Cold-calling is one of the tasks that many business people hate. But for many small firms it's a vital part of their sales strategy. So how can businesses take some of the trauma out of cold-calling?
Cold-calling is one of the things most people seem to ask me for help with, usually because they want to get better results from it - although some people like to avoid it altogether! However, for a smaller business, the problems often start earlier in the process.
Problem one - a poorly planned sales process
This is a common problem that occurs far more often than it should! Whether it's the manager, director or business owner that hasn't thought the process out fully, or that the salesperson just hasn't got their head around it, either way this needs looking at before the sales calls start.
An important point to look at here is what has happened prior to the call you're about to make. Has the prospect responded to an advert? Have they come from a web enquiry? If it's a pure cold call, where did you source the contact details?
If it was a response to an advert, for example, what filtering have you done on the advert? Did you want only the good quality enquiries (useful for a small sales team that can't handle larger call volumes, and salespeople with less experience), or did you want all the enquiries you can get?
The more filtering you have done, the warmer the enquiry is. I've seen many companies do too little filtering - usually because they naively think that the more responses they get, the better the advertising worked. It just means you've got lots of follow-up calls with people who may be less interested.
Problem two - poor handling of initial enquiry
If your enquiry comes in over the phone, who is the person who takes that call? Is it someone that has been well trained in sales techniques? Are they completely conversant with the campaign that generated the lead? Is it someone you can rely on to have the best chance of converting that enquiry into business?
Far too often companies spend large amounts of money on websites, advertising, branding and marketing campaigns, yet when those campaigns generate an incoming lead, they fail to deal with it properly. They don't invest in the most critical part of the process, the part that could win or lose them the business - the training of the person handling the incoming enquiry.
If it's an enquiry that came in via your website, how quickly do you respond to the enquiry? Within a few hours? Or is it more like days? Hands up all of those who respond to the email or web enquiry with an email. You deserve to be shot! This is the main (or perhaps the ONLY) opportunity to engage the prospect into your sales process, and you're going to do it by sending an email? Dear oh dear....
If it was a telephone enquiry, what questions do you or your staff ask that person? Do you ask questions that uncover buyer motivation, desire, needs? Do you control the call and win the business (and a new customer) at the end of it?
Problem three - wrong (or no) focus during the call
The third thing you needed to think about is the call itself. A common problem with people making cold calls or follow-up calls is that they fail to consider what outcome they want from the call before they make it.
Are you trying to make an appointment from the call? A sale? Trying to get the prospect to visit you? A conference call? What specifically are you trying to achieve?
Far too many calls are made without an objective in mind. Those are the sort of calls that tend to drift with little or no control from the salesperson, and that give the recipient the impression that there wasn't a clear reason for the call. As a result, they want to get out of it as quickly as possible. Your call needs to be structured and delivered with your outcome in mind.
A simple script helps you plan and prepare your sales calls before you even pick up the phone. You can use it to list the features and benefits of your products and services or setting out the main objective of your sales call. You can download a telemarketing script template (charge applicable).
Problem four - lack of sales confidence
If this relates to you directly, don't worry. The majority of people I've worked with have some challenges with confidence at some point - and some on a regular basis!
As companies have re-engineered themselves over the past few months, in a number of cases it has meant that non-traditional sales staff are now having to handle parts of the sales process as part of their role. These staff members didn't sign up for a sales job, but are now having to do sales activities - whether they like it or not.
Whether it's a marketing person making sales calls and trying to get appointments for field sales representatives, or an administrator handling incoming sales enquiries, if they aren't confident with the activity they're undertaking, that means less effective calls, lost opportunities, and therefore lost sales.
Of course, many small business owners have to handle sales themselves as well as many other functions because they don't have the luxury of being able to employ different specialists to do different tasks.
Any person tasked with taking on any element of sales responsibility within a company needs to be confident handling sales. A lack of confidence in any element of the sales operation can be a source of lost sales - something most businesses can't afford at the moment.
It's vital that action is taken to equip all team members with the mindset, skills and confidence required in order to maximise sales opportunities right now. Otherwise you could be virtually gifting business to the competition.
Andy Preston is a leading expert on sales and selling. Originally a professional buyer, Andy became not only the top salesperson in his company, but one of the top salespeople in his industry, and draws on that expertise to help people with sales and difficulties with selling.