In many sales jobs, you will need to cold call a potential customer. This means identifying someone that may want to buy your product or service, phoning them and trying to sell it to them without any prior contact. Obviously, selling to someone that approached you first can seem like a much easier job, which can make cold calling quite a daunting idea for many people.
However, since you don’t know the person you’re going to speak to, and they don’t know you, it’s likely that you’ll encounter many of the same questions and issues each time. Therefore, we have developed guidelines that can help you to know who to speak to, what to say and what sort of expectations to have from a first conversation with someone.
Identify prospects It’s important to gather information about your prospect and their organisation before picking up the phone to anyone. This will help you sell the value of your product or service, as you need to know who they are before you can work out what want. A good place to start gathering information is online. Every company has a website and most people are on LinkedIn and other social media. This will allow you to find out more about who you will be speaking to, what their role is and what kinds of things they might be on the lookout for.
Get past gatekeepers Your goal when cold calling should be to speak to a decision-maker, who (as the name suggests) has the authority to make the decision whether or not to buy what you’re selling. However, gatekeepers are the people with the potential to block you from speaking to the decision-maker, such as Receptionists and Executive Assistants. You will need to persuade gatekeepers to put your call through or give you the prospect’s direct number. Whenever you can, you should provide a credible reason for why they’d want to speak to you, such as “We connected on LinkedIn.” Never lie! Saying “I spoke to them last week,” or “She asked me to call,” when it’s untrue is a good way to get permanently locked out. If you find this conversation difficult, consider writing a script you can follow explaining who you are and why you called.
Open the call effectively You need to make a great first impression, otherwise they will just hang up the phone. If you sound too robotic, your prospect will think of you as just another sales call and lose interest, so immediately try to build a connection and have a conversation. You should develop a strong opening that hooks the prospect and keeps them talking. One way to do this is to find common ground and then quickly give your pitch. You are a real person and not a mechanical auto-dialler, which means you can show warmth, charisma and adapt the conversation to match who you are talking to.
Powerful questioning techniques Once you’ve established contact and got a conversation going, use questions to keep the conversation flowing and to gain more insight. You may want to keep a list of open and expansive questions handy to quickly refer to while you are in the middle of a call, but make sure this doesn’t distract you from listening carefully. Asking questions, and then building upon their answers with further probing questions, can help you gain a better understanding of the customer’s priorities, needs, problems, interests and so on. You should also try to find out what their decision-making process is and what additional information they would need from you before making their choice.
Matching the need For any customer, the most important part of deciding if they’re going to buy something is figuring out whether or not it helps them. For basic things like grocery shopping, a person needs to eat and buying something to cook for dinner helps with this goal. For Speak First, many of our clients want to close skill gaps in their organisations and our courses can train their staff in new skills. No matter what you’re selling, you need to know what its main value is, and you need to be able to express this clearly and convincingly. Having things like figures, case studies and testimonials to refer to can help get your point across. You often need to amplify the problem, which means really delving into their issues or the root causes. No one is going to go food shopping if their fridge is fully stocked, but if they know that everything is about to go off, then they can easily be convinced to buy more. Getting your prospect thinking about the financial, competitive or strategic implications of not using your product or services is a good way to start this process.
Making a compelling pitch The trick to influencing your prospect to move forward and buy your product or service is to sell the ‘sizzle’. This is the thing that really makes what you’re selling stand out. Make sure that you don’t simply talk about features, but how these features create benefits for your customers – keeping in mind that features are worthless without benefits attached to them, but benefits can stand alone. Do not simply focus on the features and benefits you personally like best, or that you’re best at talking about. Instead, listen to what they tell you and consider which ones will best match their needs and decision-making criteria.
What makes you different? Often, the make-or-break question is how your product, service or organisation is different from other similar ones. Once you have convinced them that they need the type of thing you’re selling, you need to be able to explain why they should buy it from you. They want to know your unique selling point, and so you need to know how to articulate it. What makes you better than your competitors? Is it your quality, value for money, geographic location or something else? As part of this, you should know about your competitors, their strengths and weaknesses and how they compare to your organisation, and you should be able to discuss it without putting them down or being negative about them.
Move the sale forward Set a fair expectation for yourself, as it is unlikely that you will close a complex sale on the first call – especially when it began as a cold call. Instead, you should focus on moving the sale forward. The trick is that after making contact and having that initial conversation, you ensure you continue to cultivate and build the relationship. Scheduling an in-person meeting, a demonstration or another follow-up call are all good steps in this direction.