How persistent, and resilient are you? Like a child taught to jump back on a bike whilst learning, or someone who relentlessly remounts a horse, have you the mindset to keep on keeping on? There is an oft-quoted marketing statistic that informs us it takes 6 to 8 “touches” before a potential client is sold on making a purchase. How often do you actually make those 6 to 8 touches? And how often do you get to nine or ten? Have you the determination simply to keep going in the knowledge that a particular client win can step change your possibilities? When do you give up?
I would suggest that many people give up far too soon. In fact I have heard time and time again a pathetic level of planning around ensuring that you make progress, keep leaving positive, entertaining and original voice messages, stopping too soon rather than sending an original and irresistible package of samples to reach the relevant person.
The key is to develop a process and a plan in order to keep finding ways to find, meet and greet the key people who can move your economic needle towards success – and, of course, resilience. This is very different from sales in the old days. People are bombarded with information these days; it’s everywhere and one measly email or single call will easily be overlooked or forgotten.
Melanie Walmsley was originally PA to the purchasing director at Granada Forte Hotels. For nine months I called her on a regular basis, trying to get a sale. Then one day, Melanie got a promotion and my polite, entertaining and always positive message gave me the break I wanted. I had made 872 calls to Granada Forte Hotels – not always to Melanie, I hasten to add – before I got even a conversation to make the sale. I kept bouncing back until I got the business opportunity I wanted. The lesson? Have targets, and find multiple ways of reaching them. Learn about the needs of your target company, and how you might find solutions for them. Keep meeting people throughout and target opportunities so that in the end the stars align in your favour.
We have all been on the receiving end of a bad sales call – those cold callers who are paid on commission (stupidly using a script), and desperate to sell double glazing or insurance or whatever else. I think these poor selling techniques have made us all wary of being seen as a nuisance when we’re trying to sell. We avoid making a second, third or fourth call in case we annoy the person we’re calling. If you really and genuinely feel determined that you have a product that really does add value, remove pain, help process, save money or all of the above, then keep giving beneficial reasons (not just the features of your offer) for why someone should engage with you.
The first two years of Pacific Direct (1991-3) were without a doubt the loneliest and hardest of my life. My plan at that time was pretty much just to sell relentlessly. I was rejected literally over a hundred times every day. I kept a tally score of the calls that I made and rewarded myself when I had breakthroughs. One rule: a really bad rejection meant I simply stayed and made more calls. Another rule: I never left my desk after a rejection. I kept listening to the customer to keep developing and expanding my market and understanding. Without a doubt, this paid off. It was a good plan that got my business going, but it was really hard going – yet worth it. I didn’t actually get a sale for several months; indeed I barely had many appointments. My first client took nine months to raise a purchase order! Each day I was just making call after call, getting no after no. But I kept on going! I made the mistake at this point of not building a network of contacts. I should have joined the association for the sector I was in; I could have been better organised in this respect and would have had an easier run. Networking can help in huge an unexpected ways so if you’re in a similar position, get out more!
Those two years were actually an amazing learning experience for me though, and that amount of time spent making calls has bolstered both my resilience and my creativity to be more innovative, more professional, more memorable, more knowledgeable, better than and different to others.
These were the days before CRMs, so I would sit at my desk and literally flip through a box of Rolodex contact cards with the company name and phone number on them, and make my calls. I would arrive in the morning as early as possible, do some basic admin and then set myself a target of making a hundred calls before I could go off and have a cup of tea or coffee. These days perhaps this tactic is a little off trend but I still know that things like tactical targeted calling and making the effort to leave valuable and informative messages make a big difference.
When I first started off, although I had formal sales training – something a lot of business owners don’t seem to bother with these days – my actual business pitch was weak. In those early days you’re refining your pitch, seeing what works, finding the flow. A hundred calls in a morning might seem ridiculous to you, but I guarantee that if you try it, by the time you get to call number 98 or 99 you will have your pitch down perfectly, and you’ll start to think, “actually, what I made in that last call made really good sense!” Have you 100% clearly defined exactly what your point of difference is? What makes you offer irresistible, and however great it might be, have you worked out how to communicate this so that the benefits flow?
When I refer to “call” these days I think we have to consider this as “efforts.” If you make one call to a company, get a no and walk away, pretty soon you will run out of prospects, without ever getting a sale. I’m not saying you should call the same company every day until they either capitulate or get a restraining order, but you should definitely look at just how persistent you are being, and how creatively you leave your impact. Keep a note of when you’ve called and who you’ve spoken to. If you called on Monday at 8pm, try again the next day at 8:15, and then the next day at 8:30 – and so on. Find different people to engage with; be ready to adapt your pitch to the person you get through to: numbers and savings for the finance person; community, engagement and fun product to the marketing person; efficiency savings to operators. Always remember you sell to the person first.
Above all, listen to what your prospective customer is telling you. Ultimately the most power part of selling is listening to how the other person responds to what we’re saying. When we’re new or a bit nervous, we blurt out our pitch, wait for our yes or no, and then move on. Listening can really help you to refine your pitch, to figure out what to say next, how you can improve your product and your business.
As a small business, the only way you will grow your business is with practice – and that means persistence and resilience. So make the call. And then make it again, and again, and again. I have known sales people who were more like stalkers, sitting in a car park waiting for the boss to arrive. Today with social platforms there are ways of literally building influence and networks that will change your ability to reach the decision maker. Often it’s only the first couple of calls, emails or networking meetings that feel uncomfortable; if you keep putting yourself into that situation it will eventually become perfectly natural and normal for you; you’ll wonder what you ever worried about.
Never let one bad call or conversation kill your day; you can’t afford for that to happen! Take it on the chin; see if you can learn something from it; then move on to the next thing. In networking, have a polite but firm capability to disengage from a conversation so you make the most of room opportunities to meet interesting prospects. Perhaps set yourself a target as to how many people you can meet. Old fashioned, yet with the right timing (check out this recent Inside Sales report on the best times to call) we can achieve amazing things.
We’ve all heard that saying, that if you fling enough mud at a wall some of it will stick. While that’s a rather crude take on sales, it can be a useful way of looking at things – especially in the early days of a business. Let’s say that one in every ten engagements you make will convert into a warm lead; that means you need to make at least ten calls before you make a potential customer. So now, a hundred calls in a morning doesn’t seem so bad, does it – a hundred calls just means ten potential new customers. So just bite the bullet and do what you need to do.
Talk to as many people as you can, and know that sometimes you will fall flat on your fact. Don’t be afraid of humiliation or failure; as those motivational quotes on Facebook are always telling you: the only failure is not getting back up. If you believe that your product can solve a problem for your potential customer, then tell them again and again, until they at least agree to take a look at it. Then prepare well for that meeting.