Last Updated Oct 28, 2011 5:56 PM EDT
Never has it been so difficult to get through to an executive to make a formal appointment. Nevertheless, with persistence, it's possible to GET THROUGH and GET THAT MEETING. Here's an easy 10-step process to help you master this key selling skill.
- Step 1. Research Your Target's Business. Gather enough understanding of the target so you can clearly communicate exactly how you and your firm can add value to your target's company and career. Use the Internet to review the major challenges in the prospect's industry, the role your prospect's firm plays in that industry, and the role that an executive with that job title typically plays inside his or her firm.
- Step 2. Research the Target's Life. Compile some extra information that will help you access to the prospect and differentiate you from other callers. Search on the target's name, business and likely city of residence, to uncover additional information, such e-mail addresses, telephone numbers, fax numbers, work addresses, home addresses, personal interests, trade association memberships, colleague relationships, etc.
- Step 3: Craft a Custom Message. Create a solutions-focused business message that will appeal to the target, based upon what you've learned in steps 1 and 2. Make certain that the message leads your sales process forward. It should consist of three parts: 1) a title line "teaser" or headline, 2) a paragraph of concise content, and 3) a call to action. Avoid words or phrases that sound like "sales talk." Instead, use the tone and vocabulary that you would expect to find within an internal memo sent inside your prospect's firm.
- Step 4: Create a Voice Mail Version. Unless you're insanely lucky, you're going to be leaving at least one voice mail. Get prepared with a succinct, verbal expression of the message that you crafted in step 3. Do not just read your written message over the phone. Your voice mail message must come out of your mouth naturally, as if it were half of an interesting conversation. Your voice must have the casual authority and confidence that the target might hear in a message left by one of his or her colleagues. Hint: practice by calling your own voice mail!
- Step 5: Test the Drawbridge. Call your target during off-hours when the admin will be absent. In the unlikely event that the prospect picks up the phone, skip to Step 10. Chances are, though, that you'll end up in the voice mail system. DO NOT LEAVE A MESSAGE AT THIS TIME! Listen to the prospect's voice-mail greeting. Write down any additional information that's offered, such as an e-mail address, a cell phone number and the name of another employee (such as an admin) who covers the prospect's phone. IMPORTANT: Listen carefully to the target's voice mail message for the target's tonality and way of speaking. Does the target sound friendly or businesslike? Are the words clipped or drawled? Being aware of these quirks will help you tailor your messages to the target's preferred communication style.
- Step 6: Call the Admin and Solicit Help. Your goal is to find out when you can reach the target, and, if possible, recruit an ally. Call the target's admin. If you end up in the admin's voice mail, don't leave a message, but keep calling back until you get through. Once you've gotten the admin on the line, use your people skills to build a relationship. Find out more about your target, like the easiest way to reach him or her. If you haven't already gathered this information, ask for target's e-mail, cell phone number and/or direct fax line. Find out whether the prospect comes in early or leaves late. Find out when, if ever, the prospect answers the phone directly. Ideally, you'll be able to get the admin to set up a phone appointment.
- Step 7: Lay the RIght Groundwork. Make the target familiar with your name, your company and the reason you're trying to get in touch-before you actually make the first real phone call. Send an e-mail, a fax, AND a traditional letter to the target, all containing a version of the written message that you crafted in step 4. In the e-mail, avoid getting caught by the target's SPAM filter. Your fax should resemble a business letter and not an unsolicited advertisement, which is against the law. NOTE: Address the traditional letter by hand. People are far more likely to open and read a letter if a real live human being took some real live time over it.
- Step 8: Make Your First "Real" Phone Call. Now you're going to leave a voice mail message that builds rapport and communicates exactly why the target needs to speak with you. Call the target at a time when the prospect might answer his or her own phone. If you don't know when this might be, call before 8:00am and after 6:00pm (in the target's time zone, naturally). If you get through to the prospect, skip to step 10. If not, leave the message that you've practiced, customizing it as necessary to match the target's tonality and preferred method of expression. Suggest a call back, and give times when you're available for a call. However, don't press the matter or insist upon a call back. It's a big mistake to get pushy.
- Step 9: Be Persistent without Pestering. Make the target realize that you're the kind of person who will move mountains to make your customers happy. Here's how. If you don't get a response (and, sadly, you probably won't), continue calling. However, with subsequent calls, don't leave a message and don't call more than once or twice a day. (Any more than that and the target's caller ID might flag you as a stalker.) After about a week with no response, go back to step 6 (if the prospect has an admin) or step 7 (if not.) Repeat this entire process at least three times before giving up. IMPORTANT: Don't play phone tag. Let the executive know when you'll be available to take his or her call. Then be ready to take a call from that number, even if you're doing something else at the time.
- Step 10: Ask for the Follow-on Meeting. If you've followed the advice above, chances are that you'll eventually get through to the prospect. When you do, use everything you've learned up until now to present the case for a follow-on meeting. If it turns out that the target isn't interested, don't just hang up! Ask if there's anything else that you can do to help. Ask the target whether there's somebody else in the company or in some other company who might be interested.