Silver Linings Playbook: Where You Start Your Sales Career is Not Where You Finish:
Early Career Advice from a CEO Who Started His Career Cold Calling
The second installment
In this installment #2, we will cover some of the basic early stages of the sales process like making phone calls, call objectives, follow-up and the first meeting. The advice I offer in this and subsequent installments assume corporate sales. In particular, B2B sales of consumable products or services and capital goods. The typical sales cycle is months or years versus days (i.e. sales cycle is the average time it takes to go from introduction to a sale).
In the first installment, published May 5th, 2017, I covered four key foundations for long-term sales success: product, practice, persistence, and organization. This second installment digs a little deeper into the first few stages of sales: a) objective, b) phone calls, c) follow-up and d) the first face to face meeting. If want to identify your silver lining in sales it requires dedication. You need to lay the foundation for long-term sales success, and remember to practice, learn and be patient; the rewards are out there!
1. OBJECTIVE: Most sales jobs train representative to accomplish an objective. In some cases, a manager wants a simple task, such as find the best POC and send product information, or a manager may task you to speak with the prospects to gather information about his/her needs and forward the proper information to another person. On the other extreme, you may have the authority to contact the prospect, ask questions and set up a meeting. Regardless, it is critical to understand the objective. There are many sales people who disregard a good script and think they can work spontaneously – bad move. A telephone script is mandatory! A script guides you to ask good questions that focus on the objective. Remember, its easy, and normal, to get excited or caught off guard. Some prospects are in a rush, while others pepper you with questions or dump piles of information on your lap. Don’t lose sight of the objective and document everything.
2. PHONE CALLS: The first contact with a prospect, whether via a cold call or to respond to a request for information, is hard. It is common to resist and procrastinate, but communicating with prospects is your job. Don’t be discouraged if you feel overwhelmed or downright scared. Everyone feels this way and everyone who perseveres gets comfortable. I advise you dedicate time immediately at the start of the day. If you start with office chatter, emails, and gossip, cold calling will suffer. Attack the phone calls early and keep pounding. The emails and gossip will be there in a few hours, but the morning won’t!
3. FOLLOW UP: Most phone calls of this type end in one of the several ways: a) leave a voice mail, b) a short conversation - and then rejection, c) a request for more information, or d) a detailed conversation. In each case, the best plan of action is to follow up with correspondence. You may: a) mention the voice mail and your plan to follow up in 2-3 days, b) confirm a rejection, c) reference specific information requested, including a date you will call back, or d) succinctly summarize the conversation providing appropriate information with an outline of your action steps.
These follow-up tasks are done to organize your thoughts, track and document your efforts and schedule follow-up calls or tasks. It requires time and attention to keep track of all the activity. Never let organization of notes and details linger too long because our memory is unreliable. It does not take long to confuse prospects, projects etc. Believe me, written notes, emails and calendar reminders save careers!
4. FIRST FACE TO FACE (OR VIDEO CALL): I advise sales people to wear clothing that is professional and basic. This is not a fashion show; it’s a sales call. There is a corny old piece of sales advice that goes like this, “all prospects are tuned into one radio channel, WIIFM (What’s In It For Me).” I mention this because sales people are inclined to overdress and engage in “small talk.” My advice is to prepare your questions, keep the first contact short and focus on specific products. Most importantly, respect the prospects’ time. If you say, “all I need is ten minutes of your time”, then after ten minutes say to the person something like, “well, I said I needed ten minutes and my time is up, shall we continue?” If there is interest, they will steer you. The call might end or continue. Follow their lead. They frequently discuss their needs or interests. My advice is to be succinct, take good notes, and before you leave confirm your action steps to the prospect.
Please look for my next installment. Good luck!