Getting Through Gatekeepers – Cold Calling

One of the most frequently asked questions on any cold callers wish list is;

I make lots of cold calls. Once I am connected to the decision maker (DM) I am usually successful in securing an appointment. However I find it difficult to work with or around the Gatekeepers! Do you have any suggestions or tips to help me get past gatekeepers?

Let’s first of all take a look at the role of a gatekeeper.

The role of a gatekeeper is to protect the DM from any calls that are simply nuisance value. Consequently the gatekeeper has to take decisions on whether or not your call is of sufficient value to be transferred to their boss. Consequently if you are to stand any chance of being put thorough to a DM, you must be able to convince the gatekeeper that you are one of or all of the following;

• You are important

• You are able to help the DM in his day-to-day issues/problems

• You are polite and business like.

Many protagonists suggest you should befriend the gatekeeper. Whilst I do not disagree with the underlying sentiment of this statement, I do ask that you consider whether or not the person on the other end of the phone is as capable and as passionate as you are to promote the reasons why the DM should actually meet with you. In many cases it would be better to be put through to voice mail. Whilst this is not an ideal scenario you can at least be assured that you will put across your message with the same level of commitment and passion as you would do so if you were connected directly. In fact in many cases I would even recommend this in preference to befriending the gatekeeper in the forlorn hope that they will  “sell ” you to the decision maker. I would even suggest leaving a voice mails could be a better option than simplt ‘sending information’ to the gatekeeper which is likely to end up in the bin or in the case of email be blocked out by spam filters. At least with voice mail you get the opportunity to leave a personal message with at least a good reason reason as to why the DM should consider meeting with you or at least take or return your calls.

Here are my top tips when dealing with gatekeepers;

Tip One – Never Tell Lies

Never tell lies to get through. Many sales trainers advise that it is OK to tell the occasional white lie – if this means you are put through to the DM. For example saying you are returning their call, when in fact this is untrue. This could land you in serious hot water with a DM if you are found out to be less than honest in dealing with gatekeepers. Do not pretend to be a relative or long-lost friend who is trying to reconnect. Do not say it is a personal call unless that is the truth. Good gatekeepers will always check your assertions and will probe with further questions before they decide to put you through.

I would always advise against telling lies in a sales situation. There are better ways to get connected to a DM without risking your integrity and the sale!

Tip Two – Sound Important

Most gatekeepers tread a fine line between stopping everyone except those who are in regular contact with the DM (white list) and letting through those callers who are of sufficient value and importance that it would be ill-advised not to transfer the caller to the DM.

Speak slowly and clearly and increase your chances of being put through. I know this sounds crazy but most executives speak slowly and calmly. Also use senior job titles. This may sound condescending but the bigger the title the more likely you are to get transferred.

Introduce yourself as follows;

I am John Smith (Name). I am the business development director of XYZ ltd. Can you put me thorough to Jim, Thanks?

Notice in this phrase we did not ask if anyone was available? We simply asked to be put through to Jim. This inferred that we knew Jim and that we were important.

Tip Three – Find out DM contact name before you make your appointment call.

This may sound obvious but there is no better way to alert the attention of a gatekeeper to a sales call by asking;

Can you tell me who is in charge of….responsible for…makes the decisions on etc? Closely followed by; Can I speak to Mr Smith? Is Mr. Smith available?

You may as well have said; This is a sales call. Please put me through to the person who makes decisions on………

When you are doing your pre-call research make an effort to obtain a contact name. Once you have a contact name call them at a later date.

Tip Four – Do not sell to the gatekeeper

Remember the objective is to speak to a DM. When the gatekeeper asks

what is the call in connection with” or “regarding”

keep your response to a minimum. The potential number of responses is wide and varied. The responses will be different based on why you wanted to talk to the DM in the first place.

There are three principal reasons why a DM might want to take an unsolicited call.

1. Potential to increase sales

2. Possibility to decrease costs/expenditure

3. Chance of improving productivity and or communication across the organization.

Therefore three potential responses could be

1. It’s about business development, Thank you!

2. It’s about managing business expenditure, Thank you!

3. It’s about improving productivity or communication in the organization, thanks.

Do not try to tell them who you are and why you are calling and why the DM would want to speak to you. This is more than likely going to result in a statement

Can you send some information and we will get back to you if there is any interest!

Remember you need to sell to the DM – not the gatekeeper.

Tip Five – Be Confident, Not Apologetic

So many telemarketers apologise at the start of the call. A decision maker does NOT want to hear someone making an apology for disturbing them. They want to hear someone who is confident – someone who can provide a solution to a problem or issue that is currently causing them some concern.

Tip Six – Be Creative

Find a way to get your message in front of the DM with no filter whatsoever!

Here is a suggestion that might be worthy of consideration. Send them a rose to their works address with a card marked private. This way the rose will get to them without being “filtered”. When they open the card the message might read.

What would you do you if your website could attract treble the number of visitors it does right now?

What would you do if you could increase sales by 20%?

What would you do if you could cut costs on your IT spend by 25%? Etc

The message continues. I will call you next week. Friday 23rd at 1230hrs to see if you are open to finding out how this can be done!

What are the chances of this call being taken? I suspect more than an outright cold call. Be creative and you might just increase your chances of the call being accepted without question.

Tip Seven – Expect to be put through

Your attitude and frame of mind plays a big part in your chance of success. The best cold callers fervently believe that they will be put through to the decision maker at the start of each call. This frame of mind sets them apart from others mere mortals who could only wish to emulate their success. Learn to replicate this positive frame of mind and you too will increase your chances of achievement.

Tip Eight – If all else fails get GK to talk to GK

If you are getting nowhere fast then it might be time to speak in the same language. The language of gatekeepers that is! Get your gatekeeper to talk to theirs.

Imagine if you get a call-  Hi this is (name) I am the PA of (Name, Position and Company). John has asked me to arrange a meeting with Name (Target). Can you please let me know the best way of arranging a meeting with Peter please?It may be just enough to secure you an appointment.

Happy hunting!

Filling your sales pipeline

picture1Successful sales people are masters at generating opportunities. More so they understand the importance of developing a full and ongoing pipeline of sales opportunities. So how do we ensure that we have sufficient number of sales opportunities in our pipeline?

Here are some tips to help you search out those opportunities;

  • Email can be a great source of opportunities. When did you last check back through your mails? Use the follow up flagging system in Outlook to classify any mail that could be a prospect or needs follow up. Then from time to time search through the mails marked for follow up.
  • Previous clients. Look back in your records and those of your organisation. Check out clients that have been supplied in the past. If you haven’t been in touch for some time schedule a call. You might be pleasantly surprised at the response.
  • Trade magazines. All trade magazines have features and advertisers. These often provide information on companies that you were unaware of and the issues your industry is facing. The amount of leads gained from trade press alone should be worth the subscription.
  • Existing clients. These should be easier to move along your pipeline as you already have a business relationship. Make sure you are up to date on their activities and purchases. Use lots of open questions to find out as much as possible about their issues, problems, what keeps them awake at night. Solve those issues and you are on your way to making more sales.
  • Exhibitions. One does not have to be an exhibitor to take advantage of the opportunities that attendance can bring. Where else can one bump into many people in one place at a time and start up a conversation. It’s a lot easier than cold calling and you can meet literally hundreds of people in the day. Why not book yourself on to an exhibition? Set yourself a task to meet 20 people in the day. Remember to follow up.
  • Networking. Make it a behavioural trait to put as many people in contact with others who can help each other. Your investment will pay back in time with people referring opportunities to you.
  • Business cards/Contacts list. Review these regularly. We all forget how many people we have in our contact arena. Keep accurate records in a CRM database.
  • Newsletters. If like me you have a large number of contacts and it is impossible to maintain regular contact then newsletters and promotions can be a valuable way of maintaining contact and building a relationship.
  • Internet searches and directories. Unbelievable source of information.
  • Library (main local) has access to company lists and records. They also sell marketing lists with contact details.
  • Use a call centre. External companies will for a fee take over some or all of your outbound prospecting and cold calling. They should generate appointments for you to follow up and convert into customers.
  • PPC or pay per click. Google, Yahoo and MSN all have cost per click advertising. Great way to get to the top of the search listings. Useful when you have a niche product that can be sold on line.
  • Google Alerts. Set up a Google alert for things like “new restaurant <in your town>, Increases capacity in <your product types> etc and you will be prompted with automatic alerts on new opportunities.
  • Invest in a good CRM system (customer relationship management system).

The above list is not exhaustive and many other ways exist to generate leads to fill your sales pipeline.

Good luck with your prospecting!

Securing appointments

business20interviewWho is responsible for creating warm leads or opening client doors in your organization?

In large organizations, generating warm leads is often the responsibility of the marketing department, who assuming they are doing their job correctly will have already established a local or international brand position helping open doors for you and your sales teams. Your marketing team will, having crafted some novel and interesting ways of engaging client interest, generated a plethora of warm leads for the sales team to follow-up.

On the other hand, if you are working for a smaller company without an established brand image and an limited marketing budget, you will need to learn how to work with or around the gatekeeper and open doors to decision makers and possibly influencers to raise awareness of your product and service? Most sales people find this the most demanding task of all. If you fear rejection then prospecting and cold calling is likely to drive you crazy and make you wish you had taken up another career.

One thing for sure is that cold calling is not for the faint hearted. Couple this with a lack of creativity and a number of sales people fail at this first hurdle. But is it all that bad? Here are some tips that will help overcome the fear barrier and assist you to deliver some impressive sales figures.

Networking

Look closely at your network of contacts. Resolve to improve your network of contacts that are able to generate more business referrals. Somewhere in excess of 60% of all business is done through recommendation and research shows that it is easier to close business when a strong recommendation has been given by a third party.

Imagine if someone calls you out of the blue and wanted to arrange an appointment to talk about some business. Without a compelling reason what is the likelihood of you taking the call? Pretty slim I would guess. Alternatively you call your prospect and explain that John Smith of Fargo and Sons (a close friend and /or associate of your prospect) suggested that I call you regarding………….. How more likely is this call to be taken?

Networking works but takes time. It is not a quick fix and needs some discipline, persistance and time to work effectively. There are formal and informal networks out there. Go and seek them out and watch you sales opportunities grow.

Getting an appointment

I was recently working with a group of sales people and the topic of cold calling and the dreaded words “Thanks but I am not interested” came up. One of the delegates shared with us an interesting way on how he managed to secure meetings with prospects and managed to avoid the “thanks but we are not interested” statement.

Having done some research on the contact details of the decision maker or key influencer in the prospect organization the delegate dialed the person in question. The person who answered the call was more often than not a secretary or person, whose role was to filter calls as much as possible. The call went somewhat along the following lines.

Hello can I help you?
Yes can I speak to John Smith?
Can I ask what the call is in connection with?
Yes, my name is David. I sent some literature by mail to Ian (prospect) from my company ABC Ltd last week for his information. This is a follow up call to see if he managed to take a look at it and see if we can be of assistance.

The secret here was that John had actually sent nothing!!!!! Consequently he had the reply – I am sorry bit we cannot remember seeing it. David offers his apologies and explains that this has happened with some other clients and suspects that there could be a problem with the post and to ensure that it does not get lost again would it be OK to drop the literature in personally to ensure that it does not get lost a second time.

Both parties at this point are trying to save embarrassment and agree to have the literature hand delivered. John explained to me that he secured more appointments with this method than any other.

Comments from the rest of the attendees was mixed. Some said they would never do this and others suggested they would try it. Some felt it was unethical.

What do you think?
Have you tried this method?
What other methods have you used that have worked for you?

There are lots of sales people out there looking for advice on how to open doors. Let’s share our experiences good or bad and get in front of more prospects.