The Best Way to Open a Sales Call

“You get only one chance to make a first impression.”

We’re all familiar with that old adage and try to keep it in mind at any first meeting: a job interview, a first date, a college-admission interview, the first in-person meeting with a client. Phone calls, too, require attention in this regard, especially among salespeople who rely on that medium to initiate connections with potential clients.

As a business owner, I’ve received my fair share of cold calls from salespeople. And within five seconds of answering the phone, I’ve usually decided whether I want to engage the caller in conversation—or end the call right there.

For example, I immediately dismiss any call that starts with empty attempts at rapport building (“How are you on this fine, sunny, Monday morning?”) or exhibits a lack of preparation (“Are you the person who handles decisions for X at your company?”). Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing against salespeople or sales calls. After all, as both a business owner and someone who’s been in sales for his entire career, I understand the importance of phone communication to establish, build, and maintain relationships with clients. That said, I have little patience for sales calls that clearly demonstrate poor planning or fail to add value right off the bat.

Before you pick up the phone to call a prospect, do your homework. First, know your audience and make sure your call targets the right person. Doing plenty of advance preparation, too, will enable you to elaborate as needed during the call and answer questions. Finally, focus on what’s important to the prospect so that you can communicate the value you bring to that person’s organization and business efforts.

Say you want to sell staffing services to Mamu Media, for example. A quick look at our website reveals that we do branded and custom publishing and that most of our clients are staffing companies. We don’t have any job openings at this time, but if you do your homework on our industry and on our company in particular, you’ll know we’re likely to hire graphic designers, writers, editors, and HTML programmers in the future. So what might be a good strategy for approaching us?

First, do some research on the state of our industry so you have some useful information to share with me when you call. (A Google search on “print industry news” is an excellent starting point.) Your opening may sound something like this:

Hi Mike! Last week’s article in the Wall Street Journal about the endurance of print in the face of digital media made me think of your company and how the changing landscape could affect your staffing strategy. Did you have a chance to read it?

The goal for this conversation is not to get a staffing order but to start a dialogue (which, if successful, might lead to a long-term relationship and perhaps a sale). But in order to get off on the right foot and make a good first impression, any salesperson who approaches Mamu Media has to understand her audience, do her homework, and focus on what’s important to me.

I’ve used my company as an example here, but of course you should adopt this approach with each and every prospect. And we at Mamu Media can help you make the most of those contacts.

Our branded and custom publications help our clients build relationships that keep the focus on the prospect. Each issue contains content relevant to the recipients and includes “conversation starter” ideas that demonstrate how to use some of that issue’s articles to open a sales call with a prospect or client. Our November/December 2012 issue, for example, featured an article titled “Measuring and Maximizing Quality of Hire.” The conversation starter for this piece suggested referencing a 2011 Deloitte study (“Where Did Our Employees Go?”) that estimates the cost of replacing an employee to be as high as 200% of his annual salary.

If you’ve sent that issue of our publication to your prospects, read the conversation starter, and done the needed prep work to make sure you’re targeting the right audience and his or her needs, then you have the tools you need to make a good impression when you place a sales call to a prospect. You might open your call as follows:

Hi Ms. Prospect! I read in your 10K that one of your goals this year is to focus on gaining market share and increasing profitability. Last month, I sent you an issue of our magazine, HR Insights, which included an article titled “Measuring and Maximizing Quality of Hire”. I’m following up to see if you’ve had a chance to read the article and consider how quality of hire could affect your organization’s goals.

Remember, you’re not the only game in town. In any industry, the companies that win business are the ones that separate themselves from the competition and demonstrate their ability to add value at every stage of the sales process.

When you make a first sales call to a prospect, keep in mind that the goal of this opening conversation is to share some insight and lay the groundwork for a relevant staffing conversation. In order for sales calls to work effectively for you, they must make a good first impression: you must sell yourself before you have a chance to sell your services in the future.

 

 

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