A few days ago, I got a call from someone trying to enroll me  in one of their online educational programs.  Typically, I don’t have problem with this.  After all, a week before the call, I had clicked on a web page advertisement indicating I was looking for information about online universities.

By now, everyone knows this is a marketing play.  It’s a way for organizations to get your information into their CRM and nurture people who are interested in their products and services.  In today’s environment, if you aren’t incorporating this into your marketing process you are behind the times.  It’s a cost-effective way to get prospects to select themselves and show their interest in what you are offering.

What I have trouble accepting are sales reps with poor communication skills performing the follow-up phone calls.

The young woman I spoke with on this occasion launched right into her boring, cold calling script. Every time I asked her a question it threw her off her script. And at every instance, she snapped back to that script faster than an overstretched rubber band suddenly cut.  Not only was it a waste of my time, it wasn’t even entertaining.  From the tone of the conversation, neither of us wanted to be on the call and neither of us wanted to be rude.  I’m sure she was going through the motions because she had a quota to fill.

After about 10 minutes of this exercise, we ended the call where she politely thanked me for my time.

It was standard stuff as far as cold calls go.

Another Sample Cold Call That Failed

On another occasion, I got a call from a guy who asked for me by name.  He said I qualified for a free magazine subscription and all I had to do was verify my contact information.  He then proceeded to read his script from his note card.

Again, the call was boring and unoriginal!  The lack of enthusiasm in his voice didn’t help either.

You can tell when the person on the other end is reading a script.  There is no life in their voice and they pause in some linguistically unusual places.  My guess is that the misplaced hesitations occur at the end of the line they are reading.  Then, they must scan back to the left-hand side and find the beginning of the next line, making their speech sound like they are reading a book.

Now, one thing I ask when I am pressed for time is, “Is this a good time?”  It’s a way of saying that I don’t have time right now and they didn’t get permission to move the sales process forward.

So, while this guy was reading from his card, I stopped him and asked him if this was a good time.  He replied, “Yes, it’s a good time for me.” and continued with his boring script!

How Cold Calling Has Evolved

Cold calling is one of those things that sales people hate to do.  It involves a lot of rejection and it just seems very ineffective at times.  So as sales people, we approach it with trepidation.  And that “I don’t want to do this so let’s just get it over with” attitude comes through.  I’ve done it myself and I can say that it isn’t much fun.

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed plenty of consultants teaching cold calling is outdated or dead.  They take the approach that cold calling today is a useless activity. If we use the cold calling definition passed down to us from the 50’s, then I agree it’s ineffective.  Imagine the classic sales rep, going from door-to-door, trying to sell something he doesn’t believe in to someone he’s never met who has no interest in him or what he’s selling.  But he hits every door because a sales instructor told him that selling is a numbers game and if he hits plenty of people, he’ll make his numbers.

The creators of these new programs take the approach that you’ll find it easier to talk to people who have given you their permission. These prospects liked something in your offer.  And they’ve said, “Yes, I am interested in your class, widget, or book”.  Now the sales rep has a qualified lead or a warm prospect to follow up with. They now have a reason to make the call.

Communication Skills Are Still A Requirement For Cold Calling

Now here’s the underlying problem I have when people “warm call” me.  They haven’t bothered to update their communication skills. They don’t know how to deliver their value proposition or conduct a discovery process.

It doesn’t matter if I’ve raised my hand by downloading a whitepaper or if I’m a traditional cold call.  I am not interested in buying anything from someone who’s reading a script and asking me general questions.  It shows you don’t understand my needs nor have an interest in helping me get what I want.

Sales may be a numbers game. But the prospect you’ve contacted doesn’t want to be treated like a number.  They are a living, breathing person and they want you to treat them as such. They want to solve their problems and they want to feel special.  That prospect is proclaiming, “I am not a number! I am a free man!” (Sorry, just couldn’t help myself).

Even in these “no more cold calling” programs where prospects raise their hand and say that they’re interested, you still must know what to say and how to say itWe cover these two topics as well as two others in the ebook, Maximum Impact. Click to download your copy.  That takes communication skills and a healthy dose of self-confidence.

Let us face it. You need communication skills to gain rapport with the person who raised their hand. Otherwise, they’ll leave you to find someone who can fill their need, no matter how enticing your offer.  Even if we use the old assertion that selling is a “numbers game”, then here is your formula for success:

“X” number of interested prospects times “0” skill level yields “0” sales and a lot of dissatisfied people.

Three Tips To Enhance Your Communication Skills

Here is something to keep in mind.  Your sales production will depend on how you open a sales call.  Your ability to get the person’s attention and deliver a value proposition will determine your overall effectiveness.

Here are three tips to improve  your communication skills and your ability to gain rapport when you cold call a prospect or follow-up on a marketing lead:

  1.    Ask a question bearing on time.  Ask your contact if it’s a good time for them to have a conversation.  They’ll appreciate the fact that you respect their time.  If it isn’t a good time, scheduled a meeting at a future date.
  2.    Ask for a meeting, not an appointment.  You make appointments with your doctor, your dentist, and your lawyer.  When you make an appointment, it involves money leaving your hands and receiving pain in return.  You want to be a consultant for your clients and bring some sanity to their lives.  You don’t want prospect to lump you with the group that takes money and delivers pain.  Regardless of the veracity of this association, it is the unconscious perception.  In marketing and sales, perception is reality.  Ask for a meeting.
  3.    Talk about something that interests them.  If you are “cold calling”, you’ll have a harder time talking about their interests. So do some investigative legwork before you call.  But if you are following up on a marketing lead, then you already have something that’s of interest to them.  They opted into your marketing program for a reason. They downloaded your white paper, signed up for your newsletter or checked a box stating that they wanted your speaking schedule.  Politely ask them the reason for requesting your documentation.

Final Thoughts on Communication Skills and Cold Calling

Don’t get me wrong.  I like programs like “Cold Calling is Dead” and “No More Cold Calling”.  They show a fundamental shift in how we are thinking about marketing and sales.  In the 21st century, it’s important that you get the other person’s attention. You must also generate interest in your offer, or as Dale Carnegie writes, “arouse in the other person an eager want.” 

But above all else, you need to be genuinely interested in other people before you can communicate with them about their wants, needs and desires.

So regardless if your marketing campaign involves old style cold calling or new style lead generation with follow up calls, develop your communication skills so that you can effectively deliver your value proposition and understand the needs of the people you are calling. You’ll have more happy clients, make more sales and have less stress than those other sales reps who are still reading their cold calling script.

Good selling.