My phone rang as I was watching the hockey game. Despite caller ID’s warning, I took the inbound sales call – turns out my team was not playing to their potential and I was happy to have the distraction. The person on the other end introduced himself and said that he was from XYZ Bank and said “we sent you a pamphlet about investing. Do you remember receiving it?”  I said that I did not recall receiving it. He then asked “are you interested in speaking with me about our investment services?”  Out of 100 calls, how many people under those circumstances say “yes?’  Did he even have to ask?  Will this poor soul get ANYONE to say yes?

There is a valuable lesson from this – an all too common mistake that extends from the cold call to the board room. His biggest flaw (or the flaw of the script the company gave him) is that he did not give me any reasons why I might want to speak with him. I can only imagine that their target audience must be people sitting at home thinking “I hope someone calls about investment services.” They might figure that their target audience is incapable or unwilling to do a simple web search or call a friend for a referral to one of 100,000 people who could help.  The only chance this marketer has is if the person who answers the phone was sitting there, hoping that someone would call offering that specific service.  Just a hint – that’s a pretty remote chance.

The time has come for serious organizations to learn a better way to prospect. If you actually want to have any chance of success, follow this guideline before you prospect:

  1. Know your target audience. I don’t just mean know their name. Rather, know what symptoms they might be experiencing that would indicate that they could use your product or service;
  2. Convey WHY they might care. Customers can easily identify with their situation, but may not realize your product/service is something they need. Something along the lines of “Other customers like you feel that we can help them solve the following issues of importance to them…” can help quickly determine if there could be a fit; (see Why Matters Most)
  3. Be Realistic. If you meet with 10 people, know that less than 5 will be a good fit for you. So, more than half of your contacts are not a good use of your time. Seek to help those you can help, and avoid wasting time with those where there is not a good fit;
  4. Never Compromise Integrity. Do not use old-school devious tactics to mislead the prospect. Unless you are, in fact, doing research, do not say that you are conducting a survey.
If you start conversations explaining the problems you solve for others and stating a goal to determine whether or not you might be able to help them, you increase your chance of being seen as a trusted advisor to those who could benefit from what you offer.

Also available on the Washington Business Journal’s BizBeat: