Tag Archives: salesmanship

Cold Call Snafu

Surely you want to talk with this guy!

Surely you want to talk with this guy!

Those of us who cold call as part of our sales strategy know how difficult it can be to get that prospect to answer the telephone. I keep track of such things, and my personal average is a live person in only 7% of calls. I typically leave a message, and I feel especially gratified when a prospect actually returns the call. It’s rare, but it does happen. I received such a return call yesterday evening. I was on I-635 in Dallas headed westbound towards home when my cell phone rang:

Me: “This is Jeff, how may I help you?”

Caller: “This is Jan Brady.” (I changed the name. I had a crush on the real Jan Brady as a boy. Might as well pretend I spoke with her on the phone!) “My receptionist gave me a message that you called while I was in a meeting this afternoon. I don’t know who you are, but she felt I should return the call.”

Crap. The name rings a bell but I sure as heck can’t place the company she’s with. I made almost 50 calls this afternoon. And to make matters worse, I’m moving at 70 miles per hour and she is talking very fast, so of course I didn’t catch her name when she first said it. Buying time and hoping she’d say the name of her company I continued.

Me: “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name. Would you mind repeating it and letting me know who you’re with?”

Caller: “It’s Jan Brady. I live in Dallas and I own a business here. You called me. Do you not know who I am?”

Double-crap. No. I don’t.

Me: “Ma’am, I’m so sorry. I’m in my car and I don’t have my notes in front of me. What company are you with?”

Caller: “This is a solicitation call, isn’t it. My receptionist knows I don’t take solicitation calls and this is why. I’m just one of hundreds of names on a list to you; you have no clue who I am, do you?”

Me: “Ms. Brady, I represent IMA. We are a regional insurance brokerage firm, and we help our clients mitigate their total cost of risk. I am actually very selective about the companies I choose to contact, and I wouldn’t have called you if I didn’t think that we might be able to add value. I apologize for the confusion. You see, I have my office phone set up to automatically forward calls to my cell so that I don’t miss a client if I’m out of the office when they try to reach me. It’s part of the way I serve my clients, and I mean no disrespect.”

I figured it was best to be succinct in my honesty; perhaps I could salvage this call.

Caller: “I have no interest in speaking with you. Remove me from your call list.”

Click.

Of course, I have replayed this call time and again in my head. I’ve banged my head against the proverbial wall. I gave myself a good cussing out. When I arrived in the office this morning I checked my call list from yesterday afternoon and found Jan Brady. I removed her from my call list – for now. And, first thing this morning, I turned off the automatic call forwarding feature on my office phone.

Some day, when Ms. Brady is a client, I’ll relate this story and we’ll share a good laugh. Until then, back to the phones.

Listening for the Win

“Don’t puke on your prospect.”

OK, a bit crass perhaps, but it is some of the best advice on salesmanship I’ve ever been given. Any of us who have purchased B2B goods and services have experienced this. The sales rep reaches out and you grant that first meeting. Upon entering your office, the sales rep launches into a completely one-sided dialogue about how great he is, how great his company is, and why you should be doing business with him. He asks no questions, and although you try to turn this into a real conversation, he won’t allow you to participate. He simply has too much to say!

Case in point: When I was Director of Risk Management at a large restaurant chain, I was called by a representative with a local insurance brokerage firm. Upon entering my office, he asked me one question: “Do you purchase accounts receivable insurance?” he asked. “No,” said I, “our guests typically pay with credit cards…” and that was the end of the discussion. Oh, the meeting lasted another 15 minutes as the rep droned on and on about how uncollectable accounts receivable have practically sunk many businesses and how every business should have this coverage. I finally cut him off and showed him the door. As he walked out, he dropped some expensive looking accounts receivable insurance marketing materials on my desk as he said, “I’ll be in touch.” The marketing materials went straight into my trash can, and thankfully, he never did follow up. Indeed, “sales puke” is a sure-fire way to ensure that you never win that piece of business.

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” ~ Stephen R. Covey

A former boss of mine was a Covey disciple. He had his entire team read Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and he recited this quote incessantly. He even found budget money for each of us to attend a live presentation by Dr. Covey himself a few years before he passed away. I agree with my former boss that 7 Habits is a must read for any business professional, regardless of your line of work. But it is this quote in particular that has stuck in my mind over all these years. I have applied it in my risk management roles and I apply it in my current role in commercial insurance sales.

People need, indeed they like, to be heard. I believe failure to listen is often to blame when negotiations end in stalemate or objectives fail to be met. Applying Covey’s principle generally yields one of two results in my experience:

 (1) The business associates (or sales prospects) with whom you are speaking are more apt to hear you out and more readily consider your viewpoint (or product) if you’ve heard them out first and asked meaningful questions;

(2) You begin to see enough value in your associate’s viewpoint that you begin to change your own mind. In a sales scenario, you may learn about a pain point your prospect is experiencing and alter your approach accordingly. In both scenarios, you learn something and the ultimate end result is best for all!

Do you see what is happening here? Both outcomes are wins!

As I look back over my career, I readily see that I have been most successful when I have worked hard to practice good listening skills. It’s a sign of interest. It’s a demonstration of respect. And no matter the line of work, sound listening skills will open doors. Go ahead, give it a shot. I dare you.

Photo credit: My iPhone 5s, Idaho Springs, CO. February 2015

Photo credit: My iPhone 5s, Idaho Springs, CO. February 2015

On My Mind: Cold-Calling and RSVP’s

I have a couple things nagging at my brain as I enjoy lunch at my desk this afternoon. Here goes!

Cold-Calling

I think telemarketers have one of the toughest jobs in existence today. Let’s face it: nobody really wants to talk with a telemarketer now, do they? Especially the ones that call in the evening, precisely at dinner time, seeking to sell that home security system or that spanking new life insurance policy. Years ago, around 1989 or thereabouts, I took a second job as a telemarketer for the Houston Ballet. Our job in the Ballet call center was to sell season tickets for the next ballet season to attendees of recent Ballet performances. They provided their contact details on information cards completed at the performance, which at least implied permission to contact them. I came close to closing one sale, with the call center supervisor looking over my shoulder and whispering his encouragement, but in the end the customer had dinner on the table and it was getting cold – no sale. That was one of the most grueling nights of my working career; I went home and did not return.

Surely you want to talk with this guy!

Surely you want to talk with this guy!

My role in commercial insurance sales today also involves telemarketing. I’m not working from a call center, but from my desk. The objective is to contact executives at prospective client companies and secure a meeting during which I can introduce my firm’s insurance and risk management capabilities in hopes of one day winning them as a client. Having recently converted from a buyer of these services to one who is now selling them, I remember what it was like to get those sales calls. Like many of the people I try to reach today, I would often let my voice mail system answer calls from numbers I did not recognize or from caller ID’s I simply didn’t want to talk to. Truth be told, my first client was won after a cold-call telephone conversation, so while I don’t necessarily enjoy the process, I do it because it’s necessary. I just wish more people would answer their phone; we are really quite good at what we do!

RSVP’s

Photo credit: www.seshrm.org

We’ve lost some elements of good etiquette in our modern society. I’ve noticed the last few times I’ve sent invitations to an event that a large percentage of the invitees don’t bother to RSVP even though one is requested. Why is that so difficult? Somebody thinks enough of you to invite you to an event and you don’t even have the courtesy to turn them down? Worse, when they follow up to see if you are coming you don’t reply? What’s up with that? Come on, people, show some respect. When you receive an invitation to a party, a dinner, a business function, a shower, a wedding, a child’s birthday party or whatever – please have the decency and respect to offer the host or hostess a prompt RSVP. End of rant.

With that, it’s time to get back to the phones. Enjoy your Tuesday!

RSVP Photo credit: seshrm.org

2015 Photo-Some-Days 4.13.2015

Building a sales pipeline is some of the hardest work I’ve ever done.  It requires diligence, perseverance, patience, research, preparation, and sometimes a thick skin. I find that I perform best in an initial meeting with a new prospect if I drive to the location of the meeting well ahead of time, then locate a local coffee shop in which to decompress and collect my thoughts. Thirty to forty five minutes sitting in a Starbucks may sound like time wasted to some; for me it is time well spent as I put the stress of metropolitan traffic behind me and focus on the task at hand.

“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” ~ Alexander Graham Bell via BrainyQuote.com

Decompression and prep time before a new business meeting

Decompression and prep time before a new business meeting

2015 Photo-A-Day 1.13.2015

Here I am with two of the tools of my trade: my phone and my new Plantronics headset. My firm helps our clients mitigate their cost of risk. It’s my job to tell the story and share our value proposition, and to do those things we must reach out. After all, if we don’t seek a dialogue, we can’t help. I enjoy this part of my job, and I’m thankful for this technology that makes it easier to contact the organizations we’re seeking to help.

“Stop selling. Start helping.” ~ Zig Ziglar

Tools of the sales trade!

Tools of the trade!

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