Here's the thing about reaching out to decision makers. C-level people are almost as good at taking sales calls as sales people are at making them. Yet, we rarely hear back from that end of the phone line about what kind of sales call works for them, and what kind makes them start counting the seconds until they put down the phone.
It turns out, plenty of salespeople make the same, basic, preventable errors. So if you're curious about how to totally blow your sales calls, here are the easiest seven ways.
1: Their Resume
Don't contact people and ask them stuff you could find out on Google. You'll poison the relationship before it ever starts. The no-research sales call wastes precious seconds asking questions, the answers to which should already be in your CRM. If they're not, they're on Google Plus, Twitter and LinkedIn.
When you do this, you're subtracting value from that prospect's day, not adding to it. Know who you're talking to, what they do and what they care about, before you pick up the phone.
Calls that lead to lost deals average 220 seconds. Calls that lead to won deals average 400 seconds, 1.8 times as long. Sometime in that first 220 seconds, the prospect is deciding whether you're going to get to have another 180 seconds of their time.
Often it's very, very soon after the receiver is picked up: 'You have 10 seconds to buy the next 30 seconds. It's imperative to come off as having knowledge/value,' says Four Quadrant CMO Peter Buscemi.
The key is to offer value immediately - to offer your understanding of their industry and their pain points. How can you do that if you don't know anything about them and their company, not even the stuff they give away for free on Facebook?
Dodge the Bullet
Have details on both the organization and the individual you're calling. Get it from LinkedIn, Google, your CRM, marketing data and from contacts themselves. Remember that B2B prospects will be doing their own research in return - most are around 60% along the funnel before there's contact with anyone in sales.
The first opportunity you have to stand out from the crowd is when you demonstrate both what you know about the prospect, and the fact that you cared enough to find out.
Don't phone people up to initiate a long conversation: no-one wants to hear a thousand words parroted down the wire.
Transitioning from scholastic to business writing is one of the most difficult skills to coach young college graduates in. Why? Informality and concision. Graduates just spent three years learning to write in an impersonal, pedantic and highly formal style. Oops.
Then they're given a phone and told to get all 'hey, guys' (yeah that's how to get someone to put the phone down, right there). Remember that when you're calling people, you're looking for a series of mini-conversions that end in an appointment.
Here's a common example of a script that's guaranteed to give the person on the other end of the phone that 'sipping on a fire hose' feeling:
Rep: Hi, am I talking to John Smith, VP in charge of PR?
Prospect: Yes, hello, what can I do for you?
Rep: Hi John, my name is Jim, and I'm calling you from NadirCorp. We're based in your town, actually, and we've been here now for thirty years. We can help you grow your business by up to 30% with our proprietary IT tool, that lets you effortlessly combine your CRM with your content marketing and project management so you can create multi-departmental workflows to improve efficiency. Does that sound interesting to you?
Prospect: Um, yeah, I suppose so...
Rep: That's great! Let me see if I can... yeah, we're going to have a sales rep in your area on the 4th, in the afternoon... would that be a good time for you?
What's horrible about this? Everything. The rep doesn't know who he's talking to. His value statement is weak and his pitch exemplifies the 'show up and throw up approach' you find in sales reps who don't have confidence in their leads or their product or themselves.
The prospect can barely get a word in edgewise. Is he the right person to talk to? Is he qualified? Is he interested? Has he absorbed any of the information the rep gave him? (Did you?) This is a masterclass in things to avoid doing.
Don't start at 'hello', travel through features and benefits and arrive at pricing, and expect not to be talking to a dial tone. Figure out big pain points and offer succinct solutions, then introduce them early. You can maybe get away with one stat, but people remember stories a lot better than statistics.
Dodge the Bullet
Have 'If This, Then That' sales scripts that leave a lot of room to move, and train salespeople to be responsive. Role play calls and have inexperienced salespeople coached through recordings of great, effective calls, and constantly emphasize the difference between the big picture and the 'show up and throw up' approach.
3: Your Company
Don't introduce your company, your record, or the details of your product until you have some evidence of interest. No one cares how long you've been around or where your offices are. This is a mistake that's sometimes born of nervousness: it's the feeling that because you initiated the call, you have to fill all that silence.
It's better to let the prospect talk. A good rule of thumb is to try to do about 20% of the talking on a sales call - and make the conversation about them, their company, and its problem, which you can solve.
Try picking the phone up and saying something like:
Rep: Hi John, this is Jim over at Teras. How are you doing? (Pauses for response; actually listens to it; responds with something appropriate and redirects gently back to): I've been seeing your ads blowing up all over Facebook, and I thought you could drive conversions by implementing a couple tweaks. We've seen people get 30% more conversions this way. (Pauses for response; again, actually listens to it; this is the prospect qualifying themselves!)
What's different about this? Unlike our (horrifying!) first example, this one offers the prospect some space to talk, which is good. The rep is encouraged to respond in a natural manner but cued to steer the conversation. It's also couched in active, human-sounding language.
The real point? The rep's company is identified, but otherwise isn't mentioned. Instead, value is introduced immediately in a friendly and respectful way. Your company location or product details are irrelevant to the process by which most prospects will determine whether you can help them or not.
Dodge the Bullet
This is another 'show up and throw up' problem, again addressable by scripting and training to some extent. But the basic problem will remain as long as salespeople don't get what they're there to do: reach out to people who want to buy, but don't know it yet.
4: Your Offer
Your ideal customers will care about your value. Your offer is something they have to sit through to get there. So make the offer as short as possible.
Salespeople often think that they're offering to add something: a new opportunity, a new product. But for the person on the other end of the phone, its far more often about what you can take away. Around 70% of decision makers make purchase decisions to solve problems, against 30% who buy an opportunity. The lesson? The person on the end of the phone cares about their problem, not your offer.
Dodge the Bullet
Get to the value proposition immediately, and talk about it in terms of the pain points you can address from the prospect's viewpoint. Learn to 'extract the problem' - with questions like:
'We've noticed several key trends in the industry: shrinking organic reach and rising mobile use are the ones that stand out to us. What effect are they having on your business?'
'I saw from your website that your company is working to establish better integrations so you can build cross-department workflows. How's that coming along for you?'
These questions are open-ended, which is sales 101 - yes/no questions don't lead to dialogue. But these lead to a discussion where the prospect defines their problems for you, allowing you to offer solutions rather than try to sell the prospects on benefits or bombard them with features.
Nobody you're calling cares about sales, so neither should you. Relationships and trust make sales. You can make trust dissipate immediately by giving the impression that you see right through the person you're talking to and instead talking to their wallet.
Want to generate trust? Build rapport? Focus on the person and the problems they face. Don't focus the phone call on getting a sale - focus on addressing the prospects concerns.
Dodge the Bullet
Build sales calls into a process that begins before leads and continues after sales. Sales calls aren't there to make money today, right now, alone; they're a part of a strategy to make money tomorrow, the day after and next year, ideally from the same customers!
The trust and relationships you're either creating or destroying on the phone are the lifeblood of business success.
6: Your Schedule
Make sure you're not calling people on your schedule: figure out their schedule and call them when they might actually want to hear from you. In theory, the best times to call are 8-9 AM and 4-5 PM, but the specific moment to make this call vary depending on a pile of factors, including:
- What stage the prospect is at in the funnel. You might find qualifying calls and closing calls belong at different times of the day.
- Industry. Different industries respond differently to call times.
- Lead generation time. Initial contact should be as soon after the lead is generated as possible. If leads are generated online this is the most important number to watch.
Your own data should show you the best times to call your ideal customers, but you should always check you've called at a good time. Bundle a value proposition with the request to handle potential objections preemptively.
Dodge the Bullet
The schedule that matters is the prospect's. Treat it that way: find out their schedule if you can. Does their company start late or early? Does their LinkedIn bio say something about starting work at 10 AM? If it does, adjust call times accordingly. And make sure you've got the right time zone (World Time Buddy is your friend here).
7: Checking In
You can contact people to check in... if you're their mom. Otherwise, deliver value at every touch or watch your credibility, and your sales, evaporate.
Here's a great way to do a big dull thud:
Make a call that begins with a greeting, and then talk about how you just wanted to check in and see if they'd thought some more about the thing you talked about the other week.
Where's that going to go?
Prospects don't care what you want; you think about your sales calls a lot more than they do, so what you talked about the other week probably isn't top of mind for them; you're checking up on what they're thinking about? It offers no value, but asks for something in return - something that itself is not incentivized.
Hi reader, I just wanted to see if you wanted to say something to me but, I don't know, had forgotten how. Anyway, perform this small but distracting task and maybe I'll let you give me some money.
See how that's unappealing?
Dodge the Bullet
Call or email with a clear game plan. What's the goal - the thing you want to get done? What's the outcome - the thing you want the prospect to do? What's the value that's being offered?
Free research or info on their pain points - your white paper, e-book, or even a consult with an expert about what they could do to address their problem, without any sales content - all goes great here.
'I just wanted to check in' is for your first night in a hotel. Otherwise, ditch it forever.
In movies, outbound sales is a macho game filled with swaggering, always-be-closing tough guys. In real life, it's a game of nurturing leads, building relationships, and creating trust and reciprocity. At bottom, outbound sales is about the same thing every other part of a business is about: the customer.
Header Image Source: Wikimedia Commons