By Dan Symons .
In the world of sales there is one area which always raises an interesting debate – ‘cold calls’. The activity of contacting potential clients to invoke a conversation around whether or not you could and should do business together.
Search ‘Cold+Calls+Sales’ on the web and you’ll typically encounter one of two types of articles. The first being now to avoid them and the second being tips on how to do them effectively. Here you go – Google Search of ‘Cold Call Sales’ or click on the image
The unfortunate reality is that ‘cold calling’ has obtained a poor reputation in sales and, as a result, sales people often avoid it where possible or undertake it poorly – thus reinforcing the stereotype of cold calling.
The real situation is that it is a valuable and powerful tool in a sales person’s marketing arsenal when deployed correctly. The reality is that ‘direct to prospect’ marketing activity, of which cold calling is one strategy of engagement, is a fundamental activity for which you hire sales people so, as a sales leader, it is the activity you should be focused on leading effectively.
There are some core fears we all share as humans which affect how we sell. The fear of separation (e.g. rejection) or the fear of ego-death (e.g. dis-approval) play against us when ringing someone who doesn’t know us. Many of the excuses presented by sales people as to why they can’t and shouldn’t cold call are represented by these two core fears. The fear we will annoy them, embarrass ourselves, waste our time, waste their time, be rejected and many others. What can be known as a truth though is most successful salespeople can and do cold call well.
As sales leaders, motivating your sales team to make cold calls is often one fraught with frustration on your part and stone-walling on your teams. So, before persisting, we need to understand there are two core roadblocks as to why some sales people won’t cold call. Understanding which of these are preventing a sales person from cold calling is the first step in helping them overcome them.
The first one, ‘Call Reluctance’ is the one that gets all the attention and is the natural focus of many sales people. The second one, ‘Poor Discipline’ is the one preventing most sales people from being successful, even those that have no call reluctance.
When sales people don’t call – this is often the immediate conclusion drawn as to what is stopping them. And, unfortunately, for many of sales people call reluctance is real. Essentially they exhibit avoidance behaviours when confronted with the task of calling/engaging people who don’t know them.
In sales, there are often some core drivers behind this:
- Insufficient product/technical knowledge
- The fear here is they will be ‘caught out’ by the prospect asking a question they don’t know the answer to.
- Lack of Information
- The can be because your sales person hasn’t undertaken enough research or clearly identified who they should be talking to so, in all honesty, don’t actually know why they’re calling them
- They are already closed the sale in their mind by deciding the prospect doesn’t need or want to deal with them. This is often a result of too much research – or paralysis through analysis
- The core reason most people have call reluctance is this fear. They have decided that at best the prospect will be apathetic to their approach or, at worst, aggressive.
- Whilst hard to believe, sometimes it is actually the fear of success which stops your sales person from calling that prospect. A sales person can be content with what they have and actually not want to upset this by taking something on as challenging as a new client.
As a sales leader, you need to first identify whether call reluctance is an issue and in what areas your sales person is experiencing tension.
One of the easier strategies to deal with call reluctance is to have them work with a sales person who is good at it. Note: This may not be you and, in fact, it often works better when it isn’t. The key here is not to simply have them sit in on the call – but the entire process. The identification and research, the call itself and then the subsequent meeting. This places the call within an entire process. This is important as it quickly shows that making marketing calls is more than just picking up the phone. In fact, this is actually the easy bit if the rest of the process is executed properly.
As call reluctance is often emotional rather than rational, your sales person needs to trust you and those they are working with. It is a challenge to their comfort zone – so simply telling them to make more calls won’t work. They will find every excuse to not do it. Sometimes, these excuses will even be effective in the short term, such as filling their diary with existing client meetings. They may even produce great results, but eventually call reluctance will present itself again.
There isn’t a quick fix (and especially so if you sales person has the ‘fear of success’ call reluctance). In my experience though, most call reluctance is exhibited by those who have either 1) never done it and have listened to the rhetoric, 2) never been trained on it effectively and 3) only doing because they have been told to rather than want to.
The other fact is – this often isn’t the real reason behind why your team aren’t making marketing calls. The real reason is usually poor discipline.
For too many sales people, cold calling is something you do as a ‘last resort’ when you a busy and you’ve exhausted all other avenues. Therefore, they have a ‘starved‘ mentality and panic sets it. Or, it is completed on a adhoc basis in the ‘oh, I have 5 spare minutes, I’ll make a marketing call or two’ manner.
If we have sales strategies for our work in progress and account management plans for our existing clients – why is our marketing activity often scattered and sporadic? We don’t do it as regular part of our work as is if often sidelined when we’re busy.
This is the most significant of the two obstacles. This is simply the lack of prioritising of this activity and the diligence of undertaking it. To cold call effectively, you don’t simply pick up the phone. It starts with setting time aside to sell – that is, ensuring you have time in your diary on a regular basis to actually do the job you’re employed to do. It doesn’t happen by accident, like most things in sales it requires a strategy and considered execution.
It requires a strategy for the identification, qualification and research in to your potential prospects, the call (if you haven’t identified a more efficient way to engage them) and a strategy post-call to demonstrate value.
As sales leaders, the most effective strategy to ensure your team are selling effectively is to see their diary and whether they have strategic sales activities blocked out in it. If they aren’t planning to sell, telling them to make calls is ineffective.
There are many reasons why sales people don’t prioritise this activity. It is easy for a sales person to live in the now and pay the consequences later. Prospecting exemplifies this as you don’t pay the price of failing to market today, you pay it later and often when you really need the results.
This is also the very crux of the issue with cold calling – because you also don’t see the results until later, it is easy to defer the activity in lieu of a tangible piece of work today.
I see this regularly, sales people who either don’t discipline themselves to set time aside to ‘sell’ or do so and either use the time unwisely or replace the activity with something else. It is no coincidence that those that sell effectively and consistently are also very good planners.
I’ve seen sales people with no call reluctance whatsoever fail to make calls simply because they don’t set the time aside to do it. The thing is, once they do, they get immediate results and suddenly enjoy selling again. As a sales leader, it is the easiest one to address yet often goes unaddressed.
Call reluctance is often the focus of sales training, yet the hidden scourge of sales activity is actually poor discipline. As sales leaders it is important to critically assess your sales team to determine which of the two inhibitors they have and I believe you will be surprised at for how many of them it is simply poor discipline and how quickly you can remedy the situation.
If you valued this article, please share via your Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook social media platforms. I encourage you to join the conversation or ask questions. So feel free to add a comment on this post – I promise to respond. Please follow my LinkedIn post page and follow me here on the Strategic Selling Group. I also recommend you follow my associates in the SMA Sales Masterminds. Thank you – Dan Symons