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Sales and Marketing: Make your Cold Calls Sizzle

By Julie King |

Do you break into a sweat at the thought of making cold calls? Whether prospecting customers, corresponding with the media, or raising capital, calling an unknown prospect is a daunting task for many entrepreneurs.

When Steven J. Schwartz started as a self-employed salesperson twenty-two years ago at the age of 23, he absolutely hated making cold calls. Yet his career choice demanded that he make this difficult sales tool work. Driven by necessity, he took time off work to develop a cold calling system. His reasoning was simple: a system would enable him to achieve consistency and predictability.

The resulting system vastly improved Steven's calling results in the first week of testing. The original system has evolved over the years, with revisions and additions, and today variations are in use at corporate powerhouses such as Xerox and Nortel. Steven explains his cold calling system in the best-selling book, How to Make Hot Cold Calls.

We recently spoke to Steven J. Schwartz to discover how to overcome the fear of cold calling and how to use the phone to get appointments and generate sales.

Reasons behind the system
Steven explains that with a system you can measure cold calling results. As well, when you change a variable in your approach, you can see if the change is working. Knowing which combination of elements gets the best results will help you optimize your system. Using a system enables the caller to achieve consistent and predictable results.

A good system, says Steven, will also put the caller in control of the front-end sales process, which will make the caller feel confident. When others first started using Steven's system, they told him they were getting markedly better results. That's the ultimate result of a good system: productivity gains. "That's the real hidden plus in this system. The whole thing is: you're going to make fewer calls."

Every word counts
When making a cold call, every word counts. You have less than 30 seconds to connect with your prospect in a way that will make your ultimate goal achievable.

Yet, what do most people do? They slap a sales pitch together — with or without a script — get a list of prospects, and start calling.

Telephone sales, Steven explains, are similar to radio: they both depend on the ability of the human voice to connect with people. When you talk on the phone, someone cannot see you smile, frown or gesture, unless you convey emotions with the intonation of your voice and your selection of words.

"Radio is the most verbal medium of all, which means that every word you speak is going to have an impact and has to be strategically chosen. The words you speak paint images in someone's mind, and in radio we always had control over what those images are," says Steven.

The same is true when you make a cold call. You need to plan each word in your introduction with the same care and consideration that you would put into developing a radio campaign.

Hit them in the greed glands
It's true in cold calling, and it's true in all sales. Your prospects are not interested in hearing about you. To be effective, you need to hit prospects in their greed glands. This could be actual physical needs or issues and concerns that they're dealing with.

"Greed glands: they're in everybody's brains, and it's a little gland that basically says 'What's in it for me?' No one wakes up in the morning, unless you happen to sell coffee, saying they need your stuff. So you have to ask yourself: What do they wake up saying? What do they need? That's the trigger," says Steven.

How can you do this? First of all, you need to answer a few questions:

  • Do you know what you want to say?
  • Do you believe in what you're talking about?
  • Do you know who you're calling and why?
  • Are you aware of what's in it for them?

Ask yourself: what problems are your prospects facing? "For example, if you're talking to retirees," says Steven, "forget who you are and what industry you're in. One of the biggest issues with retirees is security. How are they going to handle the rising costs, inflation, and all that stuff? That's a big thing on their radar screen, so you want to tap into that.

"So you have to do your homework; you have to know," he says. "You need to tailor your message to your audience and what's in it for them. It's not what you want to say, but what they want to hear."

The words your audience wants to hear
When you listen to your customers, they will give you the words they want to hear, whether on the phone or in face-to-face conversations, says Steven. But you have to listen carefully.

To find out what words your customers want to hear, you need to ask them what they were looking for before they were doing business with you, and listen to what they say.

"If you do that with a dozen people, you're going to hear the same thought, phrase or word — somewhere it is going to repeat itself. They've just given you the words, phrases or thoughts they want to hear," says Steven.

When developing your unique selling proposition, what differentiates you from competitors, ask customers why they're happy doing business with you. "But the key is you have to shut-up and listen. You don't know what they're going to say, and they may say something you don't want to hear. It's irrelevant: you've got to hear it right from the horse's mouth, and then you've got to know how to use it," says Steven.

Also, listen for buzzwords. What jargon does your clients use? Use their jargon, not yours.

Different approaches, different results
Imagine that you're a handyman. You decide to use telemarketing to expand your customer base and call up prospects. When you get them on the phone, you introduce yourself and explain that you would like to meet them to talk about your services and show them some examples of your work.

Except for those who have an immediate need, with this approach most people are likely to give you the brush-off. In that case, Steven recommends determining what you are really selling. In this example, you would be selling one of two things: insurance — better to be on board now than when you need it, because that's not the time to worry about it — or you're selling reliability. If you called someone and told them that many people rely on you and explain that you are a good resource and readily available when they need you, that's a whole different scenario.

Now you're not asking them to come see you right away, because they don't have a need. You're saying: you should see me now so when you do need me, you'll be glad that we've already met. From their perspective, that's worth the time investment. You aren't selling that you're a handyman: you've sold the "sizzle," your reliability.

A scout's rule: be prepared
When it comes to cold calling, preparation starts with an understanding of your audience and what it takes to reach them. Research the needs of your target demographic: try to get inside their heads, imagine walking a mile in their business shoes.

Turning from the general picture, refine the research to discovering who the decision maker is at each location you plan to call. Go to the decision maker and use their words. The worst thing that can happen is that they will refer you down the ladder.

Perfect that plan
Once you understand your customers, know who the decision maker is, and have developed an initial script, you are ready to consider making the calls. At this point, planning is critical.

One key to Steven's approach is that the caller personalizes the call, and this hinges on his call planning methodology. When planning a call, Steven tells us, you must first focus on whom you're calling and why you're calling them.

One way to do this is to intentionally call their voicemail the night before you place the call. Listening to voicemail will help you visualize the conversation. It will also give you clues about when they arrive at the office.

Another aspect of call planning is to figure out how to get the target person on the phone, instead of reaching an assistant. One way is to start calling early in the morning and call at 15-minute intervals until they arrive at the office, the time they are most likely to answer their own phone.

Not only does this focus help you prepare and personalize the call, it also eliminates concerns over rejection. You still anticipate rejection, but in a positive way, because every call is a valuable information resource.

Assess calls and adjust approach
The secret to a good system is the process of assessing and adjusting the system until it is virtually perfect for the target audience.

Not only does self-assessment help improve results, but it also reduces the fear of rejection. "Because the focus isn't on rejection, the focus is 'Okay, either a call worked out well or it didn't, is it them or is it me?" says Steven. "The call is just a resource, which is why the self-assessment is the topmost driver. You can't self-assess if you don't have a system."

A technique not limited to the telephone
The effectiveness of this approach is not limited to the telephone. Understanding people and what they want can be an effective tool in all types of communication.

Fast forward
Be sure to read the next in this series as Steven J. Schwartz outlines the most common cold calling mistakes and tripwires that could cause your downfall.

Make your Cold Calls Sizzle Part II: Side Stepping Common Mistakes

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