Cold Calling 101

3 Lessons in 1 Cold Call

Audiences and sales training workshops always seem to enjoy the adventure I share about my first day in sales.  Preparing for my transition into a sales role, I heard one recommendation over and over again.  “Greg, you need to prospect, a lot!”  Being an overachiever, I thought I would spend my very first day in sales making prospect calls.  FYI, that’s a terrible idea, but not one of the three lessons.

And I didn’t just prospect locally.  I drove two hours away to make this cold call.  I drove past dozens of prospects just to go see this one. FYI, that’s another terrible idea.    That is sometimes referred to as, “Driving past dollars to pick up nickels”

Anyway, I got on my first prospect call, which was a cold call.  No appointment.  No internet search as it didn’t exist.  No pre-call planning or internal company research.  I just drove into town and walked into the dealership in a traditional cold call scenario.

As I entered the dealership, I was ushered over to the manager (Wally).  He sat behind his desk, completely ignoring me as I walked up, introduced myself, and tried to hand him a business card.  Reaching into his desk, he pulled out a stack of various business cards.  As he thumbed through the stack, he would occasionally throw a card up in the air or in my direction.  After a few of these cards landed, I could see they were salespeople’s cards from my company who had my job before me. 

Lesson #1: Trusted relationships take time:

I interpreted Wally’s business card actions as telling me, “I don’t trust you.  You will be gone in a year like all the rest before you.  So, don’t try selling me anything as this business has been around for 40 years” 

Wally finally got to the end of sorting through his stack of cards and picked up my business card off his desk.  He very routinely tucked it into the stack, put a rubber band around it, and put it back into a drawer of his desk.  Finally making eye contact with me, he abruptly asked me, “Why the heck would I ever buy from you?”

Lesson #2:  Above all else, know how to answer that question: Why should I buy from you?

Know the answer to that question before you ever step foot out of your office and call on a customer.  In my case, I had no clue how to answer the question.  Stammering and stuttering, I got out of the appointment as fast as I could.  Drove to a Kwik Trip pay phone and called my manager, “I’m coming back to the office and we need to figure out how I can answer this question before I go any further in my sales career.”

After returning to the office and meeting with my manager, I found out a few things about Wally and his dealership.  First, he had been a dealer for many years, maybe even decades.  A few years prior to me showing up, he and our company had parted ways in a very disagreeable way.  That’s code for, he hated us and we weren’t so fond of him either. 

After aggressively competing against each other in the market, I showed up with my brand-new business cards and brochures to brighten his day.  Only to walk into a shotgun blast.

Lesson #3:  Do your homework (pre-call planning). 

A 1-minute phone call would have saved me the embarrassment of that first-day experience.  In workshops, I emphasize heavily that salespeople need to do a pre-call plan.  And yes, I violated and sometimes still violate this lesson.  However, with the internet and social media activity, research has become much easier.  At a bare minimum, prior to any prospect call, do two very quick searches on your prospect.  First, Google them and their business.  Most likely, they will pop up on Facebook and LinkedIn.  Click on them and read through their background.  If they have a website, get very familiar with their business. 

Next, search your internal information sources.  If you are a primary provider in a geographic area and they are a primary customer in that same geography, then your company most likely has done business with them in the past.  Use your internal software whether that’s your CRM (customer relationship management), your ERP (accounting software), or other employees who may have interacted with them.  Save yourself the embarrassment that I experienced.  More importantly, it makes you look a bit more professional when a prospect sees that you have done your homework. 

As mentioned, sales teams really enjoy this story.  I think the reason is that we probably all have this type of story from our early years.  At some point, we walked into a complete disaster of a sales call. 

In many cases, they are cold calls.  Hopefully, the three lessons from this article will help you.

Good luck and feel free to share with me any of the toughest sales calls you have been through.

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