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Jeff Schmidt

"When Do I Give Up?"


Friday, Edward Lane who is a media personality and account executive from Virginia Talk Radio Network sent me an e-mail with an excellent question. One Im sure weve all wrestled with at some point in our career.

Ed asks:  One issue I struggle with is knowing when to cut bait on cold-calling clients with whom I don't have a relationship and have never had a business conversation. Is there an average number of maximum cold calls (phone and visit) that if made and the contact still isn't established should indicate its time to stop wasting energy? Thank you!

The answer is not an easy one because there are many factors. Lets start with some questions:

 What put them on your radar in the first place? 
 Why do you feel like they are a viable client worthy of your investment of time? 
 What do you know about them at this moment, without talking to them, that leads you to believe you can help?

Harsh reality: They are not returning your calls because you have not given them a compelling reason to. In other words, you have not demonstrated enough "value" in whatever contact you've had to cause them to invest the time to return the call.

Please don't take offense, I've cautioned that it was harsh, but look at your own personal experience? What calls do you return? People you know or things that have relevance, significance, and value in your life. Calls that dont meet those criteria don't get returned. Clients are people too. If youre having trouble getting calls returned, I would encourage you to answer the questions that I posed up front. Start your contact with the client on that basis. Tell them why you are calling, what you have done to prepare for the call, and why you think you can help.

In my experience you have to answer five questions that every client has (but will never tell you they have) before they will meet with you:

1. Why are you here/calling? (Purpose)
2. What is going to happen in this meeting? (Process)
3. Whats in it for me?  (Pay-off)
4. What are your credentials?  (Trust/credibility)
5. How long is this going to take?

Sadly, even if you do a great job answering those questions, some won't return your calls because "they've heard it all before," which means they don't trust what youre telling them. Again, nothing personal, just reality based on their previous experience.

There are two techniques weve been teaching that help set you apart from your competitors:  Seeding and In-Store Surveys.

Seeding is sending articles and information using snail mail to prospects in advance of asking for the appointment.
 Find an article online or in a trade publication that you think may be of value.
 Print or copy the article.
 Attach your business card and handwrite a note that simply says, Ed, I thought you might be interested in this. 
 Then sign your name.
 Hand address the envelope to the client.

Do this three or four times in advance of making the first call or stop-in, and you dramatically increase your chances of getting them to talk to you. Why? Because you have provided something of value, without asking for anything in return. You have made contact with them and you are establishing a frequency of contact. They are getting to know your name. You are building familiarity.

Cold calls have high failure rates. Seeding allows you to make "warm" calls. Seeding requires planning and organization. You have to have a list of "prospects" usually between 10 and 20 that you are willing to seed three or four times before calling. I like seeding a maximum of twice a week, but usually only once a week.

In-store surveys are one of the best ways I've found to immediately talk to the decision-maker. Walk into the store with a clipboard and walk around taking notes. This will definitely get attention. It's a unique and unusual activity that businesses arent used to. A clerk will come up to you and ask you what you are doing. You will smile and say, My job is to find companies and help them improve their profitability. Before I determine who I'm going to work with I like to conduct an in-store survey to see what the business is all about. I'm just doing my research."  

Ninety percent of the time they will run back and tell the boss. The boss will then come out and ask you what you are doing. You will give a very similar answer, but you will then have the opportunity to tell them the purpose, process, and pay-off as to why you are there. Even if they dont come and talk to you, you have a great conversation starter for the call. It would go like this: Client, in preparing to call you today I conducted an in-store survey of your facility. Find something to compliment them about and then tell them you have a suggestion or two based on that survey and youd like to share it with them.

Want more calls returned? Stop making cold calls. Do more pre-call planning before you make the call. Answer the clients five unstated questions. The more curiosity, value, and interest you can establish prior to making the call, the more likely you will be able to have the call returned or accepted. I have a Pre-Contact checklist with some tips on how to prepare in advance for that first contact. If youd like a copy, just send me an email.

If you do all of that and are still not getting a return call, when to stop calling is a judgment thing. If the client is of great potential value, keep pursuing. Most sellers give up after five attempts. If I really think I can help and the client is a good fit, I won't give up before 15-20 attempts. Look at it as a challenge, not a frustration. Look for new and innovative ways to build trust and value. Understand this simple truth: Nobody returns a call unless they have a compelling reason to do so.

I was impressed that Ed had very clear and specific reasons for calling on the clients that were not returning his calls. I encouraged him to make certain the clients know why hes calling. People buy the way you sell before they buy what you sell. Im confident that once Ed starts communicating the reasons why hes calling, people will be more responsive.

Use the space below or send me an e-mail with other techniques youve used to get the attention of prospects and get calls returned.

Jeff Schmidt is EVP and partner at Sparque, Inc. You can reach Jeff at:
Twitter: @JeffreyASchmidt