A Right Way and a Wrong Way

My cell phone rang the other day. The person on the other end started by introducing himself but did not speak clearly so I couldn’t catch his name. He immediately launched with a hearty, “Mr. Harris, how are you doing today?” This sort of greeting is always a warning signal for me that someone is going to try and sell something. Being a polite person I responded by saying that I was fine. Before I could say anything else he began reading from his script. He was peddling the most amazing product since the invention of the light bulb and it was going to save me millions of dollars . . . or something like that. This guy literally filibustered for more than 30 seconds without taking a breath. He obviously had a lot of practice doing this.

Does this sort of old school cold-calling really work? Perhaps it does to a point, but I question whether it is the most effective approach. Let’s examine all of the ways I found this conversation to be off-putting. #1 – Failure to speak clearly – the fact that he spoke so fast that I couldn’t understand his name was certainly not the right way to get started. #2 – Cliché greeting – asking how I was doing is incredibly trite and inauthentic. #3 – No need-determination – this was at the heart of his ineffective approach. He arrogantly assumed that I needed his product or service and made no attempt to validate this assumption. #4 – Reading from a script – I had no confidence that he understood what he was supposed to be selling. After listening to him tout his product for a while I finally interrupted him and said, “I’m not interested, thank you.” And then I hung up. I wonder how many times this happens to him every day?

This type of cold calling utilizes a classic high-pressure technique and I’m surprised that in today’s business world there are still companies (and sales people) who use it. Cold calling can be a thankless task yielding poor results except for a high degree of discouragement. Cold calling should be less about the product or service we are selling and more about building and collecting relationships that we can serve. The problem is that many companies still expect sales people to meet quotas and apply extreme pressure to sell, sell and sell. The alternative (and much more effective) approach is to call without making any attempt whatsoever to sell anything. Instead the call is to introduce one’s self and build a rapport with the customer. This process includes making an attempt to understand how the customer does business and to identify his points of pain.

I would begin a call like this by indicating that I’m not calling to sell anything. This statement is usually somewhat disarming and increases the chance for a customer to stay on the phone. Instead, I’m doing some research to learn more about how customers are dealing with a certain issue. If my product is inventory management software, I’m going to ask open-ended questions that get the customer to talk about what problems he might be experiencing with his current inventory management system. And I’m going to carefully listen to his responses and ask pertinent follow-up questions based upon what he has told me. I will not read from a script. Once I have a greater understanding about my prospective customer and his needs, I’m going to thank him for his time and hang up.

I’ll follow-up with a handwritten note expressing appreciation to the customer for his time. Very few people write notes anymore. I won’t send it by e-mail because I won’t stand out as much. I may wait several days and send him something relating to the conversation we had – perhaps it’s an article that is applicable to his situation. But I’m still not selling him anything. Instead, I’m working to build a relationship. By the time I call him again, he knows who I am. And there’s a reasonable chance that I’ve differentiated myself from the high-pressure cold callers he hears from every day. When I finally call him days or even weeks later to help him buy my product, it’s now a warm call.

Effective selling isn’t about the product we’re pushing. It’s all about the customer and his or her needs. And while this premise seems so basic, it’s not practiced extensively. Thus, when we take the personal approach rather than the product approach, we have a real opportunity to stand out from our competition.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

cold calling

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