If you think someone is going to pick up the phone just because you emailed them, you are wrong. Before you pick up the phone, consider a few things.
Executives want to talk to people they know and trust
No one wants to take a cold call. This fact alone should cause everyone to start with social selling and offer value online. To be clear, here are some ideas that are social selling: writing and sharing whitepapers, blogging, offering your best ideas in a LinkedIn post, networking in online groups, engaging with industry leaders on Twitter, tweeting at/with people, asking questions in relevant groups on LinkedIn, sending InMail on LinkedIn.
Let’s also be clear about what social selling is not: LinkedIn or Facebook stalking; simply signing up for social media and not engaging with people; emailing. The clear goal of social selling is engaging with prospects before you call or cataloging your value if they visit your LinkedIn page. In either case, you must have some value to share.
The cold calling framework: Five steps that must happen in every call
Once a salesperson gets on the phone, the majority of calls often go wrong because they do not have the proper steps of cold calling completed well. Every meeting I have ever set from a cold call included at least four of the following steps, and the best representatives I ever coached did all five consistently.
“Hi John, my name is Patrick Hannon, and I am calling from Company A. I had sent you a hand written card last week…”
The sole purpose of the introduction is to establish credibility and you have roughly 15 seconds to do it. The sad part is, it only buys you another 20 seconds or so. The single greatest “in” is to present a credible reference to someone they know; however, those references do not happen for every call.
The most common question salespeople ask after the introduction is, “How are you today?” STOP. They do not care; you do not care. Its detracts from your credibility. If you need to be polite, just say, “I hope you are having a good day,” and start into your full name, your company, and a credibility statement.
A solid credibility statement comes in a variety of forms such as referencing relevant integrations, strategic partnerships, and problematic competitors. Confidence goes a long way here, and so does brevity. Additionally, the two most common questions often come up in the first 15 seconds: “Who are you and why are you calling?” You better have an answer ready. I sometimes make a joke about the tough names of the companies for which I have worked because it broke the ice.
2. Value proposition
“So John, are you familiar with Company X? We saved them $55,000 last year and increased the timeliness of expense report submissions by 30 percent. Most firms partner with us because we help reduce corporate expenses by automatically tracking mileage and receipts with our technology. I would expect similar results with your firm.”
The value prop is where many calls end. You give your great pitch and the prospect thinks to themselves, “So what?” Sadly, they do not care. Your value proposition must answer these questions: “What’s in it for me, and why should I care?” Storytelling does wonders here — think of a movie trailer, it is a preview of whats to come.
Too many salespeople are so surprised someone picked up the phone that they stumble through the first few words of their value prop. Time yourself: it must be less than 30 seconds. More than anything, it should be about the prospect — not about you. How does the company’s solution impact the prospect you are calling? How does it change their processes? I always encourage salespeople to think about why they love the tools they are selling and start there — it translates across the phone.
- “I’m calling to introduce myself and my company.” Duh.
- “Is now a good time?” Nope. Never.
- “We are a software as a solutions company…” So what?
- “We make XXX software?” What’s in it for me, and why should I care?
- “We help people like you grow!” Everyone says that; I don’t believe you.
Will I give you the perfect example of a value proposition that will work for all types of prospects? Sadly I cannot. It depends on your buyer persona and how their business will change by implementing your solution. Ensure you truly understand your buyer personas and audience to set youself up for success.
Congrats! All this work and you are only 20-30 seconds into the call.
3. The pivot
I have used the same pivot statement for nearly all of my cold calls, though yours could be different. I say, “the purpose of my call is to spend six minutes to see if scheduling a longer call makes sense.” This statement has been valuable for me in a number of ways.
First, it clearly states my purpose. I want to schedule another, longer call. I do not want to sell you something now, I do not want to open a WebEx now, and we will be off the phone in six minutes. This strategy also presents choice to the prospect to not schedule after six minutes. I am acknowledging the disruption in their day but not apologizing or thanking them for their time because I have value to share with them.
Second, I usually get a laugh or question about the number six. “Really, only six minutes?” Or, “I’ll give you two.” From my experience, it tends to disarm the prospect and, if they only have two minutes, I know to be quick. Remember, it is not a question — it is a statement. So if someone cuts you off to get off the phone, it likely means your value proposition is lacking, not the pivot.
Before “the pivot,” you have been doing 80 percent of the talking, and now that needs to change. You must ask thoughtful questions and get out of your own way. Hopefully, you have delivered both credibility and value at this point.
There is art in the process, and it exists here. The analysis part of the call is for questions and conversation. You should not be pitching, you must be listening. Ask thoughtful, insightful questions and respond to answers with another question that demonstrates you are listening.
Your first question should tie to your value statement. So, if your value statement is about expense reports and mileage receipts from the example earlier, your first question might look like this, “Can you walk me through your current process of tracking mileage?” Now listen. The best reps I ever coached sought to understand the need-behind-the-need.
Prospect: I need to grow my top-line revenue by 10 percent.
Salesperson: Great! I certainly understand the need for growth, but help me understand the impact of hitting that goal.
Prospect: Well, that would allow us to hire three new product engineers.
Salesperson: Why are those hires a critical need for your organization?
Prospect: It would allow us to move into new markets that we feel we could be extremely competitive in.
Salesperson: What would happen if you did not achieve that goal this year?
Prospect: Our competitors would corner a market in which we know we must be leaders.
While overly simplistic, the point of this example is clear. They will likely take a meeting with you but not because they want to grow. More likely, you have demonstrated how your solution will allow your prospect to move into a new market in which they do not want their competitors. Your insightful questions help them connect the dots, and insightful questions are far more effective than just telling them which dots to connect.
I once had a financial advisor explain to me that the impact for him was to give his only son a profitable financial advising practice. His real goals were not related to revenue; they were related to his legacy. Having that lens was helpful to designing a solution for his practice and, ultimately, a more valuable solution. The analysis is all about questions, and they are either open ended or closed.
Open: Show me, tell me, explain to me, why, describe for me…
Closed: Yes/no, does that…, are you…
Select your questions carefully and be intentional. Have you ever had a prospect that only gives you “yes” or “no” answers? That likely has to do with your questions and not their mood. Ever have someone give a long diatribe to a simple question? Switch to some close-ended questions to limit the length of their response. With a few minutes of quality questions and deep listening, the needs of the prospect are obvious. And if it is clear you can help, people will often close you for the next call.
5. The close
“James, I realized I called out of the blue and noticed my six minutes are up. Let’s schedule 45 minutes later this week talk more about some ideas that will allow for you to hire those engineers you mentioned. Are you free on Wednesday at 10:00 AM or Thursday at 2:00 PM?”
The close is not hard, but be prepared to ask for the order. Remember the purpose of the call was to set a meeting, not sell your product. Most analysis sections can get too long. Are your six minutes up? Start there. A good best practice is always to have two times ready to go and be specific. If both times do not work, just ask them to offer a time.
I have logged and listened to thousands of calls. While not fool proof, I have yet to hear a successful cold call that did not cover four of these five steps. Remember, this is your craft.
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