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Ringing up total strangers to chat about your business and persuade them to set up a meeting has got to rank first on the list of "Top 10 Things New Business Owners Find Terrifying."
Cold calling is very hard to do. Simply picking up the phone takes courage. But turning cold calls into actual sales calls — that takes confidence and thick skin as well as skill.
Prospects may react with hostility or courtesy, but that won't change the odds. You face a firestorm of rejection for every spark of interest you ignite. Even seasoned salespeople shudder at the thought of cold calling. Plus, with many marketers reluctant to take risks these days, the challenges of cold calling are even greater, especially for startup entrepreneurs.
Start your selling
If you can't take rejection, you shouldn't get into business. As an infant enterprise with scant resources, low profile and few (if any) client testimonials, you must practice what New York sales trainer Stephan Schiffman calls "interruptive marketing" to get your message out and find customers.
"The economy has everyone at a four-way stop sign. No one is moving," says Schiffman, author of the best-selling Cold Calling Techniques (That Really Work!). "So your No. 1 competition right now is the status quo. Forget ROI [return on investment] or cost or color or anything else. Every buyer will ask: 'Does buying this product make sense for me?' You've got to give him that reason."
When done right, with smart research, scripts, presentation and delivery, cold calls do land business — even if money is tight.
Here are seven expert tips to help your cold calls yield some hot results.
1. Aggressively target your buyers. The more you can define your markets, the greater your chances of differentiating your business and gaining access to decision makers. "Too many new business owners don't write a business plan or they just do one for bankers, so it doesn't cover marketing very well," says Jim Brown, executive director of the Russ Berrie Institute for Professional Sales at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J. Entrepreneurs often skip the upfront work of narrowly identifying markets appropriate for their services. As a result, sales efforts are all over the map. "It's a waste of time," says Brown. It’s also a waste of money. Every owner should have a plan. Until you know the companies or consumer markets that are ripe to buy your wares, don't pick up the phone. You need to distinguish yourself and your company from random telemarketers.
2. Invest in research. At Benefitfocus.com, an application service provider of employee benefits, the sales team is trained to suggest solutions to client problems rather than to simply present online demonstrations. "More often than not, sales associates are in competition with 'the way it has always been done,' " explains Bob Stevens, vice president of sales and marketing for the Charleston, N.C.-based company. "Our sales associates are encouraged to research a company they are going to 'cold call,' so they know something about the company's business and their human resources needs."
3. Craft a good script — and use it. You can't wing it. Despite the fact that you're passionate about your baby business, communicating the benefits of your product takes distinct skills. With limited time on the phone, a written script lets you focus on points you want to make. In a few short sentences, you must provide both a description of your services and compelling reasons why the prospect should buy your product. You can then move on to secondary benefits or news. "The script shouldn't be word for word," says New York sales trainer Wendy Weiss, author of Cold Calling for Women: Opening Doors and Closing Sales. "It's a way to prepare yourself for the conversation. You decide ahead of time how you want to present yourself, what reaction you want to get and how to ask for what you want." Be ready to counter possible objections with specific explanations, statistics or case studies. If an objection arises that you hadn't anticipated, react as best you can. Then write it down and prepare a detailed response before the next call.” Not everyone is born a salesperson. Luckily, there are things you can do to improve those skills, like hiring a coach or reading a book," Weiss says.
4. Warm up every cold call. It helps if you don't start on thin ice. Before calling, send the prospect a smart, useful introductory notice. "You should send a short, personal letter saying something like, 'I'd like to introduce myself. I've developed a new product and I specialize in your industry. I'll be calling,'" says sales professor Brown. "Wait two days after they've gotten the letter, then call." There are obviously many introductory options, depending on your targets and products. "When possible, we precede calls with a mail or e-mail campaign," says John Rarrick, a marketing consultant in Nyack, N.Y. "This allows us to use introductory phrases such as 'Hi, I'm just following up on the brochure we sent you. Did you receive it?'“ White papers or special reports are useful for consulting services. Introductory discounts may stand out for suppliers or retailers. Make sure you enclose a note describing your services and indicating that you'll be calling in a few days to gauge interest. Then, promptly follow up.
5. Be nice to the gatekeepers. An executive screener's job is to guard the inner sanctum. Becoming irritated, frustrated, or rude with such assistants will only hurt your business. Think through strategies to get gatekeepers to open doors. Create a friendly mood. Learn screeners' names and preferences. By making the gatekeeper an ally, you'll win access more easily.
6. Practice, practice, practice. Like most skills, the more cold calling you do it, the better you'll get. Rehearse your pitch out loud with friends or associates. Some experts suggest standing during calls in order to give your voice authority and energy. Everyone always says smile while you talk, because that will be also conveyed in your voice. Some trainers advise facing a mirror so you can see when your energy or body language flags and you can adjust. All such strategies attempt to substitute for the usual visual clues of conversation, which some studies pinpoint as 80% of how people communicate. Whatever helps you infuse warmth and confidence in the calls, try it. Weiss suggests dividing all your leads into A, B and C lists: "Practice on the Cs before calling the As."
7. Then customize your delivery. But don't become too attached to any particular script or language. Once you have a framework, you must be able to fine-tune it to fit individual prospects. Every customer has specialized needs and preferences. Edit your calling script to hit nerves for each new audience. Make sure you're up to speed about your community and industry or market news. You want to sound plugged-in and connected whenever you call prospects.
Cold calling is difficult and daunting work. But it does pay off. To be successful at cold calling, Weiss says, "You need to be targeted and focused and to call only on those people who are ready to buy."