In sales, there's a fine line between persistence and stalking. In my experience, with the exception of prospects who are already in the sales cycle, that line is usually drawn at about once every 6 weeks. So given that you only have once every 6 weeks to make a direct impression on your "B" and "C" list prospects, how can you make sure those follow-up calls have the greatest possible impact?
This week, let's go back to the science of sales, and dissect a typical opening call that I hear 80% of the time when I'm coaching sales people:
"Hi Mary, this is Colleen from Engage Selling. How are you today? Great. I'm just calling to check in and see if anything has changed since the last time we spoke?"
Did you spot what's wrong with this opener - and why? I see at least three big mistakes, any one of which could cost you a potential sale.
Mistake #1: "How are you today?"
Please, please, please never use an opening statement that starts with "how are you today!" Why? Because all it does is remind your customers of all those dinnertime calls they receive from telemarketers. Are you a telemarketer? I didn't think so. So don't act like one!
Besides, do you really believe that your customers actually think that you are even listening to the answer? Are you listening to the answer? Of course not. So remember: your prospects see through this opening question just as easily as you do whenever a telemarketer (or less professional salesperson) calls you.
Instead, try this rapport-winning phrase: "Did I catch you at a bad time?" This works well because it points out the obvious, and that makes the customer laugh. Of course it's a bad time! Any non-scheduled call is an interruption, and no interruption ever comes at a "good" time. After all, if all your customers spent their days just waiting at their desk for you to call, then sales would be too easy!
Mistake #2: "I'm just calling to check in and "
Are you their mother, or their sales rep? Seriously, are you really calling just to check in or check up? If so, either you've got a lot more time on your hands than I do, or else it's time to seriously consider a career change!
First, start by removing the word "just" - it makes you sound unimportant, and your call seem like an afterthought. Instead, replace it with something like: "The last time we spoke, you ." By taking the customer back to the last time you spoke, you remind them of your relationship, and prove that you are carrying through on what you were asked or promised to do. Nothing builds rapport better than a promise kept. And as we know, rapport leads to trust, and trust leads to loyal customers.
Mistake #3: " to see if anything has changed since the last time we spoke."
Don't be vague. These days, your prospects don't have the time to try to decipher why you're calling - and neither do you.
According to a study conducted by the American Association of Professional Organizers, the average executive has over 52 hours of unfinished work on their desk every day. Our experience in today's market shows that if a prospect doesn't understand the purpose of your call within the first 30 seconds, 99 times out of 100, they will simply lose interest, stop listening and start looking for a way to get you off the phone. (Does the phrase, "Please send me some information," sound familiar?)
State up front exactly why you are calling, and your prospects will appreciate your openness. To complete what we started in the response to Mistake #2, try tying your opening statement back to something specific the client requested on your last interaction, like: "The last time we spoke, you mentioned that you wanted me to call before we had a price increase " or, "The last time we spoke, you mentioned you were looking for consultants with experience in the banking industry."
Breaking the rules
By the way - there are ways you can stay in touch with your prospects more often than once every 6 weeks, and still not be considered a stalker. Just use a combination of direct contacts (the phone) with indirect contacts (email or mail).
In fact, I've found that using the phone exclusively is generally not the best way to stay in touch with prospects. Instead, I recommend that sales reps use a variety of means to reach their prospects.
Mix up a phone call with an email, and then later maybe send them an individualized hard copy mail piece - not a generic corporate brochure, but something that's relevant to them, like an article you clipped from a magazine with a personal note, a celebration card recognizing their company anniversary or an invitation to your open house. To get you started, try the following schedule:
- Week 1: Follow-up call with action items noted for the next direct contact.
- Week 3: Company email newsletter, announcement or article. It doesn't really matter what, provided it is content-rich and NOT an advertisement. After all, this contact is intended to increase your credibility, not weaken it.
- Week 4-5: Another indirect contact such as a birthday or anniversary card, a note in the mail with a newspaper clipping they might be interested in, or an email with a newsworthy article about their industry. This contact is designed to strengthen your personal relationship, and help you build rapport.
- Week 6-7: Follow up again with another direct phone call.
Finally, a last piece of advice: when making a follow-up call, make sure you're never in a position where you're still thinking about what you're going to say while the phone is ringing. Even if you're a veteran salesperson, pick up a pen and script the first 45-second "opener" of your next call right now. Then, look in a mirror and say it out loud.
Would you listen to you? If not, hang up, and try something else!
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Make sure you check out Colleen's latest book, Nonstop Sales Boom for powerful strategies to drive consistent sales growth quarter after quarter, year after year.
Colleen Francis, Sales Expert, is Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions (www.EngageSelling.com). Armed with skills developed from years of experience, Colleen helps clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line.
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