HUMAN NETWORK: You Lost Me at “How Are You?”

Nov. 1, 2017
“Hi, this is Ahmad calling from Acme Industries. How are you today?” “Well, Ahmad, I was a lot happier before you called and interrupted me. I’m behind with my project, […]

"Hi, this is Ahmad calling from Acme Industries. How are you today?"

"Well, Ahmad, I was a lot happier before you called and interrupted me. I’m behind with my project, and I’m too busy to leave my desk. Don’t call me again."

The truth hurts, but it’s honest. Ahmad blew it. He had an opportunity to win the ear of the person on the other end of the line, but he squandered it by asking a silly question.

Clueless Ahmad probably won’t get another chance to engage that target. Anyone in the business-to-business sales industry will tell you, stepping off on the right foot can mean the difference between clicking and a terminal "click."

Is there hope for Ahmad and the legions of desperate dialers just like him? Of course there is. By paying careful attention to 3 basic things — preparation, practice, and patience — almost anyone can improve their business-to-business calls.

Are you cold-calling people and hoping for the best, or do you invest an adequate amount of time and effort in homework?

First, do you know what you offer, and can you use under twenty words of conversational English to explain that product or service? If not, don’t make the call.

Second, have you researched the people you plan to call? This doesn’t mean full-throttle cyber stalking, but at a minimum you need to look for them in the usual places: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Google. Search for people by name and company, by name only, and by email address. Together, those three inquiries will yield more complete results than any single query. Searching that way can also reveal personal information you otherwise might have missed that could be useful later.

For example, maybe the email address search leads to a PDF of a Little League baseball team roster. Now you know something about your prospect you might be able to weave into a conversation at some point in the future. A quick word of caution: if you discover information beyond what you see on LinkedIn, whatever you do, don’t admit to the depth of your research unless you want to sound creepy. "I saw on Facebook you and your family had a great time at the Outer Banks last summer." This comes off as extremely invasive.

In addition to research about the people you are calling, you should also know something about the company they work for. At least look at the organization’s website, its LinkedIn profile, and its stock price if the company is public. You should also run a quick search for news mentions.

If you fail to tend to those basics, don’t be surprised if you get caught and have your lack of knowledge held against you. Given the ubiquity of information in the age of the Internet, there is no excuse for not knowing the fundamentals about the organizations you call and the people who work there. Period.

The third step in the preparation process is choosing a reason to call. The more specific it is, the more likely you are to get a thoughtful response.

Imagine for a minute that you sell office supplies, something every business uses. Your ideal customer is a business with 500-1,000 employees. In a perfect world, your customer does not use a purchasing department to procure these products. You prefer to work with office managers. You’ve searched for businesses that meet those criteria, and you’ve done the basic research on the organizations and the relevant staff. Now you’re considering a few openings.

"Good morning. This is Jane Jones with Office Pro Supplies. I’m calling because I’m verifying a mailing list for a promotion we’re running next month. Could you tell me if you’re the most appropriate person to receive information about our copier paper special and if you prefer email notification or hard copy?"

"Good morning. This is Jane Jones with Office Pro Supplies. I’m calling because we sell office supplies to businesses. A lot of them have 1000 or fewer employees. I came across your information on LinkedIn while I was working on something else, and you looked like you might be a good fit for what we do. I wanted to call to see if we could serve as a resource to you. Could you tell me how you are currently purchasing your workplace supplies?"

Either of those is sure better than "Good morning. This is Jane Jones with Office Pro Supplies. How are you today?"

Just as a skilled skater makes jumping, twirling, and other acrobatics look as effortless as breathing, smooth phone selling requires athlete-level discipline. What you say should roll off your tongue and sound natural. A perfect conversation starter will often sound stilted if it’s not practiced. Be prepared to work hard to sound unrehearsed.

Where do you find the time? How about the shower, during your commute (assuming you don’t take public transportation), or as part of scheduled role play? Role playing can be painful and unpleasant, but as the saying goes, no pain, no gain. As uncomfortable as they may be, these exercises are one of the fastest ways to learn.

You follow the preparation and practice instructions to the letter, and your first two calls are a bust. What happened? Maybe you’ve just been unlucky. Not everyone is going to want to talk to you, and that’s their loss. If you have a good reason to call and you offer a product or service that might solve a prospect’s business problem, hold your head up and press on.

Keep dialing, improving, and learning from what works and what doesn’t, and do it with a smile and a good attitude.

Lack of patience will get you no place you want to be. Regularly practice and critique your performance and you will get better. If improvement is not happening fast enough for you, enlist someone you trust to listen in on your calls. His or her comments may sting. Too bad. In the long run, you’ll be glad you got the help.

There’s no secret sauce in the recipe for better business-to-business calls, just elbow grease. With better preparation, practice, and patience everyone can improve their results one call at a time.

About the Author: Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.

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