Don’t Ask, ‘How Are You?’

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:36 pm

Cold calls and colonoscopies. On first blush, they wouldn’t seem to have too much in common. Until you consider the level of enthusiasm with which most people approach them.

Take up the colonoscopy issue with your doc. The cold call issue I can fix.

Let me qualify that. I can’t guarantee that I’ll remove the fear, but I can – and do -guarantee that I can make cold calls more effective and far less painful for your salespeople. And, I further guarantee that my prescription has not an ounce of schmaltz, gimmickry or any form of patronizing sales trickery.

First, let’s define cold call. We’re not talking about the dinner bell solicitation to push long distance or life insurance. We’re talking about any business-to-business phone call to a contact who doesn’t know you and is not expecting your call. Even a call to someone at an existing account who is not familiar with your company is a cold call. Certainly, any prospecting type of call falls into the cold call bucket as well. Indeed, it’s only slightly hyperbolic to say that the business world as we know it would not exist were it not for the cold call.

Why do we hate them? Let me count the ways. The larger question is why are they so famously unsuccessful? Let’s role-play.

You’re in your office and the phone rings. The voice at the other end says, "Hi Mr. Smith, this is Joe Schmedlap from XYZ Company. How are you?" In the millisecond that follows your mind inserts a video that might play along the lines of the TV commercial where the guy receives a phone call solicitation at home to change his long distance service. He thinks to himself, "We changed plumbers once." Immediately you see his flooded house with water gushing out of windows and doors. He then kindly declines the offer.

The only difference between this scenario and everyday cold calls that salespeople make is the "kindly declines" part. In fact, it’s not unheard of for a certain "colonoscopy-based" word to enter into the dialog before the familiar click.

What’s wrong with Joe’s opening in his call? It’s obvious. It’s the "how are you?" part.

Everything about "how are you?" from an unknown caller screams "pushy salesperson." Yet, nearly all cold calls continue to open with that certain death knell.

What the beleaguered salesperson concludes, it seems, is that either it was a bad time for the contact or he just didn’t like the salesperson’s value message. After all, "it’s not like I just started into my pitch, I even took a second to greet the prospect with a universally-accepted expression of friendship."

Many salespeople think that, if there is a problem with "how are you?", it’s that the prospect will actually think that you mean it and start telling you about his bad day, leaving you with no time for your pitch. Way wrong! If the universe of obnoxious, pushy salespeople had a tag line or a brand identity, it would be this three-worded phrase.

There are other openings like it: "Got a minute?" or, "Is this a good time?" come to mind. They’re equally bad. "Not for you!" and "For what?!" are the predictable responses.

So just how should Joe Schmedlap open his call? Here it is: "Hi Mr. Smith, this is Joe Schmedlap from XYZ Company. I’m sort of calling you out of the blue, can I take just a second to tell you why?" What is Mr. Smith agreeing to in this interaction? Simply a brief explanation as to the reason for the call.

What is your salespeople’s hit rate on getting cold call prospects to even take the time to listen to them? One in ten? One in a hundred? If your salespeople follow this script I guarantee that they will get at least 15 out of 20 prospects to at least listen to the reason for their call. But be warned: don’t mess with the recipe. If, for example, your salesperson adds "of your time" after "just a second" all bets are off. Or, by way of another common mistake, instead of saying, "can I take a second…" the salesperson says something like, "let me take a second…" that similarly invalidates the guarantee.

Of course, the salesperson must have something compelling to say after the prospect agrees to listen. But that, while not a trivial challenge, is, by far, a lesser challenge in cold calling than just getting someone to listen.

Now if they could only come up with a less invasive way of assessing the health of one’s "internals," life would be grand.

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