The phone receiver feels so heavy that you can hardly bring it to your ear. Do I really have to do this? Cold calling? What if I don't get to talk to the right person? What if I’m not quick-witted enough? What if they hang up on me? I can’t do it. This is not for me. Does any of this sound familiar?
Separating the Wheat from the Chaff
It does to me. This was Martin Limbeck twenty years ago. Cold calling was a nightmare to me. But today I'm good at it. More than good, as I was told. Being excellent on the phone only comes with daily practice. Therefore the good news is that everybody can learn it. You just have to do it. In fact, it is vital for your success as a sales professional, because it is precisely here, on the telephone, where one can separate the wheat from the chaff. If you excel at the negotiating table, you may still be far from doing so on the phone. But if you are great on the phone, you are sure to be strong at the table, too.
Those with accomplished telephoning skills are the cream of the crop, the elite. They have found ways to overcome the following challenges of cold calling:
Challenge #1: On the phone, you don't have the luxury of seeing your customer’s body language or his facial expression. But if you're good, you can hear them, and you're able to size up your customer by the words he chooses, his tone, and his voice.
Challenge #2: In cold calling, there is no 100% success rate. In fact, it is usually much lower. You will be confronted with a lot more rejections than successes.
Challenge #3: The established tools of the trade fall away: Nobody can see your confident walk, your stylish suit, your spotless shoes, your sleek fountain pen, your classy watch. Your self-confidence is suddenly rendered invisible. Instead, your customer must hear it. There is no way to fake it. Self-assurance in the voice can only spring from genuine self-esteem.
How to Get Past the Gatekeeper
I love to see cold calling as a game. One of the most notorious challenges in cold calling is getting past the personal assistant, the “gatekeeper,” a “human firewall” that almost every decision-maker has placed in your path. How do you get the executive on the phone? Now that is a treat.
“Hello, my name is Limbeck, and I’m from Parker Appliances. May I please speak with the manager?”
Now, how far do you think you’re going to get with an approach like that one? Exactly, nowhere.
Tip #1: First Names Rule
The first sentence you utter is decisive. When introducing yourself, you need to make sure that the customer catches your name and that you don’t come across as submissive. First names make a stronger impact than last names. They are more personable. That means a person whose first name I’ve consciously registered is one whom I can less easily dismiss.
“Hi. This is Martin Limbeck.” Brief pause. “The Martin Limbeck.”
“Say, is Carl...” Short pause. “Is Carl Mitchell around?”
If you were an assistant, what would you think? “Not another annoying sales freak”? Or would you think, “That’s probably the boss’s golf buddy.” As you know, thoughts are free, so however the assistant interprets what I’ve said is her business and not my responsibility.
Tip #2: Avoid Triggering Resistance
Notice that I said, “Is Carl Mitchell around?” I intentionally did not ask, “Is he available?” Someone who inquires if a person is available is implying that he wants something. And wanting something invariably triggers resistance in the assistant.
Tip #3: Be Creative
The assistant says, “Mr. Mitchell is out for a board meeting.”
I say, “OK, then I’ll just leave a message on his voice mail.”
“Certainly,” she replies.
“My assistant gave me the following mobile phone number. It’s 0770-900464. Is that up to date?”
Of course I’ve just made up a number on the spot, and seven times out of ten I’ll get the boss’ mobile phone number this way. In the other three cases, someone with a sense of humour or with a lack of interest replies with, “Absolutely, you’ve got the right number!” But seven out of ten times it works.
Tip #4: Aim High
If you are friendly but firm, you will exude both authority and trustworthiness. Losers grovel for appointments; winners claim them as theirs. Your goal is to close the deal. And the most effective way to do that is to start as far up as possible in your customer’s decision-making hierarchy. It’s the decision maker who signs your contract. Therefore, that’s the person you have to talk to, even if it means embellishing the truth a little. Just don’t lie.
By Martin Limbeck, is an international sales authority and sought-after keynote speaker, dubbed “The Porsche of Sales.” 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.