The cold call experiment #1

My experiment in cold calling has now commenced. I figured I’d start with the hardest, it’s a bit like choosing to tackle the biggest guy on the opposing team first – after that they’ll all be easier (or you’re so trashed by the experience that you spend the rest of the game on the bench – or stretcher). Anyway, I chose to try and get to IBM’s Victorian Sales Managers’ PA.

I will grant you that IBM’s customers never cold call – and folk selling to them don’t do that either (hence my decision to try) but they do have large offices which clients visit and which also house many bright IBMers who are trying their best to make the world a better place  – and to grow the IBM business.  The former, clients (and partners) are met by a receptionist (the ‘Director of First Impressions’ as we called our brilliant receptionist when I worked at Motorola). The receptionist I met on my cold call was Melissa (I asked) and she was very courteous – but entirely unable to help me in my quest to talk with the Sales Manager’s PA. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to – it was simply that without a name she couldn’t even begin to search, such are the processes in place. Melissa kindly offered me the email address of the folk that “deal with sales” (dealhub@au1ibm.com if you’re interested) and further proffered a phone number (132426) and opined that, as far as she knew, sales are dealt with from St Leonards in NSW.

Now, when it comes to all of those bright IBMers striving to make the world a better place, etc. – how does one get to them with an idea that might really help them achieve that goal? The receptionist can’t help (even if she wants to). Of course, it could be that IBM don’t need any help – with anything – they are after all a very old, very large and very capable company who have invented much of what we rely on these days, at least in terms of IT. However, they got that way by being open-minded, open to new ideas and able move on them quickly (or quickly for a company of their size). I would suggest that their defensive processes might now be too good! Instead of being the ‘Director of first impressions’ the receptionist is largely a ‘human firewall’. Of course, this suggests that external sales folk just became too pesky with their cold calling, causing too much interruption to the smooth flow of work being done by the staff the firewall is in place to protect.

Still, I shouldn’t base my views on a single experiment. On to the next few cold calls!

The 1st quarter is over – how are you travelling?

You know, questions are seen by many as the only tools used by salesmen. We ask questions: to establish need; to gauge readiness and willingness to buy; to establish the clients understanding of our proposal, and ultimately; we ask for their purchase instruction. If we’ve done it right – more right than the competition – then, in theory, we win.

The problem is that questions aren’t always the answer (pun intended). Sometimes our seemingly innocent and (we believe) relevant questions can offend. Sometimes customers don’t want to admit to their true current state. Continuing to drill down on any reticence the client displays merely compounds their discomfort.

This blog entry’s title “The 1st quarter is over – how are you traveling?” would likely be well received by those of you who are on, or ahead, of plan – doubtless you would answer and expand on just how far ahead of target you are and how much you are looking forward to the next quarter. However, those who were behind plan might well be uncomfortable with such a question.

Similarly, when you ask probing questions of a customer, look for the signs. If they happily answer then that’s great – if they hesitate, squirm, re-direct, or just look in any way uncomfortable, then back-off. Don’t merely rephrase the question but move onto something where you feel they will be more comfortable to open up. It may be that you don’t really need to know their current state in detail – and both you and the client might much more enjoy talking about the future state the client envisages (and which you might help to flesh-out). Perhaps rather than a question it might be more appropriate to make an observation, or propose a vision, or tell a story?

Differentiate – In person

In this time of surging social networking, our (thankfully) e-equipped world easily, and all too readily, inundates everyone with a relentless torrent of marketing communications. On top of which businesses are constantly exhorted to ‘do more’ with targeted on-line advertising, Tweets, Facebook and the like. A kind of ‘get digital or get wiped-out’ notion is spooking the herd.

Obviously, some of this works (Google and Facebook seem to be making money!) but as in all things, too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing. Getting your message through the cacophony of ‘targeted’ messages is increasingly difficult. Or is it?

Like all sales folk, I am aware that there are times when I must push myself into a ‘discomfort zone’ – and strangely mine currently presents as ‘Cold-calling’. I say this is strange because I have been immensely successful with cold-calls – I once even sold an IBM mainframe and associated disk and print hardware in a 48 hour sales cycle that started with a cold call to talk about CCTV! I must admit that in my early career I did at first fear the cold call (issues with rejection?) but a six month stint door-to-door selling “Yellow Pages” to the nascent business markets of the United Arab Emirates in the 80’s soon got me over that. It turned out that I really enjoyed the risk/uncertainty (= excitement) that came with the unknowns of cold-calling – I guess it’s as close as I get to sky-diving.

Now, it also turns out that the vast majority of salesfolk are similarly fearful or dismissive of the cold call – perhaps believing that it doesn’t apply to their market or brand proposition, or that it smacks of desperation, or is somehow ‘low rent’. Possibly their marketing department have oversold themselves – promising an endless stream of qualified leads. Whatever the cause, too many sales folk are willing to rely on others, or on the internet, to do their prospecting.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, my early career was in Advertising – and one of many lessons I learned there was to “eat your own dog-food” – i.e. consume what you sell or do what you tell others to do. To that end, and in order to differentiate and get my message through, I am about to embark on a cold-calling campaign – where I will seek to meet first with the target Sales Manager’s Personal Assistant. I will apply my ‘One Minute More‘ techniques to establish a human connection with same, and seek their assistance in getting my message to their boss. If I get it right (and I’m bound to get it right sometimes) they will personally carry my message to their boss, and ensure it gets that person’s attention (added to which it will probably carry the PA’s recommendation, which is a powerful influencing factor in my experience).

Now you may well ask why have I told you this? Surely the secret is now out and others will be able to steal my initiative and make the calls before me? The truth is that, in part, making it public like this will force me into going through with it (a bit like committing to a weight loss program) and the other aspect (and the primary purpose of this blog) is that I want readers to think about selling, all aspects of selling – and surely getting the initial attention of your prospect is the single most critical aspect of the sale, is it not?