We believe that if the script initiates a conversation with the prospect, it was successful. So let’s discuss the responses you are most likely to get, and how to handle them. Keep in mind that you cannot begin to sell until a buyer shares a goal or admits a problem that you can help to address. Here are some potential buyer responses:
The buyer shows no interest. “I don’t have that problem and/or I’m not interested.” It could be the person is busy, is in a bad mood, doesn’t have his or her attention grabbed by the business issue, doesn’t like salespeople, doesn’t face that problem, and so on. The most important thing to remember in this situation is not to take the rejection personally. This is easier if you prospect using a script and a plan, rather than winging it. (It’s not you they don’t like; it’s the script.)
When you get this response, offer the other menu items for that title. You can make the transition by saying:
Other issues finance executives I’ve worked with are facing include
Low margins due to the increasing cost of sales
Increasing cost of Marketing efforts to generate leads
Lost cross-selling revenue because IT cannot provide a single view of customers
Would you like to learn how we’ve helped our customers address any of these issues?
This yes/no question ends in one of two ways. Either the buyer is curious about one or more of these items, in which case you can begin a conversation, or the buyer says he or she is not interested. In the latter case, thank the person for his or her time, get a dial tone, and make your next call. Keep in mind that prospecting can be done at several different levels in the same organization. Even if one or more people you contacted were not interested, if you have menus and scripts for other titles within that organization, you can continue your effort to begin a buying cycle at that account.
The buyer shows immediate interest in discussing an issue from the menu.
The buyer expresses mild interest and asks you to forward information. Inexperienced salespeople tend to see this as a positive sign. More experienced salespeople are more cynical: They believe (with good reason) that this is a convenient and reasonably polite way to get salespeople to leave you alone. When the time comes to follow up, the prospect (or more likely, the assistant) will say that he or she has reviewed the material and will get back to you if interested. Our suggestion is, pursue these leads systematically, but don’t hold your breath in anticipation of a positive response.
When you get a request to send information, do both the prospect and yourself a favor by indicating that you have an extensive set of offerings, and you would like to get a better idea of the prospect’s particular areas of interest so that the material you send will be targeted toward them. Either this will allow a conversation (your desired result), or the prospect will ask that you just send the information. In this circumstance, we believe that you still have prospecting to do, as the buyer has not shared a business objective with you. Instead of sending a full set of four-color brochures, consider sending something along the lines of a prospecting letter, fax, or email that is geared toward getting the buyer to consider looking to change. (We’ll discuss these tools subsequently.)
In cases where the buyers express interest but don’t explicitly sign on with the goal mentioned in your script, your continuing objective is to get them engaged. This means a continuing conversation—either now or later. “Now” means extending this phone conversation, which means, in turn, that you ask if this is a convenient time. “Later” means either on the phone or in person.
To the extent that you control this choice, you should think carefully about how best to use your time. Many salespeople immediately request a face-to-face meeting, but such meetings can be time intensive. You should consider the title of the person you are talking with, the size of the prospect company, and the amount of time needed to make a face-to-face call. Given the obligatory social niceties involved in meeting someone for the first time, you may well find that you can get more done in a 15-minute phone conversation than in a 30-minute meeting.
If a phone call sometime in the near future is the next step agreed to, make sure that the appointment is booked on both persons’ calendars—yours and the prospect’s—and that time is blocked out for that purpose. It’s rarely good enough to agree to “talk Tuesday afternoon.” Tuesday afternoon will come, and something else will replace the phone call as a priority—unless a specific time has been reserved.
Let’s assume that the prospect is curious and has time now to continue. Keep in mind that a buying cycle has not yet begun because a goal has not been shared. There’s more work to be done. The transitional phrase could be
It may be helpful for me to tell you about work I did with another finance executive of a software company who wanted to improve the accuracy of her forecast. This was difficult because close rates varied widely by salesperson. Each month, this executive found that she had to discount the numbers she was getting from Sales, because they were too optimistic. She wanted to capture close rates by salespeople at different parts of the sales cycle on an ongoing basis, so that each month, they could be applied against the gross numbers to create a forecast. We provided that capability. As a result, her forecasting accuracy has improved by 54 percent.
You’ll recognize this as a Success Story, described in previous chapters. The Success Story is used to build credibility for both the salesperson and his or her company. It also attempts to cause someone who was not looking to change to share a goal. Part of that effort is to highlight an area the buyer was unaware of, had not considered, or believed was unachievable.
After sharing the Success Story, it is time to provide the prospect an opportunity to speak. The range of responses ideally has been limited to an area the salesperson would like to focus on, with the ultimate intent of having the buyer share either a business goal or a problem. About 90 seconds into the call, you’ve earned the right to ask, “Is forecasting accuracy an issue you’d like to discuss?” If the buyer says yes, you will see how to proceed in the next chapter. If the buyer responds with a no, thank the buyer for the time and branch to dial tone.
Thus far in our scenarios, we have given the salesperson the great luxury of being able to talk directly to the targeted title. Unfortunately, that does not happen as often as salespeople would like. Many territory salespeople rely almost exclusively on the telephone when attempting to uncover new opportunities, and while the telephone offers the advantage of minimal time and effort up front, studies suggest that it is not a very effective way of contacting executives.
Therefore, we believe, salespeople have to cover their territories with additional methods, beyond phone calling. These methods include referrals, letters, faxes, emails, recommendations, and seminars on an ongoing basis.