Contributed by Business Development Manager Paul O’Donnell
If you are a business development professional and you are still prospecting the same way you did five to ten years ago, I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news…
“Cold calling”, and prospecting in general, have developed such a negative connotation over the years that business development professionals avoid at all costs and this is due (in part) to the evolution of the modern decision maker. The modern decision maker doesn’t work the same way he/she did five to ten years ago. The modern decision maker is more educated on what they or their business actually need. The modern decision maker is also VERY skilled at dodging phone calls. I recently had a conversation with two peers in the business development world and they shared two recent roadblocks when trying to procure a meeting with a potential prospect.
- Peer #1 (lets call him Steve) was referred to a prospect by that prospect’s wife. The wife of the prospect had passed Steve’s card along and asked that the prospect meet with Steve because Steve and his organization could show the prospect value moving forward. Steve was informed by the wife to leave the prospect a voicemail “because he never answers his phone, he gets cold called all day” and in his message be detailed about who he is and why he is calling because the prospect will quickly delete the message if it sounds like a cold call. The prospect will then call Steve back to set the meeting. So here we have a decision maker who refuses to even answer his phone for fear of being cold called.
- Peer #2 (we’ll call him Jeff) was trying to get back in touch with a prospect he had previously met with. Jeff had left the prospect several voice mails with no return call. Jeff decided to send the prospect an email to try another avenue, but Jeff’s outbound emails kept bouncing back as ‘undeliverable’. Frustrated, Jeff went to his office’s IT professional and asked for assistance. The IT professional informed Jeff that it wasn’t Jeff’s email that was faulty, the prospect had contacted Jeff with a ‘No-Reply’ email address. So here we have a decision maker, so fearful of being prospected, that his email is not capable of receiving replies.
The two above examples were not even your standard “Cold Call”. These were referrals/warm calls that my peers struggled to get through to because these individuals were so terrified of being prospected all day every day. No matter what you are attempting to market to a potential prospect (a physical product or, like me, consulting services) this can pose a real problem. You can’t prove value to an individual or an organization without that initial meeting, and you can’t get meetings if you are unable to make contact.
So, what’s the answer? By no means am I telling anyone that they shouldn’t at least TRY making phone calls. But the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If you call and call and leave message after message then perhaps you need to change things up. Change things up not only for your own business benefit, but because you risk getting to the point of becoming a pest, and no one wants to do business at any level with someone they find annoying. Here are a few things that I have tried as the face of prospecting has evolved (if anyone reading this has any other methods that have been successful, please share them in the comments):
- Try a mix of calls and emails. Be forthright with the person on the other end that you are looking to speak to a particular person within the organization. If the contact you are reaching out to isn’t that person, ask if they can help point you in the right direction.
- Reach out to the person you are trying to contact via LinkedIn (that’s why we are all here after all, to make professional connections).
- Request an introduction either via LinkedIn or at an event from a mutual connection, its the modern day ‘warm lead’.
- If you HAVE to leave a message or send an email as an initial contact, position yourself as a subject matter expert who can show value to that contact and you are more likely to garner a response.
- STOP trying to sell on the phone. Approach “sales” as a true relationship where each party needs to provide value to the other party. Show value in the form of how you have helped similar organizations and ask if any of those issues are prevalent in theirs. If you approach your initial contact and just start into a sales pitch, you are going to fail.
I don’t care who you are calling or why; if you call and call and simply leave a message with your name and company with a request for a return call, you might as well send smoke signals. They’re more likely to be returned than that message.