As I’ve explained previously, telephone cold-calling is dead, a victim of the smartphone and voice mail. While there are still companies that cold-call, the success rate has plummeted to the point of non-existence.
However, there is still a form of cold-calling that can be effective in some limited and specialized situations: face-to-face cold calling, the business-to-business equivalent of door-to-door sales.
Face-to-face cold-calling works when the potential customers are small businesses where the 1) owner/operator interacts frequently with the public or 2) both the prospect and the seller are small businesspeople in the same town or geographical area.
For example, one of my clients is selling an innovative credit-card processing service to delis and convenience stores in New York City. In many cases, the owner/operate is present (often behind the counter)–an obvious opportunity to have a conversation.
My client, who has sales experience, originally approached these encounters as an opportunity to give a sales pitch. He therefore wrote a script based upon a telephone cold-call script with leading questions, followed by a line of sales patter. It was a little like this:
“I’m John Jones of CreditMonster. You have a nice store here. What if I told you I could reduce your credit card fees by 50% without losing any customers? I’ll bet you’re thinking that’s impossible but I’m here to tell you that it’s not. With our system…”
That type of scripted encounter, however, is only appropriate when you’re playing a numbers game, calling dozens of people to find one who’ll listen or express interest. It doesn’t work face-to-face because showing up in person takes too much time.
Consider: with an auto-dialer you can make several calls a minute. With a face to face, travel time, parking and walking can easily take an hour or more.
More important, launching into a sales pitch squanders the opportunity by immediately alienating the potential customer. Rather than spouting, you want to start a conversation that leads naturally to a discussion of whatever you’ve got to offer. Like this:
“Hey, do you mind if I ask you a question? (wait for response) “I noticed you don’t accept American Express. How come?”
The goal is start a real-world conversation about prospect’s business and its challenges with credit card processing cost. As a natural part of that conversation, you segue into:
“The reason I asked is that I’m working with a credit-card processing company that reduces fees by up to 50 percent.”
When (and only when) the prospect expresses an interest do you provide more information (in one or two brief sentences) about what you’re selling and then ask for the next step.
In my client’s case, we created a spreadsheet that will calculate cost savings based upon estimates, like average monthly foot traffic, provided by the prospect. Thus the “close” on the next step is like this:
“If you’ve got half a minute, I can run some quick numbers…”
Another reason for having a conversation (rather than giving a pitch) is that it gives you more space to answer objections and explain things.
Because they’re a one-way spout, most sales pitch scripts attempt to preempt objections before the prospect surfaces them. (E.g. “I’ll bet you’re thinking that’s impossible.”
That’s always a bad idea because unless you’re a mind-reader, you don’t know what the prospect is thinking. Furthermore, the objection you surface might not have been on their radar… but it is now!
Instead, you develop conversational techniques for handling the typical objections. For example, in my client’s case, a common objection is “I’m happy with my current provider.”
Rather than preempting that objection with sales patter (which is a shot in the dark at best), a more powerful approach is to continue the conversation:
“I understand. Just out of curiosity, in an ideal world, what would they be doing for you that they’re not doing now?”
Rather than guessing the “why” behind the objection, you’ll now get a response that may very well surface a reason for them to switch providers.
In summary, when cold-calling face-to-face, your goal is to have a no-pressure, relaxed conversation where you’re just being helpful–not trying to push the prospect to buy.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.