Written by – Paul Korzeniowski
Destination CRM 2020
The phone rings; the recipient instinctively looks at caller ID; the number is not familiar; the recipient ignores it; and after three or four rings the call goes to voicemail. This pattern plays out all too often for salespeople whose only strategy is the cold call—almost mindlessly dialing, dialing, dialing, often for naught.
It’s easy to blame this on the scourge of illegal robocalls, which are becoming not only more frequent but also more sinister. Americans in January alone received more than 4.7 billion robocalls, a 4 percent increase from December’s total, according to data from YouMail. The January total amounts to an average of 150 million robocalls placed per day, or 1,771 robocalls per second.
Through the full year of 2019, YouMail estimates that telemarketers placed between 60 billion and 75 billion robocalls, up from 47 billion in 2018 and 30 billion in 2017.
And increasingly, scams account for more and more robocalls—45.7 percent in 2019, compared to just 17.6 percent in 2016, according to Let’s Talk, which culled through robocall frequency data and thousands of Do Not Call Registry complaints to the Federal Trade Commission.
It’s not surprising, then, that caller ID is used primarily as a screening tool today, and 97 percent of consumers reject or ignore phone calls from businesses or unknown numbers, according to a study by Zipwhip, a business text messaging services and solutions provider.
“The percentage of respondents we found ignoring calls—97 percent—was astounding,” says Scott Heimes, chief marketing officer at Zipwhip. “Individuals receive 10 or so robocalls a day, so they are not willing to pick up and answer a call if they do not know who it is.”
Some companies, especially the unscrupulous and illegal robocalling scammers—have turned to number spoofing as a way to potentially get around this obstacle. But that practice, while limited in effectiveness, is facing an even greater regulatory hurdle as some jurisdictions look to make it illegal.
Additionally, other channels, like email and social media, are gaining more attention from marketers and sales representatives, prompting some observers to question the viability of the cold call—and, by extension, the telephone in general—as a business outreach tool in the future. Yet while cold calling can be challenging, it still is a key to success for many sales organizations.
“The phone is still a favorite for most sales professionals because of how well it works,” says Matt Heinz, president of Heinz Marketing, a B2B marketing and sales consulting firm. “Companies are growing their inside sales teams and shrinking their field sales teams.”
A few years ago, sales training solutions provider Allego focused on its account development team, charging junior sales team members with the task of setting up appointments for senior sales execs. The program was so successful that it increased from a few employees then to about a dozen now.
Given that cold calling still has legs, what steps do companies need to take to maximize its impact? How can companies ensure that customers respond to sales and marketing calls when so much is working against them? Here are seven key strategies to keep in mind:
- LEAVE A MESSAGE AT THE TONE
Given that so many business calls wind up in voicemail, make sure that you leave a message.
While individuals will not pick up the phone when the number is not recognized, they do not totally ignore the exchange. Typically, they listen to at least the first part of the message later.
“We found that salespeople who leave a message are 35 percent more likely to eventually get a response from the prospect than those who do not,” Heinz says.
- BE EMPATHETIC
In many cases, ultimate success or failure of prospecting is gleaned in a short, initial exchange. Most prospects have a very limited amount of time to talk on the phone, so be mindful of that. “Everyone says, ‘I will only take 15 minutes of your time’,” Heinz argues. “Well, nowadays, executives are so busy that they do not have 15 minutes, especially with so many salespeople trying to get their attention.” They may have only a minute or two, so the agent needs to get in and make an impression ASAP.
Aggressive sales reps often start out with information that helps themselves, like three reasons why their product is better than their competitors’. Instead of launching right into an in-your-face pitch, salespeople need to focus on the prospects and their pain points. “We apologize for taking up the person’s time and then ask for 90 seconds to explain why they should be interested in us,” says Mark Kosoglow. vice president of sales at Outreach, a sales engagement platform provider.
Then, too, the sales pitch has to have the right tone, be centered on the right audience, and concentrate on their interests. Individuals have different hot buttons. A front-line contact would likely be interested in the technical aspects of a system while a top-level executive is more likely to be moved by a discussion of the business value. Salespeople should keep the initial discussion at a high level and not concentrate too much on product nuances, those features that make the offering unique. That information should be saved for when the company is ready to examine their options and make a purchase.
3. FLIPFLOP COLD CALL DYNAMICS
One reason that consumers don’t take calls is that they have been traditionally viewed as a one-way street. Basically, the caller wants something from the person on the receiving end of the call. To be effective, a cold caller needs to make a connection and a friend, and not sever a link and create an enemy. This can be done by offering them something of value, something free of charge and with no strings attached, such as a white paper or the results of a survey. The item should be relevant to their responsibilities. If done well, the collateral becomes a way to start a conversation, break the ice, and build trust and credibility.
Warming the prospect up before the call can also help. Ideally, a salesperson should find a common connection who can introduce him to the prospect. Another option is following the business and the individual on social media. “LinkedIn is a good use of outreach, as the person has the opportunity to see your profile, understand who you are, and accept you as a connection,” advises Brian Young, an inside sales manager at Seismic, a sales enablement platform supplier.
4. PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Given the short time that a prospect will give to a new contact, salespeople should know what they are going to lead with ahead of time. Many companies outfit their sales team members with scripts, theoretical walk-throughs of call progressions. The salesperson needs to practice, practice, practice. The process should include more than miming the key talking points. Salespeople need to also be ready for the inevitable pushback and prepare follow-up answers to the resistance they will face.
Role playing is beneficial. In some cases, coworkers or friends can take on the customer role. Taking the process one step further, employees record themselves, play back the exchange, and get clearer insights into how well they perform.
But customers are unique and do not operate in a set manner. What works for one might not necessarily be effective for another. So salespeople need to be open to altering their approach to fit the prospect. They cannot become married to the script. If the person answering the phone is robotic and terse, salespeople cannot act bubbly. They must meet their prospects where they are and not where they want them to be.
5. VARY YOUR PROSPECTING APPROACH
Timing is everything with cold calling. Salespeople should vary the times that they make calls. Executives have different schedules, so setting aside specific times to make calls is likely to be counterproductive. The busier executives are, the more likely it is that they will be in meetings for most of the day, but they are likely to start or end their day by checking email and voicemail. So calling early in the morning or after hours could increase the odds that they will pick up the phone.
Another common—though controversial tactic—involves masking the caller ID information to make it appear that the call is from a local number “Third parties sell lists with local numbers,” Kosoglow explains. “The prospect may pick up the phone thinking it could be the local dry cleaners.”
And salespeople want an avenue to the prospect that is as direct as possible. “Tools like DiscoverOrg and RingLead are helpful in obtaining contact information within the specific titles your company is targeting,” notes Marco Montano, senior manager of inside sales at Seismic.
Another recommendation is to be courteous and polite to prospects’ executive assistants, who often serve as gatekeepers. “The executive assistants are often very helpful in connecting you with the person you are trying to reach and even have access to their calendars,” Young says. “Even if it’s simply learning his or her name, this could be the difference in them putting you through.”
6. CREATE A WORKFLOW
Salespeople need to move through each prospect efficiently and effectively. At the very least, they should keep a record of the prospects they called, the time they called them, and whether voicemails were left. Marking contacts appropriately provides context and visibility into how well they are performing, so adjustments can be made.
It’s also important to note that the initial cold call is just one step in a multichannel process where follow-up is vital. The goal is to begin a dialogue that leads to something more significant in the future. Salespeople have more tools than ever before to monitor how prospects react, and they need to put structure and discipline into their business processes. They should look to uncover trigger events, sequences that have a high likelihood of sales success. “If someone opens up an email or clicks on a link so many times, you follow up,” Heinz states.
Salespeople also need to find the right amount of attempted contacts. “We found that 11 attempts to reach out over 13 business days was the optimal mix for our clients,” Heinz says.
What distinguishes successful sales reps from unsuccessful ones often comes down to attitude. The former are able to anticipate and accommodate the many times they hear no. They are undaunted and are always moving one step ahead. They have a Plan B ready because they know Plan A seldom leads them straight to their objectives.
7. AUTOMATE JUDICIOUSLY
Management often looks at the possibilities that technology offers and tries to automate as many steps as possible. In some cases, such effort hinders rather than helps the sales process. For instance, companies use robodialers when searching for prospects. They make more calls, but they lose a critical element: human interaction and connection.
The movement to digital channels might have other unintended consequences. “Embracing digital sometimes values volume and compromises quality,” Heinz argues. “They take a scorched earth approach to gaining leads.”
Enterprises can also send out more emails and social media connections so that they seem to be engaging with more potential leads, but the interactions might just be superficial.
Heinz Marketing still includes low-volume, high-touch interactions in its marketing plans. The firm holds breakfast meetings with small groups of marketing executives, which would seem far less efficient than buying a bulk mailing list with thousands of names. However, the firm found that such events create deeper relationships than standard email blasts.
These seven rules lead inevitably to this: It’s just a good idea to keep cold calling alive. Technology today has added greatly to the number of options that salespeople have for reaching out to prospects. Phone is not always their first choice. Email and social media have gained traction for a variety of reasons. A person writes one email message, pulls up a group mailing list, hits a button, and sends materials out to tens, hundreds, or even thousands of potential customers at once The work is done in a fraction of the time that it takes to dial numbers, and the salesperson is spared the wasted time waiting to see if the person picks up before moving on to the next call. This has prompted some companies to shift resources away from cold calling altogether.
But electronic communications also has warts. “Some salespeople hide behind email,” says George Donovan, chief revenue officer at Allego. “They fear rejection, getting yelled at, or being told to stop bothering the person.”
“Some individuals are lazy,” Kosoglow adds. “If you give them an excuse to not get on the phone, they will take it.”
That’s never a good strategy. “The phone has become underutilized,” Heinz says. “I can get 40 to 50 emails every day, but not one call.” Which could present an opportunity for salespeople who do pick up the phone. Traditional cold calling might have lost some of its luster, but it still has a role, often a very important one, in many organizations’ successful sales campaigns.
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