Friday, March 27, 2009

Cold Calling

The sharp end of selling is the cold call. Few people like doing it, but for engineers -- typically more interested in things than in people -- it can be worse than poking yourself in the eye with a rusty nail. And for Professional Services firms, it's often seen as Not The Done Thing; something telemarketers for insurance may do, but not high falutin' lawyers, or accountants, or verification consultants. In fact, so reluctant can some people be to do this kind of prospecting that there are entire books and courses dedicated to handling call reluctance (e.g. "The Psychology of Sales Call Reluctance"). Others promise that you can sell without cold calling at all (e.g. "Never Cold Call Again").

Personally I believe that cold calling, while not the be-all and end-all, is an essential part of the professional consultant's sales arsenal. Verilab has been using the Sandler Sales Institute for some time now, as part of its overall training approach. And the Sandler System has some refreshing views on the cold call.

The first part of a Sandler cold call is referred to as a "Pattern Interrupt". The idea is that most people (including most sales folk) have been so badly impacted (a.k.a. p*ssed off) by cold callers in the past that they have an automatic negative reaction to any kind of sales attempt on the phone. It's not necessarily even conscious, but it blocks the vast majority of cold calls in their track. A pattern interrupt is used to get the call off on the right footing, without having to fight every inch of the way.

Once the PI has achieved its goal, an important subsequent step is the "Up Front Contract". This is a constant theme throughout Sandler. The idea is as follows:

a. You describe clearly what you want to do next
b. You describe a binary (yes/no) decision you'd like to get as to whether you'll proceed *after* whatever is in step a (and you stress that a "no" is perfectly fine).
c. You get the prospect's permission to begin

For example, a consultant could say: "I'd like to take just 30 seconds to tell you whay I'm calling. When you've heard that, you can tell me if you want to discuss some more, or you can say the call is over. And saying it's over is absolutely fine. Is that OK if I do that?" Now, written out like that in script-form may sound stilted. But when done well -- and Sandler is not into scripted calling at all -- it comes across smooth and natural.

Another useful tip I picked up from Sandler some time back was the suggestion to listen and observe people cold calling you. I now do this, instead of getting annoyed at them. I try not to tease them for too long because I now respect their time (they're almost certainly working to a dials-per-day quota, and may just be some poor single mom trying to make a living). But I like to ask them about their style, their call volumes, and their success rate.

In high grade consulting, such as at your Accenture, your WLRK, or your Verilab, calling volumes of up to 100 dials per week are not uncommon. But we look like mere babes compared with the full time telemarketing heroes. I spoke to one several months ago who was making 200 dials per day. Yesterday, I got one who was reaching 400 dials a day. And then this morning someone called me, from the same place as the 400/day person, and they claimed to be making up to 1500 dials a day! If it's true, and assuming a solid ten hours of dialing per day, that means an average time per dial of a mere 24 seconds.  Worse, they told me that they had a conversion rate of only 8 to 15 appointments (the intended outcome of a dial) from that 1500. Despite all that, the guy I spoke to sounded completely upbeat and determined. If I'd had a need for that kind of calling, I'd have asked him for a resume.

As I say, cold calling is only part of the picture. And if you build your overall network well, cold calling can become a decreasing part of what you do. But while you're building, and even then, screw your courage to the sticking-place and pick up the phone!