In order to keep your customer base fresh, it’s crucial that you keep approaching potential new clients to introduce your company. Many business owners – no matter how experienced – can find this process a little unnerving, as initial interactions with prospective customers are inevitably different to those with whom a relationship already exists.
In part 1, I demonstrated how to grade your customer base in terms of desirability. By following this process, you should have a better understanding of what a good customer looks like in your eyes; however, if your existing clients fail to stack up against your wishlist, then you will need to take the time to introduce your services to companies that do meet the criteria. By adjusting the telephone techniques outlined in part 2, you can ensure that you confidently engage with prospects and grow your customer portfolio with ease.
First Call - First Date!
I encourage salespeople to approach the first call with a prospect in the same way that they would a first date. That is, you have to draw on your own charisma whilst also making sure that you ask the right questions to gauge alignment and suitability.
It’s also important to do your research about a prospective client before picking up the phone. There’s nothing worse than receiving a cold call from a salesperson who is unprepared - not only does it make you look unprofessional, but it also hinders the decision maker’s confidence in your abilities before the relationship has even begun.
At the very least, you should have an understanding of what a company does before placing a call to them. You can use questioning techniques to build upon this knowledge, although it may help to have their website open in front of you whilst you’re on the phone.
Making a Good First Impression:
Your introduction to a decision maker should be short and to the point. If you open the conversation with your entire company history, then the decision maker will simply stop listening and probably end the call shortly thereafter. Ideally, you need to get them talking as soon as possible in order to build rapport - a key ingredient when it comes to successful relationships in any capacity.
I’m sure that at some time or another, we’ve all been stuck talking to the person at a party who just loves the sound of their own voice. Those that like to give themselves substantial airtime are rarely popular; instead, we gravitate towards those who are capable of having a balanced conversation. The same is true on the phone. Whilst your prospects will need to understand a good deal about your company to place an order with you, it’s extremely rare that new business is conducted off of the back of one conversation. You will often need to speak with them several times to get things off the ground and your first conversation should be paced accordingly.
In short: don’t be the boring person at the party whom your prospects got stuck talking to.
Questioning Your Way to Success:
One of the biggest problems I observe when salespeople approach new companies is that they end the call failing to understand enough about their prospect to provide their best possible quotation. It’s vital to your success that you ask the right questions, otherwise you may not uncover your true potential available market (PAM) with that customer. It may be worth refreshing your memory on TAMMING & PAMMING by revisiting part 1, in which I cover this in more detail.
For those of you who feel you’ve grasped this concept, you can get an accurate reflection of your potential available market with a prospect by asking lots of open questions. An open question is anything that asks the recipient to elaborate and cannot simply be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Closed questions - which are the opposite - can be used to guide the conversation in the right direction, but open questions will support your initial aim of gleaning the correct information.
As I mentioned in part 2, it is worth jotting down a few ‘stock’ open questions that you can draw upon in your conversation. You can structure open questions by starting them as follows:
At this stage, your questions should be focused around the nature of their business, the subcontract services that they purchase and the number of suppliers already on their books.
Repeat After Me:
Once you’ve gathered enough information from your prospect, it’s time for you to demonstrate that you’ve listened to what they’ve said. A good way of doing this is to repeat back to them exactly what they’ve told you and ask them to confirm that you’ve understood. For example:
‘Ok, so you’ve told me that you manufacture electronic equipment. You mainly outsource production of sheet metal enclosures and currently, you have three suppliers to do this work on your behalf. Have I understood correctly?’
By demonstrating that you’ve taken the information on board, it instils confidence in the decision maker. What’s more, their verbal confirmation of your understanding will subconsciously validate your credibility to them, leaving the coast clear for you to proceed in telling them more about your services.
Make Sure Your Call Isn’t Pointless:
As I previously mentioned, it’s extremely rare that you’ll be conducting any new business within your first conversation and therefore, you need to go into your call with a different objective.
For smaller companies - or those that are less ‘desirable’ in relation to your wishlist criteria - the aim may simply be to collect their email address in order to send your capacity list. For bigger organisations with a larger potential available market, you should always try to arrange a face-to-face meeting, which is far more likely to result in new orders.
Face-to-face meetings will usually take place at either your premises or theirs - either way, you can use the venue to your advantage. A meeting at a prospect’s factory will allow you to gain a deeper understanding of their business needs, whilst a meeting at yours provides a great opportunity to showcase your capabilities.
Some salespeople will refuse to quote a new customer until a face-to-face meeting has taken place. Unless you have unlimited time and resources - which of course, none of us do - then it’s wise to save these exclusively for lucrative or attractive accounts.
Don’t Forget to be Human:
Even though a majority of account management and new business now takes place through the medium of technology, the old adage that people buy from people is still as true as it’s ever been. Take the time to know your prospects on a personal level - after all, they’re human too.
Questions surrounding sports, hobbies and holidays are all on the table as a means to building a meaningful business relationship, although it’s worth noting that some people will be much more receptive to personal conversations than others. It all comes down to personality!
In the next instalment, find out how to conduct face-to-face sales meetings that result in new business.