In their book Start Your Own Business, the staff of Entrepreneur Media Inc. guides you through the critical steps to starting your business, then supports you in surviving the first three years as a business owner. In this edited excerpt, the authors offer some tips that will make you a cold calling pro.
The aspect of selling that strikes the greatest fear in people’s hearts is usually cold calls. A good way to make cold calls more appealing is to stop thinking of them as “cold” calls. Try thinking of them as “introductory” calls instead. All you're trying to do is introduce yourself and your business to the prospect.
It’s important to understand the purpose of introductory calls so you have a realistic attitude about this type of business development activity. Phone prospecting takes longer to pay off than other types of marketing efforts, so go into it knowing you’re exploring a new frontier and it’s going to take some time to get results.
As with any marketing method, you should never make introductory calls without a plan. First, always use a targeted list of prospects when making your calls. If your product is household cleaning services, why call a random neighborhood if you have no knowledge of income levels, number of household wage earners, or number of children? If you sell nutritional products to hospitals, why call nurses or doctors if a third-party pharmacy makes all the buying decisions? Get the right list of prospects.
You can obtain information about prospects from the list broker who provides you with the list; if you're working from your house list, you should already have the information. If for some reason you don’t, try an introductory call like the following: “We provide mobile pet grooming for dogs and cats. Would that be a service your customers would want to know about, Dr. Veterinarian?”
Next, determine the best time frames for calling. If you're selling financial services to upper-income CEOs or entrepreneurs, wouldn’t it be nice to know when their corporate fiscal years end? Perhaps most of their investment purchases are made two to four weeks prior to that year-end close-out. That’s when they know how much extra income needs to be sheltered in a pension plan.
Sometimes timing is your ace in the hole. Granted, follow-up calls throughout the year may make that one important sale possible, but knowing when to instigate the first call is a priceless piece of information.
Third, plan by preparing a “sales script.” Write down what you're going to say, what responses the prospect is likely to have, and how you'll reply to them. No, you’re not going to follow this word for word, but if you’re nervous about making calls, it helps to have something in front of you. Chances are, after you get beyond the opening sentences, you’ll be able to “wing it” just fine.
If preparation for cold-calling is easy but actually making calls is painful for you, here are seven easy steps to get you on the phone fast:
1. Personalize each call by preparing mentally. Your mind-set needs to be aligned with your language, or the conversation won't ring true. You need to work on developing a warm but not sugarcoated telephone voice that has that “Don’t I know you?” ring to it.
2. Perfect your phone style alone before making any calls. If you're self-conscious about calling, you need to feel safe to act uninhibited. Try this: Gather a voice recorder, a mirror, a sales journal of incoming and outgoing phone scripts, a pen, and a legal-sized pad. Either write or select a favorite phone dialogue, then talk to yourself in the mirror. Do you look relaxed, or are your facial expressions rigid? Our exteriors reflect our inner selves. If you look like you’re in knots, your voice will sound strained as well.
Press the “record” button on your recorder, and pretend you’re talking to a new prospect. Play back the recording, and listen to your conversation. Ask yourself how you could improve your delivery. If your voice seems unnatural and the dialogue contrived, don't despair. As you practice and participate in real phone experiences, you'll improve. Mastering the art of cold-calling is no different than improving your golf swing or skiing technique.
3. Create familiarity all around you. Use family photos, framed testimonial letters, motivational quotes, or whatever gets you in a positive, enthusiastic mood. If you like, play some music that inspires you.
4. Use your imagination. Pretend you're a prospective customer calling a bookstore to see if they have a book in stock. If it helps, record how you sound to get the feel of your inquiring phone voice. It’s always easier to imagine you’re a customer in need of information than a salesperson trying to force your way into the customer’s time. The inquiry call is good practice because the tone of the conversation is “Can you help me?” or “I need some information.” Try to convey that same attitude when you use the phone to contact future customers.
5. Watch your tone of voice. You don't want to sound sheepish and embarrassed, nor do you want to be arrogant. The ideal tone is warm, businesslike, curious, and straight to the point. A good option is a question or a cut-to-the-chase statement such as “I’ve got a question. We're offering a two-for-one special during the next 30 days on all our coffee drinks, just to get people into the store. I need to know if you've ever stopped in while shopping at the mall, and, if not, why not? We have got the greatest ice-blended mochas in town.”
6. Make your goal a fast “50 in 150”—that is, 50 calls in 150 minutes. Three minutes per call is all you need. With so many voice-mail systems intercepting calls today, this should be easy. Never give people the impression you have time to chat. Chatting isn't prospecting. You’re on a mission. Get to the point, then move to the next prospect.
7. Take five after 15. After 15 calls, take a five-minute break—stretch, eat, sip a soda, turn on some tunes, and pat yourself on the back because you’re making it happen. Then grab the phone for 15 more calls.