I just read your column, "Dialing for Dollars" ("My Company," 11/6/2001). Ouch! I've been in sales and sales training for over a dozen years, and I've sold a variety of products and services. I actually like cold calling. May I make a suggestion?
Selling is not like asking someone to a dance. It really doesn't matter if you're incredibly good-looking or smooth-talking. (Lucky for me!) What matters is finding customers who need the benefits I can provide -- and need them badly enough to pay my price.
It's been said that everyone is tuned into radio station WIIFM -- "What's In It For Me?" -- so I approach selling from the viewpoint of the person I'm cold-calling. I know my phone call is an interruption, so I take a customer-benefit approach.
Before I pick up the phone, I take a brand new sales rep (or at least a new face) to a couple of my good customers and ask them to explain to the new person just how our packaging helps their company. It helps me to see and hear our benefits being explained by paying customers. Let's say they tell me that, since switching to our photographic-quality plastic bags, their sales have increased 10% to 18%. (It goes without saying that if none of my customers can tell me my product has improved their business, my whole company is in trouble!)
Next, I call the sales manager or product manager at a prospect company companies and ask if they would like to increase their sales. They're going to ask me how, and then I'll tell them what I have done for my other customers, unnamed if necessary. From then on, it's just a value conversation.
Being a professional salesperson is more like being a doctor who diagnoses and solves problems than a gladiator swinging a sword in an arena. If I think of myself as a doctor who removes corns on left pinkie toes, it's not scary at all to tell people, "I can remove corns on left pinkie toes. Do you have a corn on your left pinkie toe that you want removed?" If they do, I've got a prospect. If they don't, I ask them who they know who has a corn on their left pinkie toe that I should talk to. You'd be surprised how many people will give a referral because I am straightforward with them, and because I did my homework before I called them.
I once sold a gizmo that connected two kinds of computer networks. My boss bought a list of companies that owned both types of networks. I just started calling them up and confirming they had both types and then asking them if they had ever considered connecting them. Most of them didn't even know this could be done. Sometimes we'd meet to explore and discuss ways they could benefit from connecting their networks. The point is: I didn't call them up just to tell them how great my network hooker-upper was, but rather, to discuss ways they could benefit by having one of my gizmos.
The days of the gladiator salesperson are coming to an end, which is good news. Remember, not all the dinosaurs died at the same time. Today's buyers know I've got to sell well to stay in business. I know they've got to buy well to stay in business. When we focus our discussion on whether they need what I can do for them, we both know very early on whether to continue investing time or resources in the conversation or just to say a pleasant, "No, thank you" and move on. It's easier when you keep selling simple.
Michelle M. Nichols