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Generating Incremental Interest

Studies show that on average, telemarketers have less than 20 seconds to generate initial interest. This window can be shorter or longer, depending on how “salesy” the person sounds and how tolerant the person receiving the call is.

In light of that sobering statistic, the initial objective of a telephone script must be to establish curiosity in the mind of the buyer about how to address a need, achieve a goal, or solve a problem. As you’ll see, we recommend attempting to create incremental interest with the initial script to gain mindshare and see if you (as the seller) can earn another few minutes to uncover a goal. If you’re successful in this effort, you then may want to see if the need can be further developed over the phone. (Most salespeople make a mistake when they try to schedule an appointment at the earliest possible time.)

We’d now like to change the scenario somewhat. Let’s imagine that you are a salesperson calling a prospect at his or her office. This means that you’re attempting to interrupt the prospect’s business day, rather than his or her personal life, which in many cases is easier (but still not easy) to accomplish.

Our definition of prospecting is attempting to cause people who weren’t looking to change to consider doing so. As we’ve seen in earlier chapters, if the expenditure hasn’t already been planned, then no budget exists for it. Therefore, your goal is to initiate contacts at levels senior enough to free up funds (create budget). Your chances of success will be improved by using a “rifle” rather than a “shotgun” approach, one that is specific to a particular title, business issue, and industry segment.

We demonstrated this approach in Chapter 8 when we created a menu of issues for a customer relationship management (CRM) offering. In looking at titles, our approach would be to initiate contact with prospects at the CEO or CFO level, because in many cases a VP of Sales or a CIO would lack the ability to get unbudgeted funds.

Let’s assume that we’ve chosen to target CFOs of software companies. The next step is to choose what we believe would be the highest- probability business issue a CFO would be facing. This can be done across the board by making a judgment call on industry trends, but customization after visiting a company’s Web site or doing some research can improve success rates.

Having said that, there is a constant risk of “paralysis by analysis” in sales. Some salespeople are so reluctant to make cold calls that they spend all their time researching. (On their to-do lists, researching is a more attractive option than prospecting.) You simply can’t afford to wait until you know the birth dates of all board members, have analyzed the past four annual reports, and have calculated the associated “acid ratios.” Past a certain point, it’s better to just dive in, having made some intelligent assumptions.

In looking at the menu of potential business goals of a CFO, without having specific knowledge about a target company our inclination would be to choose “forecasting accuracy” from the menu. Out of 100 CFOs, how many do you feel are satisfied with the accuracy of the monthly forecast provided by their senior sales executive? The choice of this business issue provides the broadest range of potential acceptance. And while they’re not happy with the current forecasting methods, most CFOs have concluded there isn’t a better way to do it, and haven’t given thought to how to improve forecasting.

With telephone prospecting, we’ve found you will have a higher success rate if you lead with a business problem, give a root cause, and finish with the corresponding goal. Therefore, the goal of “improved forecasting accuracy” from the menu of goals should be changed to the problem of “inaccurate forecasting.” In addition, you need to get the problem to be more specific, by offering a reason (for which you have a usage scenario) that the CFO may be experiencing that difficulty. Because a CRM system offers the ability to capture close rates by salespeople, this represents a high-probability reason for inaccurate forecasting.

Here, then, is the suggested script:

This is John Busby with The XYZ Company. I’ve worked with software companies since 1995. A common concern other finance executives have shared with me is inaccurate revenue forecasts caused by varying close rates of their salespeople. We’ve helped other companies improve their forecasting accuracy, and would like to discuss some approaches with you.

Experience suggests that when a person in a business setting answers the phone, you have 30 seconds or less to generate initial interest with your script. (Note that you’ve gained a little time over a call into the home.) For that reason, we don’t suggest asking how the person is (you will be perceived as insincere), or whether or not this is a good time (given an out, buyers will say no).

In keeping with the rifle versus shotgun philosophy, the company or industry should be referenced. Even vendors with horizontal offerings do the majority of their business with mainstream-market buyers who don’t want to be first, meaning that they want to know that your company has done business with others within their market segment. We also include the title of the person we are calling on. We suggest avoiding the use of the title “vice president,” because in some industries (e.g., banking and financial services) there are multiple levels of vice presidents (such as AVP, EVP, Sr. VP, and Sr. Executive VP), and a senior vice president may be offended if you speak of “working with vice presidents.” Instead, use the function (Sales, Marketing, Finance, IT, and so on) followed by the term executive. Virtually all people in organizations like to be referred to as executives.

The most important portion of the script is the wording of the business issue. In order for you to read the script in 30 seconds or less, the issue must be concise (twenty words or less). As noted, the best hit rates we’ve seen have been achieved by leading with a problem, including a reason for the problem that points to one of your usage scenarios. Consider how much less compelling the script would be if it read: “ . . . other finance executives have shared with me is the inaccuracy of revenue forecasts.” Tweaking a few words in stating the problem and the reason behind it can dramatically affect success rates.

A quick word here on a resource that sales organizations leave largely untapped: their customers. One of the best ways to verify that your menus of goals/problems and prospecting scripts are on target is to ask a corresponding title within your existing customer base for an informal review and edit. (This is a favor that you would ask only of a satisfied customer, of course.) Two—and maybe three—good things can come out of this. First, and most important, you can gain valuable insight into how best to approach the customer’s counterparts. Second, you flatter the customer by asking and valuing his or her opinion. And third, if circumstances permit, you might ask if the customer can think of any real-life prospects on whom the menus and scripts could be tested.


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