Recently, I suggested to my friend Regina that she cold call a local venture capital firm. I’d read about the company and, thinking of Regina, visited the website. It looked like a good fit, so I forwarded the link for her review.
Regina is a Freelancer who specializes in evaluating the market potential for incubator stage life sciences products. Small companies and start-ups often seek out venture capital or angel investors to obtain financing for further research and development or a product launch. Both the VC/angels and the company must be certain of the financial potential of the new product. Regina is hired to make that assessment and issue her findings.
She and I worked together in sales for several years and she is well versed in the art of cold calling. Although several tactics can be instituted to “warm up” a cold call via referrals/introductions, networking, or speaking/teaching, sometimes it is necessary to plunge in, pick up the phone and try to wrangle an appointment with someone who could become a client—if you can convince them!
Here are steps you can take that will improve your cold calling skills and give you another way to expand your client base:
Do your homework
First, verify that your services are likely to be of value to your prospect. Visit the company website. Conduct an internet search and learn what has been written about the company recently and which execs have been quoted in the media. Read up on the industry to find out what hot issues are getting press coverage. If possible, deduce which competitor could be doing business with your prospect and what unique benefits are offered. Can you sell against that?
Ask around to your colleagues and inquire as to who may know this prospect, or have a contact at the company. Can an introduction be arranged? You may discover that your prospect belongs to a certain organization that you can visit. Maybe you’ll cross paths?
Write a script
If you must call or email the prospect, assemble your talking points in advance. Brainstorm the most appealing benefits and other selling points, where you see alignment between your services and the prospects’ apparent needs and smooth answers to anticipated objections.
Devise 2–3 questions to ask that will show you’ve done your homework and will clarify prospect needs. Remember to identify who makes the decision to hire. Smart questions put the finishing touches on the pre-qualifying process.
Open with benefits
“What’s in it for me?” is the question on everyone’s mind. Whether your initial contact is a serendipitous face to face or by email or telephone, you’ll have to sell your prospect and maybe the gatekeeper, too with compelling benefits if you want to get invited to the office.
After you briefly introduce yourself, your company and services, ask if it is a convenient time to talk. Your respect for their time will earn you points. If granted a minute to talk, paint a quick picture of how benefits you bring will provide valuable solutions.
Allow your prospect to talk about their business needs. The information given will help you to position your services and verify—or rule out—your theory of alignment between the two of you. Ask questions when necessary. Remember that selling is a conversation and not a monologue.
If your prospect has been amenable to your sales pitch, ask to continue the discussion at the office or over coffee or lunch—whatever is most convenient for the prospect. There may not be an offer of immediate work, but consider it relationship building and getting a foot inside the door.
If your prospect balks, acknowledge the hesitation and ask for clarification. Have you misunderstood something? Is there no budget available for the project? Is there a relationship with a competitor? Is there no perceived need for your services?
If the prospect works with a competitor, ask about the types of projects that are outsourced. Diplomatically mention your expertise in handling such projects. If the prospect sees no need for your services, ask how solutions are achieved or problems resolved? Again, diplomatically soft-sell and plant the seed. However, do not start a wrestling match. You want to leave a positive impression, even if you do not get the chance to have a meeting.
If the call has gone well (and it will!) but you still don’t get an appointment, ask your erstwhile prospect if he/she can point you in the right direction and refer you to someone they know who might benefit from your services. Be certain to ask whether or not you can use their name. Even if you don’t get a client, you might get a referral. Equally important, you will have interacted with an important person who will remember you favorably should your paths cross again.
Thanks for reading,