Of all the ways we have seen people actually talking to prospects, it most often is in a combination of the following:
1) Simple web research
2) LinkedIn or other warm connection
3 )Have data and knowledge of your prospect’s world
4) Use of the telephone
Let’s dive into each of these and see what the trends are.
Simple, quick, web-based research is extremely important when you are calling prospects. The worst calls you can receive (or emails, for that matter) are when you feel like a name on a list, or a number in someone’s dialing log. I don’t want to be someone’s 24th “talk-to” – I want to be contacted by people who can add value to the work that I do, or who can add value to my life or community. Most likely you feel the same way, and more importantly, so do your prospective customers.
This means that you need to do research, but don’t get stuck in research mode – a “one minute” rule can work well. When you see someone on a list, go quickly to their website to do a one-minute overview. Note what it is that their company does and what their title is. A look at someone’s website gives you an idea of company size, professionalism, strategy, and often mission, vision, and values. You can immediately see if they are public or private, if they use video, social media, and how current and relevant they are.
One minute goes quickly – but in our strategy, just jot a note on paper or on Evernote, going down a list of companies you are looking up. If you have a CRM system, do research first, going through 20-30 companies and jotting down your “one minute impression” of their digital footprint. Now you have something to talk about when you connect.
Next, do a LinkedIn search and see if you are connected to this prospect or someone at their company. To be good at this, first get well-connected on LinkedIn and have a paid account to really benefit from all of LinkedIn’s research tools. If you are skeptical, upgrade your LinkedIn account for a trial period, such as 3 months, and see how it helps you connect to those you don’t know. Be proactive when you upgrade – it will do you no use if you don’t experiment and use it. Last week a client wanted to connect to someone at a large, privately held corporation. I typed in the company name and found that I had 42 connections to people who work there or who had recently left. The breadth of connections I could make to get to our desired contact surprised even me. By using a strong or weak link, you can connect easier to someone you do not know. This makes your call a warm call and not a cold call. It totally transforms your approach and people are much more likely to talk with you. (also note what NOT to do on LinkedIn here from a previous post.)
Have data and understanding about their industry to leverage in your call on why it would be good to speak further. Remember that conversations are not about you telling a prospect all the features and benefits of your products. Those days are SO over, folks. You are simply working to show enough value initially through insightful observations that pertain to their world to get permission for a longer conversation. That’s the “sale”. Stop trying to purge all of your pitch in a 60 second voice mail. Instead leave an 18 second one that causes interest.
Next, pick up the phone and make some calls to people. We do this every day, and regularly reach people we are trying to connect with. It is not always easy, but through various strategies we are successful. If nothing else, you can leave a brief, simple, branded voice mail that let’s someone know you are looking to connect with them.
The phone is just one tool in your toolbox. Use an inbound strategy (we use Hubspot) – just don’t think that the phone is obsolete. It isn’t. You still need to talk directly with people to see if what you offer is a good fit to solve their business issues. We are making warm calls, and in some cases cold calls. Why do we get through?
The reason you can still reach some prospects by phone is because you can clearly convey a valuable reason for them to speak with you.
Example: A marketing executive prospect works for an electric utility. A client has a patented technology that helps electric utilities increase revenues in a revenue-flat period when some utilities ratings are actually being downgraded. There is great benefit for any visionary leader in a utility to see what this technology is about because at the very least, some ideas around growing revenues may happen. At most, the two could partner for great benefit. When presented this way, we nearly always get a return call or an e-mail telling us when to call or an alternative way to connect.
Many salespeople have call reluctance and so they don’t use the phone much anymore. This is a big mistake, as there are a glut of e-mail messages - but by using voice mail and e-mail together you improve your results
Other Ways to Connect:
Think multi-faceted strategy when working to connect with prospective customers. In some tech marketplaces sales reps are texting prospects – almost always once rapport is established. Prospects are getting calls on their cell phones. No matter what strategy you use, show value immediately, respect your prospect’s time, and make it easy to follow-up. Always set a next action.
How are you connecting with your prospects? Are you connecting? Post your tips and ideas as comments. We’ll create a follow-up post and give attribution to those who offer sound ideas.
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.
Lori Richardson is recognized as one of the "Top 25 Sales Influencers for 2012" and one of "20 Women to Watch in Sales Lead Management". Lori speaks, writes, trains, and consults with inside and outbound sellers in technology and services companies. Subscribe to the award-winning blog and the “Sales Ideas In A Minute” newsletter for tips and strategies in selling.