Making that first sales appointment with prospects is the hardest part of selling. Between not knowing who to call and gatekeepers blocking the way, just getting the right person on the phone can seem impossible. These strategies can help you get your foot in the door.
There’s a harsh reality that quickly sets in for every business owner: Making sales is hard. It takes the perfect combination of a great product or service, a solid game plan, a lot of hustle, and a little bit of luck. Step #1—get your foot in the door and get that first meeting set up.
Build a Prospect List
First, find your prospects. One way is to scour the Internet looking for companies/customers that fit your business. LinkedIn, Facebook, business group membership lists, are just a few of the places to look. But don’t do this yourself. Hire a virtual assistant to do the work. For far less than $100 in most cases, a VA will build a prospect list using the criteria you lay out. Sites like Upwork are a great place to start.
Use Your Database and Business Card Collection
If you’ve been in business for a little while, you may have a list of prospects who showed interest, but then didn’t buy from you. Don’t assume they made a purchase elsewhere. Instead, follow up with them. Ask if they’re still in the market for what you sell. Next, contact customers who haven’t purchased from you in a while. Ask if they’re ready to reorder. If you’re just getting started in your own industry, but you’re not new to the industry, you probably have clients you’ve worked with in another capacity. Go after those prospects if allowable and ethical. Let them know you’re in business for yourself and ask for their orders and referrals.
No, Cold Calling Isn’t Dead!
Don’t listen to the “experts” that say cold calling is dead. Ask anybody who does it regularly and you’ll find that it’s alive and well. Sure, it will likely work better for some businesses than others but let’s make one thing clear: You cannot use technology to forsake human contact. Just because we live in the digital age doesn’t mean that your sales process won’t involve human contact. Cold call 100 prospects and e-mail 100 and see which gets the better results. Likely, it will be the cold calls.
But Before You Call…
Do your qualifying before you call or e-mail. Asking the prospect qualifying questions like, “when is your contract up?” is a great way to end any chance of getting their business. Do some research and call with some knowledge of their company. Be able to speak intelligently about their business and from that research have a list of questions you might ask about any potential needs. For example, if you sell cloud-based software you might ask about how their sales staff communicates with the home office.
Take Those Long Shots
What can you do when you don’t know who to call at a company? Just call the main number and ask who’s in charge of whatever department you want to reach. With a little luck, you may be given a name and put through to that person or to their admin. (If not, all you’ve lost is a little time.)
There are plenty of sales people that can act like they care but a better approach is to actually care. You have a product or service that you genuinely believe in and you care enough about the potential customer to tell them about it. Caring means that the sale is the last step in the process. Building the relationship comes first. People know if you care more about them or the sale when you talk to them. Make sure you’re operating from the right state of mind.
Play the Numbers Game
You’re going to be turned down more than you hear the word, “yes” so after you’ve done your research, contacted the company, and potentially heard, “no,” move on. Carve out time every for prospecting and make that your sole focus. Don’t allow any distractions to pull you away from what you’re doing. Don’t forget that no business succeeds without a strong sales funnel.
Want to significantly up your chances for a first meeting? Do some name dropping. Do you know somebody they know? Is there another influencer in the industry using your product or service? Even if it’s one of their competitors, drop a name or two.
Load Them with Facts
You’re going to have a rough time getting time with a prospect if you throw the call to action in front of them right away. Instead, show them that you understand their problem just as well or better than they do. Load them with industry knowledge, case studies, and before and after statistics. Once you gain some credibility, it’s time to ask for the meeting—not the sale.
Change Your Communication Strategy
If your method of first contact is e-mail, understand that a lot of e-mail ends up in spam filters or discarded before making it to the intended recipient. Just because they didn’t respond doesn’t mean they’re not interested. If e-mail doesn’t work after multiple attempts, make a phone call or go super old school and send a letter. In other words, don’t give up.
Try “Off Hours”
Many decision makers have assistants that act as gatekeepers. Calling or e-mailing during work hours often means that you’ll get an assistant who may not have the level of knowledge that the decision maker has.
High-level leaders don’t have 9 to 5 work hours but many assistants do. Making contact in the evening might mean that the decision sees the e-mail or gets the call before the assistant—eliminating the gatekeeper.
Be patient. Some products or services sell in minutes while others take months or even years to complete. The more you prospect for customers, the sooner the sales process on each of them can begin. Remember, sometimes “no” is actually just “not now.” Don’t get discouraged. Make initial contact and then ask for a meeting. You don’t have to close the sale today.