Now that it’s officially 2015, we hope you’re feeling a wave of fresh optimism and renewed energy to take your sales to a higher plateau this year. But of course you can’t depend on enthusiasm or the economy itself to drive new business.
You’ve got to apply proven strategies to accelerate leads, appointments, and sales. And in business-to-business context, getting to the right person at the target company in the shortest amount of time is key to your prospecting success.
There are two basic ways you can improve cold calling results – changing what you say (communication) and changing how you work (process). Today we’re going to focus on that process.
How to cut the time it takes to reach decision makers at target companies
A college student we know was having a hard time managing his five-course workload during the first semester. He was so obsessed studying for one particular class he neglected everything else and ended up with 4 Fs and a D.
It’s an ironic joke, but it points to the importance of balancing your efforts and paying careful attention to the time you invest in the overall process.
Getting to the insurance decision maker (DM) at each target business is one of the most challenging parts of business-to-business teleprospecting. In general, it’s easier to reach decision makers at smaller companies.
Navigating through fields of unhelpful gatekeepers, large, dispersed corporate organizations, and labyrinthine voice mail systems takes time. You may on occasion get lucky and reach the DM on the first call, but most likely it will take 3-7 attempts to reach that key person.
The more you can do to shorten that “reach time”, the sooner you’ll resolve that target (by getting a “yes”, “no”, or “pending” response) – and proceed to the next target on your list.
But there is one particular phantom obstacle — known as random reinforcement — that can fog the mind of even the smartest salespeople and push them into a time-wasting rut of obsessive and unproductive activity.
Remember those psych experiments from college where rats get rewarded with food pellets when they push a lever in their cage? When the rewards come at random times, the rats become compulsively addicted to lever pressing, and will do it continually to keep getting the food treats. Even when the rewards are cut off, those rats keep pressing at the expense of everything else, and sometimes even die in the process.
People who play slot machines can get caught up in this kind of compulsive behavior. And producers and telemarketers making cold calls can also fall into this kind of behavioral rut caused by random reinforcement. When that happens, you end up calling the same company again and again, vainly trying to reach the DM, way past any realistic measure of effectiveness.
The way to override the unconscious, unproductive habits created by random reinforcement is to keep careful track of your calling activities, and use that data as your guide. In other words, manage prospecting with reason instead of intuition and emotion.
Of course it’s natural to feel elated when you land an appointment, and to feel discouraged when you’re turned down, or can’t connect with the right people. But you’ll benefit enormously by focusing your attention on the calling statistics rather than how you feel during the prospecting session.
You don’t need sophisticated software to do this, though even a basic Contact Management or Customer Relationship Management (CRM) program will make things much more efficient by keeping track of calling activities, and allowing you to schedule alarms for future calls and emails.
The key here is to know how many attempts you’re making to get to each DM, and to stop calling a suspect business when you’ve reached the point of statistically diminishing returns where it’s less likely you’ll reach that DM than the decision maker at the next company on your calling list.
Create a work plan based on real data and follow it consistently
Imagine you’re starting with a list of 100 target companies and you know from past experience that you’ll be able to schedule sales appointments with 10 out of the 100. To get the most out of your prospecting efforts you want to find those 10 prospects as soon as possible without spending unnecessary time with the other 90 targets.
Work your list of suspect businesses in an orderly way, calling each business in turn and proceeding with the strong intention to reach the DM and resolve each target – that is get a “yes”, “no”, or pending x-date lead with as few calls as possible. The rule of thumb is to call each business once before making a second attempt to reach any of the targets. But there are exceptions.
On the first call to a particular company the gatekeeper might tell you they’re unhappy with their current agent, or that their renewal is in three months and they plan to get an outside insurance review this year. When indications like those make a suspect more promising, you want to pay more attention to getting to that DM than the other targets on the list.
Making each call count
Busy gatekeepers can be brusque, so it’s up to you to establish rapport quickly and garner their help in getting the information you need to connect with the right person. Have a strong intention, be methodical, and respect the gatekeepers as a great resource.
- If you’ve got a big list, break it down into manageable groups of 50-100 targets.
- Ask about the about the best times to reach the DM.
- Ask for email addresses and mobile phone numbers.
- At smaller suspect companies, ask if, when, and how they typically review insurance and risk with other agents.
- If the gatekeeper tells you the DM’s line is busy, ask if you can hold for a minute.
- At larger organizations ask if the DM has an assistant you could speak with. That person can also be very helpful.
- If the gatekeeper doesn’t know who’s in charge of the insurance, ask to speak to someone in Accounts Payable, Finance, HR or the Sales Office – those people may be more knowledgeable and help you get to the right person.
- Ask the gatekeeper if the DM is reachable before 9:00 or after 5:00. If he is, make sure the number you’re calling will ring through then or get a different number.
- If your call goes directly to an automated attendant instead of a real person, try calling another time of day, and stop after no more than 3 attempts if you’re not able to reach a real person.
- And don’t be afraid to ask the gatekeeper if you’re barking up the wrong tree. If you’ve called a few times and sense the DM is ducking your call, be direct and with sincerity and lighthearted tone, ask the GK if she thinks the DM is open to taking your call. If not, be glad you asked. Stop calling and take that business off your radar. You’re now one target closer to finding those ten prospects in a 100-target list.
Getting to the right people on the phone takes determination, resourcefulness, and know-how. With a good system based on data points like a realistic calls to contacts ratio you’ll cut out lots of wasted efforts and boost productivity big time.
If you have other ideas to streamline the prospecting process we’d love to hear. Let us know in the comments section below. And don’t forget to share this with your colleagues.