Direct marketing… many companies must resort to it as part of their business development strategy. It involves communicating directly with intended targets by supplying them with adaptable, personalized information in order to produce an immediate response or action. Direct marketing can be adjusted in order to conquer new clients, to retain existing clients or to deal with dissatisfaction. Making cold calls is one of many exceptional tools that fall under direct marketing.
Globally, there are many direct marketing tools that can support a structured and efficient presentation process:
- Internet (ex: online registration forms, presentations, photos, videos, surveys, etc.);
- email (newsletters, advertising, promotions);
- in person presentations (at the client’s premises, as part of business meetings, at networking events, at shows, trade fairs or exhibitions);
- telephone contacts (including cold calls).
Representatives (account managers, business development managers or territory managers) often need to contact potential clients for the very first time; this is what is referred to as a cold call. This type of approach brings about the following problem: how to establish a successful first contact in a context where the person being contacted did not request a telephone interview, is not expecting this telephone call, will most likely be interrupted by this call, and will probably perceive it as one among many uninteresting calls. In short, a cold call is like climbing Mount Everest: there is a steep slope to climb, and the environment is hostile! This approach is a tricky one, and there is a risk that things will go wrong. Starting the process again after a clumsy first attempt can lead to making the same sale twice and with negative perceptions present from the very start of the second attempt.
Let’s Go Camping!
First Base Camp: The first thing that must be accomplished is to “warm up” the temperature of the environment. The objective is not to make genuine cold calls. Preparation is therefore important, since it is your climb’s first base camp. You must know as much as possible about the companies and the people you are contacting: their work environment, the responsibilities and problems connected with their duties, and their business sector. Thanks to this initial information, you will be able to structure your speech by referring to your respondents’ cognitive and experiential interests!
Second Base Camp: Once you have some idea of what your prospective interlocutors want to hear, you need to define what it is you have to tell them; this is your second base camp. Of course, you must avoid improvisation, but you should also refrain from reciting a speech word-for-word. Preparation is indispensable at this step as well. Put together a checklist, know your keywords, introduce yourself properly and give a clear explanation about the purpose of your call. If you meet with an attempt at “filtering,” know which argument is most likely to bring down the defenses and gain you access to the person that really interests you: the decision-maker.
Just a Couple More Camps to Go
Third Base Camp: Do not lose sight of the goal you have set for yourself. If, as is often the case, this goal consists of obtaining a meeting with the decision-maker (turning a lead into an opportunity), provide them with information that will make them want to meet with you. Your first telephone call may not result in a sale but you must turn this call into a conversation and promote, in the eyes of your interlocutor, the ways in which you could examine their needs and, if appropriate, the support you can offer them in order to fulfil these needs.
Fourth Base Camp: Explore, understand and segment your database. You should group targets according to common aspects to which you will adapt your speech (thus making it more specific, more appropriate and more interesting). If your company serves three types of clients, identify the common features of these three client types and those that are specific to each. This will enable you to be more precise and to avoid wasting your interlocutor’s time.
Fifth Base Camp: Be ready to react, be available, and pay close attention. Remember, there is every chance that your cold call will interrupt your interlocutor’s normal activities. If they agree to make time for you, this is a good sign, but they certainly are not doing it to speak to someone who has a poor understanding of their circumstances, can offer little availability for an eventual meeting, is unable to make any decisions, or only listens to the sound of their own voice.
Regarding Preparatory Steps
As a rule, the window of opportunity that opens during a cold call lasts for a limited time; the real challenge is for the caller to make the most of it. To achieve this, it might be useful to send a notice, either by mail, fax or email, that you will be contacting them soon. This enables you to provide literature (corporate brochures, fact sheets, business cards), to introduce yourself, and to extend an invitation to visit your company’s website. But above all, you can let your prospective interlocutor know that you will be contacting them in the near future and, if they wish, they can easily call or email you. It also gives you a starting point for your call, since you can ask whether they received and read the literature you sent and what they think about it.
A Few Tips:
- find someone you know who is acquainted with the person you will be contacting and who can vouch for you;
- rehearse your calls;
- do not neglect preparatory steps;
- make use of the notoriety of the company you represent;
- identify which “visiting cards” are the most pertinent for you to put forward (your prestigious clients, your demanding clients, your interlocutor’s competitors if appropriate, suppliers or clients of the company you are contacting, etc.);
- design a follow-up and call-back strategy;
- more broadly, resort to a customer relations management system (either speciality software, an in-house app or an Excel tool you’ve developed) to plan your efforts and ensure you do not miss opportunities just because you lost track of your follow-ups;
- evaluate your efforts objectively by using concrete elements and don’t gauge based on your feelings alone;
- evaluate your performance in terms of monetary returns with respect to the overall work performed (successfully and unsuccessfully) rather than only successes; for example, $25 in average cost per call vs. $500 in average profit per sale (ratio of one to 20);
- draw up a precise schedule for your calls and abide by it;
- should you start feeling frustrated, avoid the risk of losing your patience: take a break.
In some cases, the database used for direct marketing purposes includes a very large number of companies that present various levels of interest. If you are targeting manufacturing companies of 25 employees and more with an annual sales figure of more than 10 million dollars and purchases exceeding $20,000 in office supplies per year, it would be pointless for you to call every company in the database and waste your time following false leads. You can ask an external marketing firm to analyze your database in order to identify those entries that meet your criteria. This pre-qualification can be carried out through a secondary data search (number of employees, sales, contact details, shareholders) and by collecting primary data (large- or medium-size telephone operations) to gather more specific information regarding office supply purchases, to identify key persons, to obtain email addresses or fax numbers, or to validate information acquired at the secondary data collection stage.
Pre-qualification will be beneficial insofar as it will enable representatives or account managers to focus solely on targets that are of interest, to acquire information that will be useful to their initial contact with these targets and to make a first foray into the larger group of persons to contact.
What About the Psychological Element?
Once you finally succeed in obtaining a meeting and find yourself sitting in the decision-maker’s office, start with the relational aspect; the transactional will follow. Perform a visual analysis of your interlocutor’s work environment. What can you find there that could bring you closer to them? This could be photos of children who are the same age as yours, personal effects that reveal a common interest in a hobby or sport, souvenirs from trips to destinations you have also visited, or even diplomas from institutions you have also frequented.
You have made it past all of the base camps, now is the time to plant your flag!