By Veronica Mackey
If you dread cold calling and are looking for a better way to sell, there is another approach you can use that is far less stressful.
Cold calling is hard for many people because it does not feel “natural.” The person on the other end of the phone can intuitively pick up on your inner struggle (or desperation) to make a good impression and close the sale. And this forced energy causes them to subconsciously reject your message.
Sales professionals have been taught to “close the deal” so that becomes the priority over establishing relationships. Trying to sell to someone you don’t know—without taking the time to get to know them—is an uphill battle. It’s exhausting, and many times fruitless.
We refer to potential buyers as “prospects” and “targets.” They become goals to reach instead of people to engage with. That’s why many are so turned off by telemarketers. It is called cold calling for a reason—calling to make a buck can leave a person feeling cold, even used. The telemarketer may be seen as someone trying to take their money. This may not be your intent, but when you’re trying to sell before trust is established, this is often the result.
Remember, people buy from people that they know, like and trust. What happens too often in cold calling is that a person is approached by a total stranger who asks for their business prematurely. Sales people are going for the credit card before the other people has a chance to decide if they like or trust them.
One of the best alternatives to cold calling is referral marketing. It works because it leverages the relationship of others. The prospect may not know, like or trust you (yet), but because of their favorable relationship with someone you know, it opens the door for you.
Demographic data gathered online is useful, but a referral contact can tell you about the prospect’s personality, and even suggest the best way to pitch them.
When you have a fully functioning referral marketing strategy in place, you will be able to predict approximately how many referrals you can expect and what the quality will be like. There is no coincidence about repeat referrals. They’re the outcome of the day-to-day activities of building relationships. Although referrals can’t be measured as easily as tracking cold-call ratios, the results are dramatic—and almost never coincidental. Repeat referrals happen because you’ve laid the groundwork through professional relationships.
One thing you should understand is that building a business through referrals takes time. And you may not think you have time to focus on referrals when you need to make money today. But it is critical that you include referrals as part of your ongoing marketing strategy as you continue to cold call. If you can build a successful referral marketing system, you can eventually earn a good living exclusively from networking.
You won’t get as many “fish” in the net as you will with cold calling. But the leads you get will be better quality. And that is what you really want, right?
It will benefit you to invest a few hours thinking about your own personal network. Ask yourself a few questions. Who do you know that could refer potential clients to you? Do you belong to any networking groups or professional associations? How well connected are you on LinkedIn or Facebook? Who do you know on social media that is well connected?
Make a list of anyone whom you know directly or indirectly who you could possibly benefit from your product or service. Then make a second list of individuals who might know people who want what you have to offer. These are your referral sources. Make sure you list the industries that your potential referrals work in to jog your memory. Also, include any personal information that might be used as part of your sales pitch.
When you have your list of referral sources complete, you can begin to see a path that will lead you to the gold. For instance, if you are in the insurance business and see your college buddy on the list, you may recall her mentioning that her son just had a baby. While you may have made a mental note of that before, now it’s on paper and organized in a way you won’t forget. Next to your friend’s name, you would make a note to contact her son about purchasing additional life insurance.
Don’t forget to include your current list of customers as potential referral sources. Too often sales people leave good money on the table when it is staring them right in the face. You no doubt already have satisfied customers. So why not strike while the iron is hot? One of the best times to ask for referral business is when you have delivered a product or service.
How you ask for referrals is important. Just saying, “do you know anyone who needs XYZ?” is not likely to get you very far. They were not thinking about referring their friends before you asked. And now you are putting them on the spot, asking them to think. A good alternative is to offer them an incentive and give them a little time to come up with 3 to 5 names.
Some people will prefer to let their contacts know in advance that you will be calling them. Always be respectful of other people’s privacy and relationship. Instead of just asking them for names right away, give them time to assemble a short list. Say something like this: “I appreciate your business, Sharon. I was wondering if you could help me out. I’d like to contact 3 to 5 people whom you know who could benefit from my business. Can I check back with you on Thursday around 3?”
This will let them know you expect their help without putting a lot of pressure on them. Try not to give them more than 3 to 5 days to respond so your request will not be ignored. Make sure you follow up!
Incentives always help. For example, you may want to offer a discount on the next order, or send a small thank you gift when a lead turns into new business.
Most big companies are still in the dark ages when it comes to networking. The procedures and results of referral marketing are not as easy to measure as cold calling. So the big guys pretty much stick to protocol This is where the savvy, flexible small business person (you, perhaps) can really find success.
If you want to use cold calling in addition to referrals, you can make phone selling less stressful. It all begins with the script—or maybe, getting rid of your script.
As a consumer, you have probably had the experience of being on the end of a phone call and having a telemarketer go on and on without taking a breath. They call you and ask how you’re doing (usually insincerely) and go right into the pitch. It becomes a one-way conversation at best.
If they do engage in conversation, it can turn into an interrogation, where they are asking question after question, trying to size you up so they will know what to say next.
Don’t be that person! The best way to start your cold call is to ditch the script. Jot down a few important issues (preferably problems you can solve) and call with the intention of having a conversation. You don’t know this person so your first job is to get to know them.
Instead of going for the sale right away, start a conversation that gets them to ask “what do you mean?” Position yourself in a way that allows you to explain yourself in a natural way that creates a two-way dialogue.
You can distinguish yourself as a sales professional who can be trusted by avoiding the negative
salesperson” stereotype. Talk to your prospects, don’t pitch them. Make sure you are having a two-way conversation. Develop a referral marketing strategy through online and offline networking and include incentives.
These strategies will boost your confidence, make prospects feel less defensive and ultimately lead to a less stressful selling experience. Remember, getting people to say yes is all about how you make them feel.