How to position a new-client inquiry
that will lead to an in-person meeting
Question: I’m having difficulty getting potential customers to return my calls. I’ve made several attempts to set up an appointment only to be shot down by the gatekeeper or voicemail. Any suggestions?
Answer: If a potential customer fails to return your call after a first or second contact, don’t assume the person is not interested. He or she may just be busy. Have you ever received an offer in the mail, then set it on a stack to look at and possibly act on later? The same is true with potential new customers. Your first contact may be just enough to pique interest, but not action. Whether that offer is acted upon or forgotten about depends upon your deliberate actions from that point forward. Persisting professionally and systematically pays off.
Here is a step-by-step process for gaining appointments:
* Step One – Seed the account – Gaining an appointment with a new potential customer happens before you see or even speak to the person. Every phone call, voice mail or letter sent leaves an impression on your potential customers. Think of selling as farming rather than hunting. Hunters kill, while farmers cultivate. Account seeding is simply sending information to the client before you call. Clip an article about a business issue that is pertinent to that customer. Attach a business card with a hand-written note such as, "Thought of you when I saw this." You accomplish two things. First, you show the customer that you are following trends in his or her industry. Secondly, you’ve put your name in front of the customer.
* Step Two – Send a letter requesting a meeting – Make it short and to the point. Make sure you stress the value of meeting with you. Here’s an excerpt from a sample letter:
"I will call you on Tuesday morning to ask you to meet with me for 25 minutes. This is a fact-finding meeting to see if you we can save you money on your inventory processing. Good secretaries and voice-mail systems screen managers from interruptions. When you meet with me, I will be presenting information that will help (name of company) improve its profits. Thanks in advance for not treating my call like an interruption."
Avoid sending other company literature with the letter. Let the letter work.
* Step Three – Make The Call
You’ve told your customer that you are going to phone on a particular day. Dial the phone. You may reach your potential customer directly or more likely you will reach the gatekeeper, "May I ask him what this is regarding?"
You say: "He just had a letter from me. I’m following up. He’s expecting my call, and I promised I’d call him this morning."
Say that line with confidence and authority. Expect to be put through.
The gatekeeper puts you through to the prospect, who promptly picks up the phone and says, "Hello."
You say, "Hello, This is (your name). You just had a letter from me and a couple of articles. When is a convenient time for us to get together for a 25-minute fact-finding meeting to see if we can improve your profits? Would a week from tomorrow work, say at 9:15?"
The key is to ask for the appointment next week. If you ask for an appointment this afternoon or tomorrow morning, you tell the prospect that you aren’t very busy. Booking the appointment in advance also gives you an opportunity to confirm the appointment with a handwritten note.
Step Four: Anticipate possible objections – The customer may say, "I appreciate your call, but it’s not in my budget."
You say: "I understand. I don’t know if we should be doing business or not, Mr. Jones. And, at the same time, I have some information that can help you no matter what. I make it a practice to call on people I’d like to meet and who I may be able to help now or in the future. I’ll ask some questions and listen. In any case, it’s a non-decision making, fact-finding call. I wonder if we could get together next Thursday?"
If the prospect says, "Send me some information", you respond with the following:
"I could do that. I have a lot of information and I don’t want to inundate you with information that may not apply to your specific situation. Why don’t we schedule a meeting? I’ll ask you a few questions and provide you with information that will directly relate to saving (name of company) money."
Here is how to think about prospecting. You’re not putting yourself on the line when you dial the phone. The prospect may resist your approach and reject your script, but he is not rejecting you personally. You can always improve your system.
This system only works when you work it. You’ll close a lot of meetings during your first phone contact. If you don’t, or if you’re blocked by the gatekeeper, following are some additional things you can try to gain the attention of a new customer.
Marcia Gauger is the president of Impact Sales, a performance improvement and training company with offices in Wisconsin, Florida and Arkansas. You can contact her at 262-642-9610 or email@example.com. Her column appears in every other issue of SBT.
March 1, 2002 Small Business Times, Milwaukee