As salespeople, we generally have between 4 and 30 seconds to make a first impression on our prospects that will compel them to want to engage with us.
Unfortunately, by the end of these all-important first few seconds, the vast majority of salespeople leave their prospects feeling more like "oh darn, it's a sales person, how do I get them off the phone," and less like "oh, this is interesting, I think I should stay and listen!"
Why? Because most of us tend to open our calls - cold calls, prospecting calls and follow-up calls alike - with statements that create resistance, instead of creating a relationship.
How do we create resistance?
Generally speaking, resistance is created by openers that start with a cliché, such as:
- How are you today?
- Is this a good time to talk?
- Could I have a few minutes of your time?
- Are you the person in charge of ?
- I was wondering if maybe you would be interested in
Then continue with "I"-focused statements like:
- I'll only take a minute of your time.
- I'm calling because
- I've been told that
- I was speaking with
- I'd like to talk to you about
And, finally, finish with bold or assumptive claims, such as:
- Are you looking for ways to become more profitable?
- Who are you using today for your sales training?
- I have a product that can save you money on your travel budgets.
- We're in the business of making our clients more successful.
- We create partnerships with our clients to help them save money on
- We can improve your
- I want to show you how we would help you
- I know we can save you time and money.
- We can eliminate your problems.
Cut the clichés!
How can you use your first few moments to cut through the resistance, and begin building a relationship?
First - get rid of the clichés!
Cutting cliché statements out of your calling script will instantly increase your success rate by up to 20%. This is especially true for the ubiquitous "how are you?" Every customer on the planet has heard that exact phrase at the beginning of a sales call they didn't want to take, or which was interrupting their dinner.
Believe me, you don't want to get lumped into that category. What you do want is to sound different, more interesting, more professional - and more relevant.
According to a study conducted by the American Association of Professional Organizers, the average executive has 52 hours of unfinished work on their desk at all times. Why should you care? Because this is proof that they're not sitting around with nothing to do, just waiting for you to call!
At the exact moment you call them, your prospects are 99.9% likely to be busy doing other work - which means that, when you call, you're 99.9% sure to be interrupting them. Instead of ignoring this fact, I recommend that you use it to your advantage, by trying something like: "Mary? This is Colleen Francis. Have I caught you at a bad moment?" Or "Did I catch you at a bad time?"
Be careful with these statements, and be sure to use them with precisely the wording given above. My own experiments have shown that "is this a good time?" and "is this a bad time?" are far less effective.
Why does this work? When it comes to receiving a sales call, it's always a bad time, so having the person who's making the call recognize this upfront is a refreshing change. 95% of the time that we use this statement at the beginning of a cold call, we're met with the same answer - a laugh or chuckle, followed by either: "It's always a bad time, but what's up?" or "Sure it's a bad time, why are you calling?"
The magic in this answer is that now it is the prospect's choice that you're on the phone with them - not yours. When a prospect feels like they're being held hostage in a conversation, they tune out, stop listening and start planning their escape. When it's their idea that the two of you are talking, however, they're far more likely to listen to what you have to say, and to participate in the discussion.
Remove the "I" focus
Next, remove the "I" focus from your opener.
Remember: the call should be about them, not you! If the prospect hears the word "I" first, it causes them to retreat and start thinking, who cares what you want, what about me? Like everyone, your clients are focused on what's in it for them. I suggest you give them what they want right up front.
Instead of using the "I" word (or any of its variants), try some of the following ideas:
- If you're calling because of a referral, use the reference's name first, as in: "Colleen Francis suggested I call."
- If it's a follow-up call, remind them what they wanted you to do: "The last time we spoke, you asked me to call today with pricing information."
- If this is a cold call with no reference, build a third party story focused on people like your prospect, such as: "CIO's like yourself have been pleased with the security our product offers from email viruses. They've told me that . Is that important to you?"
- If you don't know who you should be talking to, try a question, like: "Maybe you can help me?" People usually have a difficult time refusing help when they're asked for it, so make sure that you use that word!
- If you reach a gatekeeper for a client you're having a hard time reaching, try: "Maybe you can help me? I've been trying to reach Ms. Francis for a week now with no luck. Do you know if there's a best time to find her in her office?"
- Lastly, stay away from statements that save the client "time and money." While they may be true, virtually every company, product and salesperson out there is making the exact same claim - including your competitors. Instead, try to create an opening that differentiates your product or service - not one that makes you blend in with the rest of the pack.
Finally, as with all things in life, remember what your parents told you: When you assume, you make an A** (you guess the rest) out of U and ME!
If you call someone who doesn't know you and the first thing they hear is how you can do something for them, it causes an instinctive resistance to kick in. The first natural reaction is to doubt that you can do what you claim. The second is to actively fight you on it, and to react with something like: You don't even know me. How do you know you can do that? You have no idea what you're talking about, so I'm going to argue with you, and then get rid of you.
To be fair, maybe you CAN do something for them. That's not the point. What's critical at this early stage of the call is to realize that your client hasn't yet bought into that idea. The problem with the phrases listed at the top of this article is that they all assume your client has a problem that they want to fix. You might be right, but you also might be wrong. Either way, hearing about it from a salesperson they don't yet know, trust or respect naturally builds resistance.
What should you say instead? Replace the assumptive language with softer words such as "depend," "might" or "possible." For example:
"Mary, business owners like you tell me that we've been able to save them money on their printing costs. Depending on your printing requirements, it might be possible that we can do the same for you. Can we discuss your printing requirements now?"
A few last words of advice - to build a relationship and avoid creating resistance, make sure that your mindset going into the call is focused on two key things:
- On the customer (not on you); and
- On starting a conversation (not on trying
to sell them something).
Focusing your mind in these two areas will help you relax on the call, and project a warm and friendly demeanor that your customer will respond to more positively.
Also, be prepared for every call! An unpracticed call sounds contrived, and nothing's worse than a salesperson who comes off sounding like a salesperson. So practice, practice and practice again until you own the language.
Lastly, have fun! Make your prospects smile, and try smiling yourself. After all, this isn't rocket science; it's a sales call. Once you've done it a few times, your cold call reluctance will soon be replaced by a string of successes - and commissions!
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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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