Qualify on the First Pursuit

When we’re talking the art of cold calling, a Best Practice is one that addresses certain events (or scenarios) encountered during the appointment setting process.

In this blog, I will describe the ‘Qualify on the First Pursuit’ Best Practice.

The payoff for being able to qualify an account on the first pursuit attempt is obvious – prospectors often call a target multiple times over a period of years; no more wasting time and calls pursuing a target that is not qualified will save valuable resources.

It is easiest to qualify on the first pursuit when there is a single piece of ‘public’ information that will qualify the account: For example, number of employees, number of locations or the technology used for a specific function. For other products, the information needed is more ‘private:’  For example, net worth, research budget or compensation structure.

Regardless of the sensitivity of the information, during the appointment setting process, it is more difficult than you might think to obtain the answer to even one question, so you should be prepared to call more than one person during the first pursuit.

Since Gatekeepers are often the first line of communications when prospecting, they are the first place to start the qualifying process.

Gatekeepers are notoriously cautious about giving out information, so the wording of the qualifying question should be ‘Can you confirm what my records are showing me? My records show that the last time we met with you that you had over 30 employees. Is that still correct?’ Asking a question such as ‘How many . . .?’ is fishing and most often will get you nowhere.

The ‘Qualify on the First Call’ Best Practice is to be willing to make up to three calls into the company to do the qualification. A typical approach looks like this:

If the Gatekeeper cannot, or will not, answer the qualifying question call back and ask for the sales department. They and we are in the same club and will gladly assist. If there is no Sales Department, call Accounts Receivable. They typically answer their phones and are usually friendly.

Some callers like to begin by saying that they are confirming information for marketing purposes. While this may seem like a ‘covert’ way to gather information, the approach faces the same ‘mindset’ with a Gatekeeper and you forfeit your ability to leave a voice message for the decision maker. The marketing ploy works best with Accounts Receivable, IT or Operations.

In summary, be willing to make three attempts to qualify the account. If you have more companies on your list than you can possibly call, consider removing the ones that cannot be qualified on the first call until your marketing efforts tell you that they may be worth another call.

 

Appointment Setting and Selling Skills are Different

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Our previous blogs reviewed the List and Best Practice levers, now onto lever number three. The third lever to pull in order to improve performance is all about the skills of the caller.

No matter how good the opening script—no matter how perfected the art of cold callingthe first response an appointment setter hears when they ask for an appointment is some variation of NO. It is certainly not ‘Yes, I will set an appointment with you.’

This initial NO is actually a conditioned response. This is because when the target realizes this is a ‘cold call’ they become totally focused on how to get you off the phone. There is no logic at play in the first 15 seconds of the call. That said, with specific skills and inside sales techniques an appointment setter can change that negative attitude into a positive conversation and improve the probability of setting the appointment.

The most common reason callers under-perform (or fail) is because they use skills and techniques that are not appropriate. The skills to set an appointment are much different from the skills to run an appointment because the environment is very different; especially in the effort by the target to end the conversation quickly.

This chart lists differences in the environment that point out why separate skills are needed to set appointments than the skills used to run an appointment.

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The skill to handle an objection at an appointment is a totally wrong skill to handle a NO response in the conversation to set an appointment. This is why field sales reps do poorly at setting appointments; their ‘selling skills’ are actually counter-productive to setting appointments.

The appointment setting skill is pretty straightforward, because, typically, a NO response comes in one of 5 flavors. A ‘non-confrontational’ technique to handle each of these can be developed in advance.

  1. Too busy
  2. Not Interested
  3. Happy Now
  4. Send me some literature
  5. What can you do for me?

Some industries have a NO response that is not one of these core 5. For instance, ‘I am not the right person’ is common when you are calling C-Level executives about issues they believe is best handled by someone else – technology, personnel or those handled by a User Buyer.

It is also common that the initial NO response given is the same one 80% of the time. And, in some companies the opening script is specifically designed to enlist a specific NO response – one for which the caller has honed a highly successful technique.

This relatively short list of techniques, plus the rapid nature of the first 15 seconds of the call, is why ‘role play’ to learn the skill is so important. The caller’s response to a NO must be automatic, natural and confidently delivered. One cannot wing this and win and it is much ‘less-expensive’ to learn during practice sessions.

You may believe that cold calling is dead, but the truth is, it just needs to be revived. Whether the calls are to marketing leads, networking contacts, referrals, or a cold list, improving this skill with techniques specific to handling the NO response will increase appointments set and therefore increase the flow of prospects into the pipeline. Contact Science can help you get there!

 

Short Term Best Practice

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As you have probably gathered by now, lead management is no easy task; but here at Contact Science, we want to help guide you towards the best solutions for your business. In the last blog, I posited that managers have very few levers to pull to improve performance metrics – Lists, Best Practices and Caller Skills…

Best Practice: The second of the three remedies if prospecting metrics are lower than expected.

There are three Best Practice areas – Short, Long and Scenario. In today’s article I’ll cover Short Term Best Practice.

In the prospecting process, the Short Term Best Practice spells out the pursuit plan for the caller to follow. In theory, by following the steps in the Best Practice the caller is utilizing their time and effort at maximum efficiency towards the goal of generating conversations with decision makers.

Here are the four components in a Short Term Best Practice:

  1. Resources: How many Steps do I want to take before I move on to the next target? And, what are those Steps? Typically a Step is a dial, but we use the term Step because I can start a pursuit with an email or a letter as well. Also, for some Best Practices, I may want to send an email, but not make a phone call.
  2. Frequency of each Step: How much time should transpire between each Step? Should I wait 1,3,5 business days between Steps? If I call twice a day, or multiple times a day, I seem needy; if I call every two weeks, I may lose the cumulative effect of making regular calls.
  3. Pursue again? If I don’t reach the target, how long do I wait before I put them through another pursuit? Wait to start another in 3, 6, 12 months? Never? The quality of a business or territory development program can depend on the frequency of pursuits. Once a year versus 4 times a year can create different levels of mindshare in the targets mind.
  4. Messaging: For each of those Steps, do I leave a voicemail each time? Should each message be a little different from the last one? Do I send an email messaging after each voicemail? Would an attachment or a link help?

Typically, the construct of a short term Best Practice is defined by where the list came from and who is on it. For example a cold list of C-level targets would have a different Best Practice than a warm list of user buyers. The Best Practice to pursue a direct mail piece would be different than the Best Practice to pursue leads coming through a web portal. Regardless, the dial that caller makes is a company resource and Best Practices make sure that each is used to its ‘best and highest’ value.

The value to the caller (other than prospecting correctly) is that they don’t have to think about what to do at each call – the rules are spelled out and they can ‘go fast’ since the process is already defined.

Years of experience have made Contact Science one of the leading names in inside sales techniques. Contact us today for more information on Best Practices and all things sales acceleration.

Improving Appointment Setting by Improving the Call List

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The interesting thing about the business process of setting appointments is that you have very few levers to pull in order to improve performance – three to be exact: Lists, Best Practice and Caller Skills.

With this blog, we’re going to take a departure from discussing the art of cold calling, and focus on another lever instead—Lists…

Here is the short list (no pun intended) for evaluating and improving Lists:

  1. For telephone prospecting, you don’t need more names than you can call: Unless you do a lot of marketing, the size of your list is dependent on how many calls you are going to make. If you call 100 companies a week, with a standard, proven Best Practice, your caller may not need but 500 companies to call.
  2. Don’t condemn your current list too quickly: The only sure way to ‘vet’ a list is to call into it. We see a lot of companies who buy a list because their current list is ‘so old’ only to find out that the new list ‘ain’t that great’ either. Remember, list companies do not have real-time update capabilities.
  3. Don’t condemn your current list, part 2: Are the companies on that old list Qualified? For a lot of callers, having a list of ‘qualified’ accounts without a valid contact is preferred to having a list of companies with a valid contact but not known to be qualified. It is easier (and more efficient) to find the new decision maker in a qualified company than to dig out the information to determine if the company is qualified.
  4. Buy in small quantities: Once you know how many names you can call each year, purchase that list over a 5 month period. The arithmetic to calculate how many names can be called a year is pretty straightforward. Given that lists deteriorate, why buy them all up front? Buy them as you call into the list.
  5. Another way to improve a caller’s list is to email market: Blast and drip the entire market and notify the caller of who in their territory is opening the emails and clicking the links. The calls may still be cold calls, but the target is more aware of you than one who has not been ‘attracted’ to your marketing efforts. My company has such a process to notify callers of targets who are opening emails and clicking links.

As a general rule, most lists are improved by simply calling through them once and qualifying them as ‘in or out’ by designating the first call a scrub call – to find someone to answer the qualifying questions. Each subsequent time calling through a list improves appointment setting performance.

Check out our Contact Science blog regularly for more info on improving your inside sales techniques.

Best Practice for Using the Phone to Increase Appointments from Lumpy Mail Campaigns

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The first and most important step in sales and marketing is getting the attention of your prospects; and one of the best inside sales techniques to get this done is Lumpy Mail. The purpose of Lumpy Mail is to stand out in the stack of otherwise ‘same old, same old’ direct mail. Lumpy Mail can get past the gatekeeper and get the attention of the decision maker. However, to gain maximum attention and then turn that attention into an appointment, Lumpy Mail needs to have a potent phone component.

The mission of the phone component in a Lumpy Mail program is to maximize the return on this marketing investment by generating appointments (a quantifiable return.) Creating mindshare is nice; growing existing mindshare is nice; but what you really need is an appointment.

Therefore, a Lumpy Mail campaign must have a precisely executed telephone campaign to maximize the impact of the Lumpy Mail on the target. To do this, we need a Best Practice for the pursuit of Lumpy Mail recipients.

Spoiler Alert – this Best Practice is NOT to drop the Lumpy Mail and then have your team chase them with a phone call or two. So stop what you’re doing if that’s how you’re approaching Lumpy Mail. The Best Practice uses phone calls, voicemails and even emails to maximize the impact on the decision maker and to improve the probability that an appointment will result.

The shorthand for the phone Best Practice is 3 calls, once a week, with follow up emails on the second and third calls. If the decision maker is not reached, a pair of calls will be made within 70 days.

There are two options for the first call in the Best Practice:

  1. Call shortly before the piece arrives. The premise is that similar to email, unexpected mail is less interesting than expected mail. The fact that it is lumpy will get the piece more attention, but the question is whether a phone call a day or so in advance would generate even more attention, perhaps even slight anticipation. Perhaps the call gets/keeps the piece on the targets desk, rather than suffering the email equivalent of ‘delete’ without examination. (For those that believe cold calling is dead, this practice proves that wrong.)
  1. Call shortly after the piece arrives. The premise is that the piece is sitting on the desk, or has been viewed, and you are letting your target know you wish to have a conversation about it. Given the uncertainty of when a piece arrives, timing is everything, so a timely call is paramount.

Our recommendation is number 1 – to call before the piece arrives. The primary reason is that targets will notice Lumpy Mail, but depending on how their day is going they may not explore the piece because history tells them there is nothing inherently valuable in it. They see it for what it is – the most noticeable mail in the pile. The second reason is that this Best Practice is unique to the target—and their gatekeeper—because most companies use the ‘after the drop’ approach and some of the calls occur weeks after delivery (and discard) of the Lumpy Mail has occurred.

The two calls after the first one are basically the same as traditional appointment setting Best Practice – a call to action if you get a target on the phone(“let’s set an appointment”) or building mindshare with the voicemail and email messaging if you do not.

Suggested timing and core messaging:

  • Monday: Select the names for this week’s Lumpy Mail. For Contact Science users this list is created during the BackFill process. Marketing will take that list out of Contact Science and use it to create labels for the mailing.
  • Wednesday: Drop the Lumpy Mail at the Post Office.
  • Thursday: Make your first call to the target with your core message (gatekeeper, voicemail, email) being “look for our Lumpy Mail.”
  • Next Wednesday or Thursday:       Make your second call to the target with your core message (gatekeeper, voicemail, email) being “let’s chat about the Lumpy Mail.”
  • The Following Week: Make your last call to the target with your core message (gatekeeper, voicemail, email) being “this may not be a good time; I will call again in a few months, but if you had been meaning to call me, please do.”

Three calls, well timed to coincide with Lumpy Mail delivery plus well crafted messaging (for gatekeepers, voicemails and emails) will result in 1) more attention to the Lumpy Mail, 2) more conversations with decision makers and 3) more quality appointments.

Obviously, timing is everything; and it is simpler than you might think to execute. Contact Science can help you design and implement the ideal pursuit plan for a Lumpy Mail campaign. When you are ready to implement proven sales acceleration techniques, give Contact Science a call.

The Three Components of Appointment Setting

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More than just a skill; appointment setting has three components and three challenges.

A big blind spot for many companies is the belief that appointment setting is just a skill, like being able to deliver a presentation. When, in fact, setting appointments is a business process and skill is just one of the three components of the process.

Operationally, the business process of setting appointments is the same regardless of where the target comes from – cold list, marketing leads, referrals or networking. And, success requires that the three components of this business process – Art, Best Practice and Science – come together in the right way.

The components:

  • Art – the skills to generate a conversation with a decision-market\r and then to convert that conversation into an appointment. Basically, these are the communication techniques that the caller must use when the target says ‘hello.’ These are professional techniques to handle the commonplace replies to a request for an appointment – not interested, happy now, too busy, send literature, etc. Put simply, the art of cold calling is just that – an art.

Management challenge: The techniques needed to ‘set an appointment’ are  different than the techniques to ‘run an appointment;’ understanding the proper inside sales techniques for each situation is key. Field sales reps who are excellent at running appointments are typically bad at setting them. For instance, if the target says ‘exactly why is your widget better’ the appointment setter response is; ‘you know, that’s a good question and a good reason for us to get together. Do you have time to review that issue with me on Tuesday at 3?’ The sales rep will go to their comfort zone of selling skills: ‘let me ask you a couple of question’ looking for pain. They begin to sell over the phone, not ‘setting an appointment.’ At some point the target will hear something and say ‘You know, I don’t think you have exactly what I need, thanks anyway’ and hang up.

Solution: Specific skills training on how to set appointments.

  • Best Practice – the pursuit process is where management defines exactly how they want a target to be pursued. This includes the list to call, the number of calls to make, the frequency of those calls and what to do if the caller doesn’t connect during those calls. Best Practices also require a decision about whether to leave voice mails and/or send emails after those voicemails. Every dial is valuable and Best Practice defines how they should be used.

Management challenge: Without precise instructions, callers will not use their dials to their best and highest value. In some cases, the pursuits are so random as to be akin to a drive by shooting.

Solution: Written plan that sets specific guidelines for how to use each dial.

  • Science – the automation that enables callers to follow the Best Practice easily and perfectly, keeping them organized and disciplined for consistent activity. This also includes creating automatic performance reports which include the two core metrics of the prospecting process.

Management challenge: Traditional sales automation was built for something else. There are no specific metrics that guide the manager to monitor, measure, analyze and coach callers. Plus, if using CRMs, callers will tend to spend more time working the dialing software than working the phones.

Solution: Well, that’s what started us in this business, so we have some specific solutions that might be of interest. Commercial aside, the physical requirements of telephone prospecting is where the phrase ‘cold calling is painful’ comes from. CRMs are brutal as this chart demonstrates by counting the number of mouse clicks and the number of screens that have to be done to pursue 10 targets in a row.

Finally, arguably, you can win using bad Art; but you will always lose using bad Best Practice and Science. When used correctly, these three components, working together, will ensure your appointment setting practices are successful. At Contact Science, we know appointment setting. So give us a call today and we’ll help you get in front of new people day in and day out.

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What is the Definition of a Conversation?

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A sales person must use the proper inside sales techniques for generating conversations with less-than-willing potential customers; and when it comes to quantifying setting appointments performance, knowing how to identify a conversation is key.

Appointment setting is a business process measured using two simple ratios: one for efficiency and one for effectiveness. And, both ratios use the number of Conversations in their calculations.

  1. To measure Efficiency –The ratio of conversations (C) generated to the number of dials (D) made; commonly called the ‘Conversation Ratio.’Featured image
  2. To measure Effectiveness – The ratio of appointments (A) set to the number of conversations (C) generated; commonly called the ‘Appointment Ratio.’

These metrics will provide the most accurate results when you have a clear definition of Conversation. Since the Conversation element is part of both ratios, we must make sure that callers and managers are using the same definition for what should be counted as a conversation – and, what should not be counted.

The simple rules to identify a ‘conversation’ are these:

  1. You spoke with the person who you want the appointment with.       Typically, this is called the decision maker (DM). Even though they might not be the final or only voice in becoming your customer, they are the right path into the target company.
  2. You had the conversation you wanted. I know, the conversation you wanted would have ended in an appointment; but, for the purposes of measuring the process we have to accurately measure the number of ‘real conversations’ that did not turn into an appointment.

The ‘conversation you wanted’ requires that you select what that means to your team. There are three outcomes when a decision maker answers the phone that could be used to define the ‘conversation you wanted.’

The DM answers the phone and I deliver my opening script, then

  1. The DM says nothing, just hangs up on me. Basically, they answer the phone.
  2. The DM says ‘I am happy now’ (or any of the common initial reactions we hear) and hangs up on me.       Basically, they give me an answer that I can put in my notes.
  3. The DM says ‘I am happy now’ (or any of the common initial reactions) and I use my skilled technique to respond. Basically, I get a chance to respond them at least once.

As a general rule, the first option measures the success of the process in getting through to a decision maker. The second option tracks the responses to your opening—and in some cases helps to decide whether to change the opening. The third option measures the skill of the caller’s techniques.

The bottom line is this: It really doesn’t matter which of the three options you choose, so long as you use that definition every single time. The analysis of the metrics will be done with that definition in mind.

There’s no Difference Between the Mechanics of a Cold Call and a Warm Call

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While there are certainly advantages to calling someone who is ‘warmer’ than a cold call, the mechanics for the call are exactly the same. And, thinking that a warm call can be addressed differently from a cold call is the reason so many sales reps fail to convert as many leads into appointments as they should. The art of cold calling is an important skill that should be used on your warm calls as well as your cold calls.

The only advantage of making a warm call is the willingness of the target to grant you a conversation. While that is a big benefit, the goal is to set an appointment and the pushbacks you will get when asking for the appointment are EXACTLY the same as those when cold calling.

There are three components to an appointment-making call regardless of whether it is cold or warm:

1.    The opening script which includes asking for the Appointment
2.    The target’s response which is always a No of  some sort
3.    The response to that response which ends with another request for appointment.

On a warm call, the opening script will vary slightly because we want to invoke either the name of the person who referred us or the fact that they had asked us to contact them through a marketing program of some kind.

This is the extent of the difference—a better reason for the target to grant us a conversation. Again, big benefit, but what we really want is an appointment, so from here on out, the call is structurally the same as a cold call and uses the same techniques.

The target’s response to a request for an appointment on a warm call is generally the same as on a cold call. It is still a NO, but they are just nicer about it.

•    A referral target may say, “Hey, I appreciate Barry suggesting you call, but we’re all set in that area.” (Happy Now, Not Interested) That’s because in very few instances does the referrer know the target’s business in enough detail to know they need us, can afforFeatured imaged us, and that the timing is right for the call.
•    In the case of an inbound request for information, it’s not uncommon for an inbound request to be a tire-kicker or information-gatherer and not someone that’s in the Market right now for what we are selling. (Happy Now, Send Literature, Not really Interested)

In either case, the techniques we use when cold calling to ‘handle the no’ work perfectly when hearing them on a warm call.

That said, the bigger mistake sales reps make is to assume that a warmer call is ‘slam dunk’ and to not only abandon the appointment setting techniques, but go into a sales mode. The temptation to sell on the appointment-making call because of the supposed interest by the target is powerful. It is also misguided and why lead conversion rates are lower than the boss would expect.

So how do we keep from falling prey to this?  Role play, role play, role play! Work on the opening script you will use to leverage the reason the call is ‘warm,’ but from that starting point use the same skills as when cold calling to push towards an appointment.

Check back regularly for more tips like these; and when you’re ready for a sales acceleration formula that really works, give us a call here at Contact Science.