A mulligan, reload or redo; who wouldn’t like to have a second chance? Sorry, when it comes to getting the ear of your targeted executive prospect you’re often lucky if you get a single shot. That’s why I’m often amazed by the number of phone calls I receive in which the caller’s goal is to “set up a time to chat.”
If your targeted prospect actually answers your call are you prepared to initiate a conversation that will capture their attention and generate immediate interest? Are you sure? Here is how many of my conversations sound:
Targeted prospect (phone is ringing):
“Good morning, this is Alan.”
“Oh… Alan, hey thanks for picking up. My name is John Smith and I’m with ABC Company. We are a one-stop blah, blah, blah solution company and I wanted to know if I could set up a time to chat about your needs.”
“Well, you’ve got the decision maker on the line now, so hit me with your best shot. What’s in it for me? What can you say in the next 20 – 30 seconds that will keep my attention?” (Yes, I say those lines. I’m actually coaching them on how to efficiently and effectively talk to me. I never act like a jerk, or sound sarcastic. I’m totally sincere.)
(I can’t see them because it’s a phone call. But I imagine they now look like a deer in the head lights.) “OK… sure…. Like I was saying we are a full service organization and I was hoping to schedule some time so that my support team and I could explore your current and future projects and see how we might help you. We’ve done work for companies like Blah Company and More Blah Company. Look, I know you’re busy, so if you have someone else on your team you want me to work with I’d be happy to do that.”
Targeted prospect: “Well John, thank you for respecting my time, but I also like to be respectful of my direct reports time. By that I mean if I can’t immediately see the strategic value then I certainly don’t want anyone on my team spending time trying to force something to fit.” I’ll tell you what, I appreciate your call, and I’ve made a note of your company. I’ll let you know if we run into something you might help us with.”
Did I really “make a note?” Have I ever called back the sales person after a conversation like that? Well, no, because there are no mulligans when it comes to first impressions. Besides, I’m still not completely sure what they can do for me, and I’m not going to spend my time trying to tease out the value. Let’s face it, their prospecting call fell short and I chose to end the conversation, I just wanted to be polite during the exit. What’s that? You don’t agree that I was being polite? Well, what if I agreed to a day and time for another call, and then just cancelled the appointment later? I think we both agree that would be worse.
Do all prospecting calls flow this way? Of course not, there are going to be occasions when additional time needs to be set up and other team members (for both buyer and seller) brought into the loop. The main point here is that you need to be prepared, just like you were going on a job interview, when it comes to initial prospecting conversations with executive level decision makers. Here are some of my internal thoughts to consider:
1. Yes, I do answer my phone quite often. That’s why having an “appointment setter” call me is never going to work. Look, if that business model helps your organization get productive business meetings then keep using it. If you are in the business of selling that service and business is good, then continue selling it! For me personally, it’s a waste of time. The appointment setter might think they can “qualify” me as a prospect, but I won’t be able to qualify you. The call is over if I can’t probe for your personal credibility or feel some level of trust developing.
2. Yes, I really do ask “what’s in it for me” type questions. I don’t care what companies you are already doing business with or that your organization environment is a “Best Place to Work.” I may care about those facts later on, but to initially get my attention you need to hook me with a story and touch an emotion.
3. Stop trying to close me on the initial call. Yes, I understand, you have a monthly quota that needs to be retired. I know that your boss has made a commitment to the executive office concerning your organizations quarterly results. And that your marketing department would love to mount my brand logo on your “Our Customers” sales presentation slide. But what keeps you up at night isn’t what keeps me up at night. So start out by building a relationship that will open doors for me, not close deals for you.