Turn up the heat on a cold call
As much as we would like it to, business doesn’t always come to us – sometimes you have to hustle for it. Pete Baker talks cold-calling and how best to endear yourself to a potential new client.
Recently, I had the pleasure of enjoying a lunch with a former employee and good friend of mine. We reflected on a time when we were trying to build up the business and not enough opportunities were knocking on the door and what we did to change that situation.
I had decided to cold call a builder who we really wanted to provide low voltage services to in our area. I knew they had a relationship with one of our competitors but asked them to stop by our showroom for a 30-minute conversation. After several calls (and I’ll admit, some begging) they agreed to the meeting. Some might say we over prepared for this meeting. We pulled out all the stops, polished up the showroom, staged all the demos, and rehearsed our lines. In the end, our pitch to them was modest. We simply asked to be a secondary option for their customers after our competitor. The builder agreed and within a few months, my team knocked their socks off and they used our company exclusively!
When opportunities weren’t knocking on our door, I found a way to “build a new door,” so to speak. With that said, I only set the stage for such an opportunity, it was my team who brought down the house and created the success. I was delighted to hear during that lunch meeting with my old friend and colleague, that nearly 20 years later, they still use my former team. Not only do they use the team, but they have become extremely close, personal friends, far beyond a work relationship.
Fortunately, I was no stranger to cold calls when I started my integration company. In fact, when I was in my early 20’s one of my first “professional” sales roles was selling grain aeration controllers to farmers. This term may be as foreign to you as it was to me back then. Basically, these devices would monitor heat, humidity and barometric pressure and use an algorithm to determine the optimum time to turn on the circulation fans for grain storage silos. Often farmers might turn on the fans when it was too dry or too wet and experience crop spoilage due to mold or dryness in the silos.
Now I didn’t grow up on a grain farm in the American Midwest. I grew up in the Bahamas, where corn and grain farms were about as common as snowshoes. On top of that, I had never been a professional salesperson. The company did, however, provide a great education on the product and benefits we offered to the farmers, while also enrolling me in a sales training course.
Upon completing my training, I was essentially handed a phone book and a plot map. I would review the plot map to see who owned various farmlands across the Midwestern United States, then I would look them up in the phone book and “cold call” to schedule a visit to their farm. I can’t tell you how painful this process was and the windfall of rejections I endured. It certainly created some tough skin and prepared me for future cold calls like the one mentioned above. Eventually, I did experience success in scheduling calls and met some of the nicest people in the world.
The following are key points I have learned from that experience and are lessons that continue to help me in my professional sales role:
Lesson 1: What motivates us?
During the sales training course I learned that the two most significant motivators for humans are: “fear of loss” and “desire for gain.” These are powerful motivators and have certainly applied to my life. For instance, I may have proposed to my wife for fear that she would find some other fella (!) or that I was motivated to work hard to build my business due to a fear of failure and a desire to gain money to provide for my family. In the case of the farmers, maybe they had a desire to gain more money on the sale of their crops and a fear of losing some to spoilage. In the case of the builder mentioned at the beginning of the story, they had a desire to gain confidence that each and every customer would receive an exceptional experience from a professional AV subcontractor.
Lesson 2: What are the benefits you have to offer the customer?
Very often salespeople (especially in our tech industry) focus on features and specifications. These details are important, but how do they translate to benefits that the prospective customer can truly appreciate? The power of an amplifier may be important, but does it really matter if the consumer can’t turn on the system to watch a movie? Demonstrate how the user experience will be easy for them and they will likely find great benefit in that element you have to offer them specifically because they learned from you how easy the system would be to operate! In other words, what sets you apart from your competitors?
Lesson 3: Don’t take anything for granted
When I started in the CEDIA industry, I was maybe a bit too confident in the company I worked for, the products we had to offer and my charm as a salesperson. I soon realised that there were many other very gifted and professional salespeople working for amazing companies in the area. After losing several projects, I ate a big slice of humble pie and changed my entire approach to every meeting with new or previous customers. I prepared for the meetings tirelessly by cleaning the entire showroom, testing all the equipment, and asking the source of the lead (builder, architect, friend, previous customer) if there was anything I should know about the customer.
I also began making a point to truly listen and ask questions, instead of babbling on about what was important to me. I soon realised that the person or couple didn’t come to hear what was important to me, they cared about what was important to them and it was my job to listen and deliver on those specifics.
Lesson 4: Who are you?
When a person is making an important buying decision, they subconsciously decide on both the person they’re working with and the company. For example, when a person is in the market for a new car, they have to make choices such as: which make of car are they interested in, which dealership will they visit, and which salesperson they feel comfortable working with. These are all decisions that get made by each of us, as consumers. How a customer decides on who to work with will depend largely on their subconscious impression and opinion of the people and companies that they are considering.
In the example of the cold call that I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I made sure that my whole team understood this strategy. The prospective client coming in would be making a subconscious decision that day on whether we as a company and as individuals were worthy of their business. So what impression were we going to give off? What identity did we wish to portray? What will subconsciously depict a company that is trustworthy, capable and top-of-the-line?
For us that translated into cleaning the showroom, breaking out fresh refreshments, and rehearsing our lines. This allowed us to meet those expectations while providing a welcoming and professional experience. We asked ourselves, as a team, how we wanted to be presented to our prospective customers and made it a reality.
These lessons learned have been incredibly valuable to myself and the teams that I have worked with over the years. Remaining client focused while clearly identifying who we were in terms of product offered and sales experience provided demonstrated trustworthiness and competence in our work. Maintaining focus on each client specifically and the factors motivating their decision making allowed my team to effectively meet client’s needs while leaning on who we were, what we offered, and what set us apart from our competitors.
These lessons can be applied to a variety of situations inside and outside of the sales world. So don’t hesitate to take that dreaded cold call and step outside of your comfort zone. It very well could shine light on what you’re doing well, areas needing improvement, or even how you can better serve your clients to effectively meet their needs and expectations. When you’re willing to get uncomfortable for the sake of improvement, big opportunities could come knocking on your door!