, sex, health, or politics. But it must be at the appropriate time with the appropriate client and never at the outset of a sales discussion. Yes, I’m strict on this point.
Use pictures to your advantage
Another thing. Have a look at photos of your prospective client on the Internet. You might be avoiding your first blunder that way. Better yet, you can address your client by her name, even before she has introduced herself. Not bad, right? If your client should respond with pleasant surprise, take it as you would a clean bounce pass and drive your answer home for the easy layup.
By Martin Limbeck is an international sales authority and sought-after keynote speaker, dubbed 'The Porsche of Sales' by the press. With his best-in-class German Sales Engineering approach, he helps sales professionals seal more deals. Martin has trained and inspired audiences in twenty-one countries for more than twenty years. The Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) has been honoured as Top Speaker of the Year 2014, International Speaker of the Year 2012, and Trainer of the Year 2011 and 2008. He teaches at Reutlingen European School of Business, Steinbeis University Berlin, and St. Gallen University, and is the author of several bestsellers, including NO Is Short for Next Opportunity: How Top Sales Professionals Think and Why Nobody Wants You to Get to the Top...: ...and How I Made It Anyway.