When I first began my career as a sales professional, everything to do with outbound sales calls was completely new to me, but that did not stop my manager from quickly throwing me to the wolves. In those first few weeks, I got shutdown so many times it made my head spin. Needless to say, I began questioning my choice to abandon my original plan of pursuing a career in the same field I got my degree in, for what I thought would be the more “lucrative” route. However, I decided to stick it out -- and in the process, I’ve learned many strategies that have helped me navigate through the frustration of outbound calls. These are my 10 rules/strategies to follow when making outbound connect calls:
1. Pre-call prep is a must
Pre-call preparation is an absolute must when making outbound connect calls. A sales professional without (at the very least) a basic understanding of their prospect will have no chance to succeed. The good news is that quickly reviewing a business’s website allows us to properly position our business to the prospect. If B2B sales were a war, the prospect’s website would be the place we would go to arm ourselves for battle. Not only will the website clearly breakdown the product or service offered, but there will be a plethora of other information to serve as talking points for your conversation. How is your prospect bringing their product to market? Do they have any major events coming up? Are they utilizing social media properly (or at all)? This is all information that sales professionals can determine prior to picking up the phone, and it can make or break the outcome of the call.
It’s also important to leverage multiple forms of media while doing your pre-call prep. Sending emails to your prospects prior to reaching out can go a long way. “Liking” a prospects Facebook Page, “connecting” with a prospect on Linked In, or “following” a prospect on Twitter not only gives you a window into your prospects’ online activity (which can offer valuable insights that will help you prepare for your conversation with them), but it gives businesses the chance to learn about your company before the initial call takes place. Those actions show the prospect you are not just arbitrarily making phone calls, therefore adding to your credibility as a sales professional.
2. Be confident. Sound confident.
It sounds obvious (because it is), yet the main problem many sales professionals face when making outbound calls is being confident. You have adequately prepped, now put on your game face and get the job done. If the prospect senses that you don’t have complete confidence in your product/service and how it relates to their business, why would they listen to you? They won’t.
3. Befriend the gatekeeper
It is every prospecting caller’s dream turned nightmare: First, you review a company’s website and find that they are a perfect fit for your business. Then, you make the call and ask for your contact, only for the receptionist to shut you down without mercy. Call them what you want-- the Gatekeeper, the Mother Goose, the Watchdog; but the receptionist is the single biggest obstacle between you and your proper point of contact. Show the receptionist respect and get as much information out of him/her as possible. It could mean the difference between a new client or the dreaded click.
4. Refer down
The “refer down” technique is a strategy I wish I had known of earlier in my sales career. If you are unsure of the proper person to speak with when prospecting, reach as high up the ladder as you can. The one thing employees typically have in common is that they prefer not to get fired. Keeping your job usually begins and ends with listening to your boss. Countless times when prospecting, I have spoken with a CEO only to be pushed to a marketing or sales director. When those people learn their CEO referred them specifically, they become much more receptive to what I have to say.
5. Always get the extra piece of information
In my line of work, it is typical for a call to end without getting any type of information at all. It is easy to fall into the habit of hearing “no” or “they’re not available” and simply hanging up. That should never be the case. Always push for the extra piece of information whatever that may be; even if it is just the name of the receptionist. Knowing his/ her name the next time you try to connect could mean everything. Those little victories also go a long way in terms of keeping morale high.
6. Be direct
There is a time and place in sales for using small talk, discussing current events, etc as a means for starting a conversation and building a relationship, however there are also times where we must be direct and cut to the chase. The prospect is aware you are not calling simply to chat, so if given the opportunity, spit out your value proposition and relate it back to the prospect. It could be the only chance you get.
7. Don’t forget to listen
This is another one that may seem obvious, but there were times early in my sales career where I was so eager to speak that I forgot to listen, and as a result I missed out on opportunities. If your prospect is sharing information about their business, then they have already committed to a mutual conversation. Make sure you are paying attention! By prematurely thinking about what to say next rather than truly listening you could miss the queue to ask an appropriate follow up question. Listening is the key to strong communication, and communication is the key to strong sales. Open your ears before your mouth and I guarantee you will have stronger, more meaningful conversations. Those conversations will lead to an increase in sales for your business.
8. Track and Measure
Tracking prospects and measuring results from a pure numbers standpoint can be difficult. Some businesses utilize Microsoft Excel to aid in that quest, while others utilize CRM’s such as Zoho or Salesforce.com and such tools have become a necessity. In the digital world we live in, the times of managing and organizing leads through a stack of papers and a notebook are over. This is not Glen Garry Glen Ross -- Ditch the notebook and take advantage of the tools at your disposal. You will be glad you did. Plus, while you’ll see the benefits of tracking and measuring in your own affairs, you’ll also find that you’re more likely to be on the same page as the rest of your team and that communicating the status of your prospects will be nearly effortless.
9. Schedule a specific time to follow up
This rule is an absolute must. Always set a specific time to follow up and clarify next steps when completing a call. Ending a conversation with “I will reach out early next week” is not sufficient, and will most likely lead to your prospect disappearing off the face of the Earth. Set a specific time with your prospect, and send them a follow up email as confirmation. In the email, set the agenda for the next call and make it clear you have blocked off time to speak with them. This shows that your time is valuable and allows your prospect to adequately prepare for your next conversation.
10. Trust the Process
Trust the process and results will follow. It sounds cliché, but it could not be a more accurate statement. Sales is a game where you lose significantly more than you win. As sales professionals, we should not get too high after a victory -- or too low after a loss. Rather, we should remain focused on the process we have in place. If you have worked hard to create a system that suits your business and revolves around your buyer personas, it will show in your numbers -- have faith!
If you keep those 10 rules in mind next time you’re making outbound calls, you’re bound to see some improvements. However, there is one bonus rule I will throw in before signing off and that is to have fun and remember not to take yourself too seriously. You only live once and making outbound connect calls is not only more pleasant/enjoyable, but also more likely to be a success when you make it a point to relax, put a smile on your face, and have a good time. Heed my words the next time you throw your headset on -- you will be surprised just how successful (and painless) your sales efforts can be.