As published on Forbes.com
I received a cold-call this week that I just had to share. The caller, who I’ll call Ashton, called from a company that sells business development services to speakers and authors (like me). I’m sure they are a fine company. Perhaps he used slightly different words, but what I heard Ashton say was “We’re connected on LinkedIn, and I see you are a speaker. What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing and we can see how we might be able to do business together.” Perhaps you know people who take a similar approach when they call a potential client. Let me explain why this approach is wrong on so many levels. I feel compelled to share the right and wrong way to pursue a potential client.
What Was Wrong
Someone taught Ashton his method, and I’m confident he followed what he had been taught with precision. Perhaps you’ve been taught similar approaches. It’s not your fault. Since Ashton’s company claims to perform sales and business development services, I would have expected a better conceived approach… perhaps even one that had been developed more recently than 1985.
The Biggest Mistake
Old school sales trainers teach professionals to ask the prospect something like “What keeps you up at night?” There are two major problems with asking this type of question: 1) The caller is a complete stranger. Even if I had a challenge, would I share it with a complete stranger? and 2) The caller did not give me any context for the type of challenges they fix. This means that I might respond with challenges that his company could not support. So, Ashton was either going to get no response, or he could potentially get a response outside of his company’s expertise. Either outcome translates to a waste of time.
Your Customer Does Not Work For You
I asked Ashton to share, based on his research about me, where he felt his company could make the greatest impact. Ashton replied by asking “Where do you think you need the most help?” The first thought that came to my mind was “My biggest challenge right now is getting back the moments of my life I’ve wasted on this call with you.”
I wanted to help Ashton, so I asked him where they have the greatest impact for others. He explained that they help people do a better job of selling their products and services. Ironic. With a simple Google search, Ashton might have learned that I write weekly in this fine publication about selling, have written two bestselling books on the subject, and speak professionally around the world about selling with integrity. The point is that Ashton did not do any advance research. He just dialed and hoped that following his script would produce results. That approach doesn’t work.
The Right Way To Pursue Opportunities
If Ashton had asked for my advice, I would have given him these keys to successfully pursue business opportunities:
- Entice, Disarm, and Discover: We cover this concept in detail in Same Side Selling. My co-author spent decades in procurement and purchasing, and the formula is proven. Entice by sharing problems you likely solve with dramatic results for your clients; Disarm by acknowledging that not everyone is a fit for those results; and trigger a Discovery phase to learn more about their situation to see if you can help. Remember, the goal is not a meeting. The goal is to determine if the client has an issue worth solving (that you can solve).
- Plan In Advance: You might think that you don’t have time to research each person you contact. Think again. Your customers will respect you when you call them having done some research. But, don’t try to prove something. Rather, you might say “I noticed that you recently spoke at the Allstate conference. 0-10, how did that go for you?” Demonstrating NO knowledge of your customer will quickly make them feel like speaking with you is a complete waste of time… at least that’s how I felt. Keep in mind, I invest considerably with outside vendors… it just wasn’t going to be with Ashton’s company.When doing your research, look for “symptoms” that might indicate challenges you are good at solving. Share third party stories about how you‘ve helped others address similar situations.
- Add Value: Your customer is not in the business of helping you sell things to them. If you can quickly establish where you might add value, then you might entice their interest. Rarely is your customer crying in their office because no vendors will speak with them.You might share unbiased articles, videos, or valid research. Here’s a hint: A whitepaper that says the customer should buy your stuff is NOT considered valid research or unbiased content.
What To Take Away From The Experience
If you want to attract the right clients, you need to define the challenges you solve, and know what symptoms might indicate a need for your products or services. When you reach out, concisely share the types of problems you solve that are most likely to resonate with the other party. Once you disarm, then you’ll quickly know if you’ve piqued their interest. You ultimately want to show up as someone there to solve, not sell.
It’s Your Turn
Post a comment with a description of the problems you excel at solving. I’ll give you feedback, and a reader might be happy to find someone who can solve that challenge.