It was once the norm for a salesperson to interrupt a decisionmaker’s day with a reasonable expectation of success. Indeed, for 10,000 years before the telephone, what we now refer to as “cold calling” was how customers purchased most things, and the only way a salesperson could make a living.
Cold calling made sense for both the salesperson and prospect. The salesperson might know something — or have something new and improved — that the prospect didn’t know about. And the prospect might actually need what the salesperson was selling.
Nevertheless, whether dropping by in person or dropping in by phone, cold calling was never a high percentage play. But if your hide was thick enough and you made enough calls, it was a practice that produced results and provided generations of salespeople with a living, if not wealth.
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During that period — I call it the Age of the Seller — getting a prospect to see you was easier than getting them to hand over their money. But over the past 20 years, a shift has inverted the time/money dynamic. Today, in what I call the Age of the Customer, no prospects goes to work expecting to allow a salesperson to interrupt their day — regardless of the method of contact — unless they’ve previously established a relevant reason for that interruption.
The Internet is the great disrupter behind this shift in expectations because it allows a prospect to self-qualify, and to pre-qualify you. And here’s the scary part: They’re doing both of these things often before you know they exist.
Where once the salesperson was needed all along the decision-making continuum, today you’re not only needed later in the process, but increasingly only at relevant steps in that process.
Surely one of the keys to sales success is in achieving a high-quality prospecting practice. In the original age, a major component of such a practice was numerical: To get more sales, see more people. But in the new age, continuing to push against this shift in prospect expectations — calling a decision-maker before you’ve established relevance — is increasingly producing lower quality results.
Obviously, one of the lower quality aspects is a poor response ratio. But there’s another, newer impact on quality that’s more damaging than inefficient prospecting: Unwelcomed cold-call contacts are producing negative brand perceptions by the prospect for both the salesperson and the business.
So how does a sales organization accomplish a higher quality prospecting practice? Before you ask for a qualifying business meeting, follow these prospect-nurturing steps in order.
- Always try to get a referral. Referrals are relevance gold.
- Spend more time and effort on prospect research before you ask for a qualifying meeting.
- Find ways to be introduced, in person or otherwise, before you make a business approach.
- Once there’s an acquaintance, use social media, like LinkedIn, to improve the quality of the connection.
- Ask for a short “drop by” meeting — five minutes max — where you’ll give the prospect a gift that’s relevant, like a business book, for example.
Now you’ve established justification for requesting a face-to-face, qualifying meeting, where the prospect becomes one of two things: a higher quality potential customer or a center-of-influence, providing you with higher quality referrals.
Write this on a rock: Stop cold calling and develop a higher quality prospecting practice.
By Jim Blasingame