Note: Jim Domanski will present his popular telephone prospecting workshop at this year’s Fordyce Forum in June. To learn more about this year’s conference check Fordyce Forum 2013.
Here’s the cold, hard truth about telephone prospecting for new business: The real challenge is not the actual call itself, but rather sitting down, picking up the phone, and just doing it!
Once you start dialing, it’s not all that hard. What’s hard is getting started and staying focused. It begins with all the drama and angst that you fabricate before you hunker down to your calls. You worry. You delay. You hem. You haw. You dilly. You dally. You check your e-mails. You get a coffee. Check your e-mails again… Oh… and look at the time? Where did it go?
If this sounds like you then you simply need a process, a game plan, a road map, or system to get you into tele-prospecting shape. You need something that creates momentum. Here are 10 practical tips that can help kick start your efforts.
Tip #1: Schedule Your Cold Calling
Make your business development life a whole lot easier by scheduling your tele-prospecting on a daily basis. Using Outlook (or whatever planning system you have), literally block out when you are going to call. Create an appointment with yourself, and set your alarm. Your appointment is sacrosanct. Nothing should get in the way: not your boss, not a report, not a quote.
Schedule your cold calling a week ahead of time. Two weeks ahead is even better. Schedule your calling for each and every day. Do it in sprints, not marathons; about 1-11/2 hours per session. By making it a routine it will become a habit, and each day gets that much easier. This simple little tip will get you started in the right direction.
Tip #2: Call Early
Schedule your calls early in the day; first thing in the morning – the earlier the better (like 7:00, 7:30 or 8:00). First of all, it gets your cold calling out of the way and off your shoulders. It’s done. It doesn’t hang over you like a little dark cloud for the rest of day. Once your prospecting is out of way, the rest of the day is a breeze.
But more importantly, call early in the morning because your contact rates with upper-level decision makers will be higher. You WILL reach more decision makers and thus create more opportunities. It makes sense. Their day hasn’t heated up so they tend to have more time and patience to hear you out. In addition, you often avoid gatekeepers who would otherwise screen your call.
Tip #3: Set a Clear Goal
Everyone (especially bosses) get caught up on dials. It gets easy to believe you really pushed yourself with 60 dials. It sounds impressive! But dials are important only because they are necessary to reach a decision maker. What’s important is a live contact.
Set a goal for the number of contacts you’d like to reach and dial until you achieve that goal. In B2B situations only about 30% of your dialing effort will result in a contact. What this means is that if you set a goal of reaching, say, three decision makers per day then you’re probably going to have to make 10-15 dials. Maybe more, maybe less. If you haven’t reached your goal, you might have to crank out a few more dials. Do what it takes to achieve your goal.
Tip #4: Create a Master List
Achieving your decision maker contact goals is a lot easier if you have a Master List. This is a very, very important tip!
A master list contains 25-30 top prospect names and numbers (and maybe a note or two; see Tip #5 below). Put them on a yellow legal pad or on a spread sheet. Start at the top of the list and dial the first contact. If there is no answer don’t leave a message. Hang up and go to the second contact. Follow this process until you reach a live individual. If you go through all your names, simply start at the top of the list and cycle through it again. Do it a third time if necessary.
This creates rhythm and flow in dialing, and that makes prospecting easier and more effective. Using a master list means you’re not fussing about in your database. Avoid your database if it means you have to open a file, close a file, search for a name, review a file, check for notes, write notes etc. Let’s face it. Itty-bitty tasks like these chisel away at your productivity. What happens is you often spend more time reading, selecting and bouncing around then you do in dialing. Trust me, this works and works well.
Tip #5: Streamline Research Time on Prospects
One of the biggest destroyers of productivity and effectiveness is the time you take to research your prospects! Sure, take a look at the company’s web site or quickly scan Linked In, but don’t go overboard. Don’t spend precious time and effort looking for that ‘special something’ that you can use in your opening statement. Too much research is often just an excuse to NOT pick up the phone. Everything you need to know lies in your prospect’s head, not on their web site or company profile.
As mentioned, some research makes sense. Do it. But do it in one big batch of time. Take your Master List and spend a couple of hours doing some research on all the prospects. Then it’s done and out of the way. If required, put a note or two on your Master List (e.g., type of company, company size etc.), but that’s it. When it comes time to dial, you don’t want to interrupt the flow of your calling by Googling every name on your list. Streamline the process.
Tip #6: Create and Use a “Call Guide”
If you are going to prospect on a daily basis you need to have a call guide. No question about it.
In effect, a call guide is your prospecting GPS. It outlines the direction and flow your call should take from beginning to end. I don’t necessarily mean a script* because most people can’t pull a script off very well. Rather, have broad outlines of the key parts of your call including: qualifying, presentation of an offer, and closing/advancing. List the objections you might encounter and your response. Have a voicemail message prepared (if you plan on leaving a voicemail, which I don’t recommend).
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Put these parts down on paper and follow them like you would a roadmap. It will keep you on track but more importantly, it will make you more consistent; you’ll be less likely to ‘wing’ it and your call quality will improve. Use point form and have prepared key phrases that will prompt you to present an idea or thought. In this way you’ll sound more natural but still have a structured approach.
*There is one exception to scripting: the opener. You should have a word-for-word opener that you practice, drill and rehearse so that it flows from your lips. The opener is critical because it’s where you capture (and keep) your prospect’s attention.
Tip #7: Avoid Distractions
The moment you start dialing is the moment you’ll be tempted by the ‘Dark Side’ of distractions. It’s easy to get sidetracked and lose your focus. Resist it. Close your door or turn your back away from your colleagues so your eyes are not wandering about. If your voicemail light flashes, leave it flashing or cover it up, but whatever you do, don’t check it. You’ll break the rhythm of calling. Avoid the irresistible urge to check your e-mails every five minutes for precisely the same reason. Just dial. Put your smart phone in a drawer somewhere far away. Clear your desk so that you won’t be tempted to open mail or work on a project or read a memo.
Tip #8: Batch Your ‘Action’ Items
Similar to Tip #5, batch your action items and stay focused on your dialing. Action items are those tasks that occur as a result of a call to a prospect. For instance, perhaps a prospect wants some information. The average recruiter is so thrilled with a ‘result’ that he or she stops the cold calling and puts together a nifty e-mail or direct mail package, or writes a lovely thank you card, or whatever. This takes 10 minutes; maybe more. The trouble is twofold. First, that 10 minutes could have been used to make 10 more calls to prospects. Second, productivity experts estimate it takes another 10 minutes or so to get back into the rhythm of calling again because you’ve lost the momentum.
Batch those tasks, and do them after you have done your calling and achieved your goal. Don’t mistake activity for results. Get the heavy lifting out of the way first and then sit back and write your thank you cards, send your e-mails, fax your proposals or courier your fancy packages.
Tip #9: Keep Score
Keeping score means tracking your results. Track the number of dials, contacts, appointments, follow ups, no answers, etc. Tracking will give you data that you can analyze. Over time you can work out the ratios for each and it will give you a pretty accurate picture of your performance. You can eventually use it as a predictive model for your efforts.
Tip #10: Don’t Quit
Perhaps easier said than done, but don’t quit. What happens is some recruiters will implement this system for two or three days and if they don’t see immediate results, they quit. That’s a cop out. This is akin to exercising and eating right for two or three days and getting disappointed when you haven’t lost 10 pounds. Each day that you follow these tips makes you stronger, more resilient, and more effective. Stick to the program.
Don’t be your own worst enemy. The price of discipline is far less than the cost of regret.