There’s no getting away from it, cold calling has a bad reputation. Thanks to low-quality call centres and their ilk, it’s often seen as the telephonic equivalent of a size-12 boot jammed in your doorway; a volume game driven by blunt sales targets and even blunter sales managers: “I don’t care what you say – just get the sale. Now.”
But this disreputable approach is a world away from the hugely important and genuinely skilful art of proper telephone BD. At its best, using the phone as a business development tool not only brings in sales, it also builds brands and reputations, opening locked doors in the process.
However, telephone-based BD is challenging. Trying to talk to someone you don’t know who’s inevitably pressed for time is tough enough. Winning them over in five minutes or less is harder still.
To gain insights into effective cold calling, we met up with one of the best in the business, Monique Griffin, new business executive at PKF Cooper Parry. Here’s what she told us…
1) Clarity of vision is crucial
“If your firm knows exactly who it is, what it stands for and what it does best, that makes picking up the phone so much easier,” says Monique. “For example, at PKF Cooper Parry we see ourselves as being the best at advising privately owned businesses. We are privately owned ourselves and have vast experience in that area. That enables me to deliver a clear message and gives me real belief in my pitch.”
2) Create a list of achievable aims for each call
“I open each conversation by introducing myself and my firm. I don’t use scripts because it’s difficult to speak to people effectively when reading through pre-prepared content. Also, you never know who you’ll end up speaking to and you need to be flexible depending on who it is. However, I do call with a list of broad aims in mind – three or four things that I want to communicate during the call. Depending on who I’m calling, those are likely to be: who we are, who I am and what my role is, plus an agreed date for a follow-up call.”
3) Remember that developing any relationship takes time
“Many cold callers are desperate to chalk up an instant win, whether that’s a face-to-face meeting or a sale. That’s the wrong approach.
“The initial phone conversation is just the first stage. If you finish that opening conversation with your target knowing who you are, what your firm stands for, why they might like to consider talking to you in the future, and a date for a follow-up call – whether that’s three, six or even 12 months down the line – that’s an excellent result.”
4) Show confidence to get past the gatekeepers
“It’s very rare to get straight through to the person whom you want to talk to. Sometimes you need a little luck but sounding confident is crucial. It also helps if you can give the receptionist or secretary a specific purpose for your call, as you will almost certainly be asked why you’re calling. That purpose could be to communicate a certain piece of information or to follow up on an email.”
5) Make them feel special and ensure your conversation is unique
“Everyone you speak to needs to be treated with the utmost care and respect. A CRM (customer relationship management) system helps. I log the details of all calls on my CRM so I can see the history of the relationship. I record snippets from conversations so I know when people are likely to be busy, so I can refer to their special interests, and so I can discuss information such as blogs they’ve posted. Recording those details is important as it helps you to develop the relationship over time.
6) Develop a thick skin and think positively
“Just because someone says, ‘I really can’t talk right now’ it does not mean that they are rejecting you. They’re probably just too busy, so, if possible, arrange another time to call, say thanks and move on.
“Here’s an example of why you should never give up: recently I made a target call and spoke to someone for the very first time. They said there was nothing they needed and they were too busy to meet. I told them I would send an email to explain why PKF Cooper Parry are the best at what we do. In that email I said I would call back in three months. When the time came, I called back and they asked me to call again in two weeks. Just a couple of days later, I received an email with a work specification. We won several thousands’ pounds worth of business, all thanks to that initial phone call. And now we’re pitching for an even bigger piece of work.”
As Monique says, you need to be adaptable, thick skinned and highly motivated to be an effective telephone business development professional. It’s a challenging role that places you right at the coalface of the business, and those who hone their skills and become good at it are immensely beneficial to any firm. Perhaps the most important idea that Monique shares is the fact that building relationships takes time. It’s not about instant results. The desire for a quick win is the very thing that has given cold calling such a bad name. Genuine telephone marketing is more about using the phone to give birth to positive new relationships. That first ‘cold’ call is just the first stage in a long and patient journey.