Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Cold Calling and Gate Keepers

I recently made a couple of posts over at LinkedIn on cold calling and gate keepers. And its prompted me to spend some time on the Bold Advocate approach to cold calling.

What I've learned over the last 15 years can be defined by some simple rules:

Don't Be Scared

  • With the right approach and process, you can navigate even the most difficult conversations.
  • If the call doesn't go to plan, don't worry. Odds are, within 3 days they'll have forgotten your name and the company who you are calling for. You can (and should) call back again.

You Are Interrupting Them

  • So you better have a damn good reason for calling - and sound like it too
  • You need to find a way to disconnect them from their current task and focus on your call.

Never Ever, Ever, Ever Sell on the Phone

  • You are buying. You are buying their time - specifically 2.00pm on Wednesday for 35 minutes, or whatever it might be.
  • You don't sell on the phone, you set appointments. Simple.

It's Only A Matter Of Time

  • If they're in your target market and you have demonstrable benefits they are missing out on, then one day they will agree to see you. Its only a matter of timing. Your call needs to be at the right moment, the tipping point perhaps? Delayed deliveries, poor quality, botched invoices, smelly technicians are maybe all it takes for them to speak with you.
  • That's why you keep calling

Have A Script

  • Every great actor starts with a script. By the time they need to perform its memorised to the point that they can work it, weaving their individual magic. No two performances of Hamlet have ever been the same. If you prepare correctly, no two cold calls need sound the same.
  • A script keeps you focussed and gets to the point quickly for you and the prospect.
  • A script means you can focus on them and not on what you need to say next. It allows you to listen to what is said and not being said. It means you can listen.
  • Have a script for the prospect, their gatekeeper and their voice mail.

Gatekeepers Are Your Friend

  • Who would you trust first - your receptionist or secretary? The same applies to your prospect's secretary or receptionist - so don't annoy them and do try to enlist their support
  • Of course, we don't always have to speak with the gatekeeper - there are ways to avoid them.
I'm going to post further detail on some of my earlier rules, but I thought a few handy techniques for getting past gatekeepers might start the ball rolling.

Our approach to Gate Keepers should be different - we’re not selling an appointment - we're selling the value of them putting you through. You need to enlist their support and, if things go well, foster a sponsor.

We are interrupting them - they were doing something before we called. Remember and respect that. Your also need to remember that gatekeeping is one of their core duties. It is their job t
o put the right people through and stop the wrong people getting through. It is you job to make sure they look good!

You are the right person if:

  • You demonstrate respect for them and their time
  • You are sincere
  • You are confident
  • Disarm them, not charm them
  • Get and use their name and formally introduce yourself

You are the wrong person if you don't do any of the above, but also if you make the fatal error that they aren't capable of understanding what you offer.

Remember that your goal with the gatekeeper is to get through to the prospect. She is highly unlikley to set an appointment on their behalf for a salesperson they haven't met.

Your Gatekeeper Script is in three parts:

1. Asking to be put through

Always sound like you expect to get through. Start with confidence and imply authority:
  • Ask for the prospect by first name only. This is particularly useful if is a receptionist or someone who doesn't directly work for the prospect
  • “This is…” implies you know them. “My name is…” implies you don't. Use the "This is..."
  • I also like to assume that they are going to put me through, by asking directly: "Would you put me through to xxx please" or "I'm calling for xxx" in a confident manner.
  • Another technique for implying authority is to use the speaker phone, picking up once they've answered. I find this a little passe, although it does seem to work.

Step 1 often works alone, Most of the time, if they're doing their job well, you'll be asked for the purpose of the call:

2. Explaining why you should be put through
The best way to deal with this step is to what the prospect might say if the PA put the wrong person through: "Why the hell did you let that one through?"

How will the PA answer that? By justifying her decision. Over at Selling to Big Companies, Jill Konrath talks about bringing something of value. That's great and necessary, but be sure to also give them suffficient justification. The best justifications are referrals:

  • Direct, from other contacts within the organisation or related companies - "yyy over at ABC told me to call..."
  • Indirect where you refer to work you have done with a competitor or customer of the prospect - "We've done some work with DFE recently on (use a couple of hot buttons) and I thought xyz might like to be across that or even interested himself..."
Once you've given your reason, ask again to be put through. Don't even take a breath.
If they then say something like "Can you send some information..." or another similar hurdle, we move to Step 3:

3. Enlisting their support

Now if you've got the drift my blogs, you'll get that I believe in honesty in sales - I want to find the truth about this prospect as soon as possible [thanks to Steve Martin for that - I love it].

So I ask. And in the process I'll acknowledge its their job to filter salespeople and ask how I get to be one of those who are put through. For example, if they ask me to send information, I'll ask what is the best type of information to send xyz - case studies, white papers, references, brochures, samples etc. I'll also ask the form: hard copy, electronic - via email, CD etc. And I continue to probe - "[PA's name], I send out a lot of information and I'm sure xyz gets a lot of information. I'm interested in a yes or no here - yes he'd like to see me, no he wouldn't. Either way, what can you tell me is the best information to send him?"

I then make sure they understand that I will call back. I like to set a day and time for me to call them when the prospect is in the office. And I do.

What do you do if Steps 1-3 don't work? Say, if you meet a receptionist that Seth Godin seems to have met recently?

Well there are a few tricks. Jill Konrath at Selling to Big Companies referred me to this article which is neat. Some points there, and my own include:

  • Call Out of Hours. Most PA's/receptionists I know keep pretty regular hours: Before 8.30/9.00am, after 5.30/6.00pm or bang on 1.00pm for lunch (they're either leaving or going)
  • Call sales or accounts payable. Accounts payable are often quite friendly if you're looking to confirm POs before invoicing etc.
  • Play the system when you hit voicemail or answering services: hit 0, # etc
  • Dial the wrong extension. You might get someone who will put you straight through. Ask to be transferred, but also ask for the direct line - in case you get lost in the system again.
  • If you hit an answering machine, hang up & redial or put it on hold and try via a second line.
I call these hacks. Its not how I want to do business, but they're good work arounds. I've found that as I've got better at Steps 1-3, I've not needed to resort to them for some time.

Next we'll have a look at voicemail. In the meantime, if you're after some quick voice mail tips head this way.

Jason Wenn

1 comment:

Philip M. Morton said...

Thanks for the great information. I've found that enlisting a receptionists help works about 75% of the time. After all people love to feel needed.