Getting through to your prospect on the phone is one of the hardest things you will face in sales.
Voicemails and automated phone systems haven’t helped. And of course every business is receiving a large number of phone calls from people just like you who want to speak to the budget holder(s.) Thus, your prospect – and we’ll call him a man for the purpose of this article – is very much in demand. Although buying could be a major part to his job, he will have to do other things besides take phone calls.
You may wonder sometimes whether your prospect can really spend as much time in meetings as you are led to believe. You might be being told the truth – there are companies, which hold meetings to discuss when to have the next meeting. Vary the times and days you call. If your prospect is a managing director he won’t necessarily work the same hours as most of his staff. If you are not having success in reaching him between nine and five, try calling him earlier or later. If he is there he’ll be less likely to be in a meeting and more likely to answer the phone himself.
During the regular working day you are far more likely to encounter a Gatekeeper who for the purpose of this article will be woman. He or she may be the prospect’s PA/EA, they may be the secretary to the prospect’s department or may answer the phones for the whole company. Irrespective of the job title, that person stands between you and the prospect. They have no authority to buy from you and yet sometimes they will feel they are perfectly qualified to dismiss you themselves rather than connect you with the person you need. The first thing to remember is that it’s not personal and there’s nothing to be gained by making it so. A Gatekeeper that gives you a hard time is almost certainly treating others who phone in the same way.
When you call, are you sometimes asked what you are calling about ? Do you feel your answer is stopping you from being transferred to your prospect ? It’s worth trying a different approach. If there’s a trade show the following week, rather than mentioning your products, try asking if your prospect is going along as you’d like to fix up a time to see him. You’re not being dishonest because you almost certainly will aim to see him at the event. The Gatekeeper may not necessarily know whether your prospect will be attending and, if that person is, would they really want you to confront the prospect unannounced at the exhibition centre? You might just find that your call gets put through.
Honesty is important in dealing with the Gatekeeper as well as with your prospect. When asked who you are, do not be tempted to say, “I’m his friend, John” or “It’s the hospital calling about an urgent medical matter”. If you are then connected to your prospect are they really going to consider you trustworthy enough to do business with?
At times the Gatekeeper will try to make you feel guilty for phoning, implying that your prospect is far too important to speak to you, ever, or that your call is simply a waste of time because your prospect will never buy anything as a result of a cold call. First of all, never feel guilty about doing your job. Also remember that you are just as important as the person you are trying to call. You are a salesperson and if you don’t perform it’s not just you who suffers – other people in your organisation can lose their jobs. You’re pretty important to them. As for the phone approach being a waste of time you can’t possibly make a judgement until you have spoken with the decision maker. People do buy from people. Perhaps your prospect does prefer to buy from someone he has met face to face – in which case it’s important to have a conversation with him to see if you can get that meeting.
However, frustrated or annoyed you are with the Gatekeeper, do not be drawn into a conflict situation. A patronising comment, like “be a good girl and put me through”, really gives you nowhere to go after you have inevitably not been put through to your prospect. If you are going to stand out and be remembered by the Gatekeeper it’s far better that you stand out for being polite, charming or humorous. If you stand out for the wrong reasons it wont help your cause in the future.
Although you may vary your approach as well as the times that you call, it’s worth remembering that there are no guarantees. An action that helps you connect with one prospect won’t necessarily help you connect with the next.
There will always be someone you meet face to face at a conference, exhibition, awards dinner or drinks reception that you have never managed to speak with on the phone. You may get on really well and he may go on to do business with you.
At the very least he will be more likely to take your calls in the future. And sometimes, after everything you have tried has failed, there will be a change of personnel at the company you have been canvassing and the situation will change for the better overnight.
It’s a stroke of good luck when this happens but, of course, without making the effort to phone the company you are unlikely to find this out. So keep working hard, keep being professional and don’t be too quick to write companies off.
Dave Bonner can be reached at: email@example.com