Building a Profitable Sales Process - Making Initial Contact
Continuing our series on 10 Steps to Building a Profitable Sales Process, this post will address steps three and four.
If you are following this series and applying the ideas to your sales organization, by now your sales leaders should have lead the sales team through the process of identifying your most profitable prospects to target and everyone on your sales team should have a focused list of top prospects. If that's where you are right now congratulations!
You're off to a great start. If not don't worry, you can easily catch up.
Now it's time to get to work by actually contacting these prospective customers. There are a lot of cold calling articles, books and scripts available to you, so our focus for this article will be high-level principles rather than specific tactics.
- Schedule Prospecting Time
Everyone on your sales team should specific times scheduled on their calendar for business development activities. Zig Ziglar wrote about this years ago urging sales professionals to schedule a time by which they will make their first call of the day. The earlier the better.
I'd say go one step further and have your sales team schedule a block of time to make contact with prospective customers. They should treat this time as a "can't miss appointment" and their should be consequences for missing it.
- Low and Slow
One of the problems we see when sales people make cold calls - especially if they are out of practice and are just getting started again - is they tend to talk too high and too fast. Think "low and slow" when making initial contact with a prospective client.
A lower tone conveys confidence and authority. So does slowing down a bit and being comfortable with the inevitable pauses that occur when making first contact. Have your sales leaders listen to some calls and remind their sales people to slow down and lower their tone of voice.
- Point of View
When making initial contact, your sales people should look at the world from the prospective customer's point of view. What is important to them? What are some common frustrations they might have? Have your sales people position your product or service from their point of view rather than your company's point of view. For more on this highly effective approach read about "positioning statements" in Dave Kurlan's Baseline Selling.
- Sell with Stories
Instead of describing the features and benefits of your product (which will generate a quick hang up), have your sales people sell with stories. Give examples of issues and challenges people like your prospect are experiencing and ask if that's something that is challenge to them.
A strong story or example followed by an engaging question is much more effective than just describing your product or service. Remember, the goal of the initial contact is to engage them in a conversation that (hopefully) leads to a next step.
- Ask Questions Three Deep
Once your sales people have engaged the prospect in a conversation it's important to keep the conversation going by asking questions and going at least three questions deep (more if possible). Questions and phrases such as "when did you first notice this...." or "how long has this been an issue..." or "tell me a little more about how that impacts your operations..." can go a long way toward keeping the conversation going.
- Ask for the Appointment
After a few minutes of phone discover, if there's a problem your sales people might be able to solve, ask for the appoinment. That's the goal of making initial contact, so don't let them beat around the bush. Get right to the point and ask if it makes sense to get together or schedule a follow up call to explore the issue in more detail.
If your sales people are having the right conversation this should be an easy, logical next step. If they're forcing the conversation this will be difficult to convert and they will continue to struggle.
- Ask for a Name
If your sales people cannot find an issue worth exploring in an appointment or follow up phone call, have them form the habit of asking for another name to call. It's as simple as "it doesn't sound like you need us right now, is there someone else in your network who might?"
- End with a clear next step
Even if there is not an opportunity to get together right now, everyone on your sales team should set expectations by asking permission to re-engage in the future. I like to use the sports calendar as a reference point because it's more memorable. So instead of saying "I'll call you next fall" I might say "I'll call you when the Cowboys are 2-0" (if I'm prospecting in Dallas). Or "I'll call you right after the Masters..." Or "I'll reach out to you again around the All Star break...."
Make sure your sales people keep good notes in your CRM so they can keep track of these follow up calls.
What's holding your sales team back from making initial contact with prospective customers? Find out by investing in a detailed analysis of the people, systems, and strategies that impact sales at your company. Download a free sample of the new Sales Effectiveness & Improvement Analysis.