Wednesday, May 27, 2009

More Things to Consider Before You Pick Up the Phone

How the script is delivered (acted out) is just as important as what is said in the script. Your voice and mannerisms need to be just as personable as your words. What can you do to improve your calls outside of the script? Here are a few things to consider.

Ideally, the goal of your script should be to have a conversation. Not a long conversation, but a conversation nonetheless. In the past 20 years we have written hundreds of scripts and delivered them millions of times. Regardless of the script’s subject the most successful scripts are always conversational.

Maximize productivity during your calling time. When you are working efficiently you should be making approximately 30 phone calls per hour. Remember, an average prospecting call should only be a few minutes long, unless the customer initiates a longer conversation.

Here’s another hint. We recommend that you only let the phone ring four times instead of the standard six. That sounds like a strange rule doesn’t it? The reason we make this recommendation is that in most telephone systems, four rings takes a total of 24 seconds. Six takes 36 seconds. The difference between 24 and 36 seconds is just 12 seconds, right? What’s the big deal with 12 seconds? A lot!

On a 30 call per hour project (and most of our projects run 30 to 35 calls per hour) that wastes 12 seconds per call (12 seconds times 30 calls per hour equals 360 seconds). The numbers add up quickly. If you take 360 seconds divided by 60 (the number of seconds in a minute), it equals six minutes. Six minutes is equal to 10% of an hour. How would you like to lose 10% of your productivity, right off the top, because you allowed the phone, if not answered, 12 extra seconds on a call?

Adjusting the amount of times you let the phone ring is one of the most basic things you can do to make your prospecting time more efficient. It can’t get simpler than that.

Remember to utilize some type of a Marketing & Sales Database, to keep your call time and prospecting experiences organized.

Be consistent and diligent. Keep track of what you say when you leave messages for Decision Makers (DM) and call back when you say you will. Don't expect that interested or not, they will return your call.

Have you scheduled prospecting into your day just as you would block out time for a sales meeting? If you do not make time for new prospects you can not expect them to seek you out.

Another thing to consider is the “voice” of the one making the prospecting call. Do all you can to make this voice friendly, polite, and specific to the geographic area you are approaching. I realize you can’t change your voice dramatically, but you can improve diction and vocal mannerisms.

Attitude also makes a big difference- do you expect the DM to take and enjoy your call, or do you see yourself as an inconvenience and interruption to their day? If that is how you feel about your phone call, how can you expect the other person to feel any differently?

What you take into the experience often determines what you can take away from it as well. Sometimes the old adage “Smile before you dial” is overused, but that doesn’t make it less true. When you are happy and excited, the listening ear on the other end of the line can detect that. Don’t be false, but determine your own motives for making a prospecting call, remember the overall goal of getting to know the prospect and enjoy the conversation.

Remember prospecting is not sales: when you talk to a prospect you are looking to see if they have a need you can fill, not telling them what you think they need and how much it will cost them. Get to know them, ask for information about their needs and concerns before you ask for more of their time or money. Most people have their own opinions and feelings so it should not be surprising that they are willing them, even with people they don’t know.

Maintain a policy of honesty and respect. Do not fabricate connections with a prospect or information about your product or service. When you don’t know an answer, admit it, but promise to find out and get back to them.

Be personable. Make a connection to the prospect as a person rather than a number off your list of people to contact. Just as you would want to be treated with high regard, they want that too. Offer, and expect, respect and common courtesy.

Are you taking advantage of opportunities to gather "I know a guy" referrals? Even if a prospect is not a good fit for your company, they may know someone who would be. This concept applies to current clients and those you are seeking to make productive relationships with.

Lastly, be sure you know what the "no" you hear means- there is a big difference between, "No, never" and "No, not right now." Remember the "X" factor. There is an appropriate time for every purchase and if you have an established relationship with the prospect you have more of a chance at being there when their time to purchase arrives.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Creating an Effective Script

Have you ever mentally coached yourself for a conversation or confrontation? There are times when we want to step into a situation knowing exactly what we want to say, how and when. Prospecting is defiantly one of those times.

Creating a plan to:

(1) Deliver the message you want delivered, and

(2) Obtain the information you require.

Is what scripting is all about. If you are prepared, you can enter each conversation with an increased level of confidence in yourself and in your message.

So, what is a script? It’s an outline for a purposeful conversation. In other words, the script guides or controls the conversation. When you do it right, the prospect won’t even be aware that the conversation is structured. Part of wearing your prospecting hat is to have the script so well practiced that the prospect feels the conversation is spontaneous.

This isn’t as foreign as it might seem. Just as I mentioned, we are all prone to rehearsing our words before we open our mouths at certain times. In fact, most conversations have some sort of script, but it’s often very general and “off the cuff.” Knowing this can give you a distinct advantage. If one of the participants has the whole conversation carefully worked out in advance the dialogue proceeds the way that person wants it to. You can be in control of the conversation.

One of the secrets to guiding the conversation is to create a list of open ended questions which the prospect can answer that takes the script in the direction you want it to take.

With a well-developed script, you can:

Make a great first impression on behalf of your company

Get past the receptionist to the Decision Maker

Determine whether the company or prospect is qualified

Gather relevant marketing information for your Marketing & Sales Database

Prioritize the company’s value as a prospect to your business

Generate sales opportunities

Maximize your productivity during your prospecting time

As you’re crafting the script keep your three over-riding goals in mind:

1. Qualify the Decision Maker

2. Determine the timing of the prospect’s next planned purchase

3. Set up a Next Step, or what is going to happened after this conversation

Beyond the initial greeting, the development of the script depends on the specific project you are creating. Remember, this conversation is about asking questions and listening to what the prospect needs so that you can prioritize your future actions, not delivering a sales pitch.

Here are some general hints on developing questions:

• The script should result in a short conversation; no more than a couple of minutes, unless the decision maker wants to ask questions or talk longer. There are a number of things you could ask that would be helpful, but efficiency is critical. There is a trade-off between information gathering and effective time management.

• The questions you ask should elicit information you need to advance your agenda. Create questions that give you measurable data.

• Try not to start off with open-ended questions such as “Is there anything that you need in your company?” It puts people on the spot, and the answer will probably not have much to do with your specialty anyway.

• Ask questions that move you towards a determination of whether or not this person has a need you can fill.

• Try to ask questions that will give you valuable, actionable information no matter what the answer is. A well-thought out information gathering or yes/no question can give you a lot of data.

• Ask questions that naturally branch. Whichever branch the prospect takes, have back up questions or information for that branch. This is one way you can direct the conversation. These questions might begin with leads such as: “Do you?” “Have you thought of?” and “Are you happy with?”

• Know when to give up. If the QDM is not willing to answer questions, thank him or her, politely terminate the call and go on to the next prospect. Don’t continue to move ahead if clear progress isn’t being made.

It is important to remember that while you are seeking Sales Opportunities, you’re looking for the right kind or fully qualified Sales Opportunities. So, this process is as much about disqualifying, or “weeding out”, as it is about qualifying. The prospect’s qualifications are measured with a tool we call the Willingness Range. This is one of the trickiest parts of the script to write. Without delivering a sales pitch you need to ask questions that will show how ready or willing the QDM is to commit to a sales meeting. The more the prospect is willing to commit to a course of action, the higher the Willingness Range. The higher the Willingness Range, the higher the qualification. The lower the Willingness Range, the lower the qualification.

You want the questions to culminate in a realistic commitment on the part of your prospect. High Willingness Range qualifying questions would be something like: “Would you like to discuss that idea sometime?” “Is there a day that’s better than another to schedule that discussion?” “Would you prefer a morning or afternoon appointment?” All these questions require the prospect to make a commitment.

Don’t be too quick to offer literature. Offering written information requires only low levels of Willingness. It reduces the need for commitment and effectively ends your conversation. Literature plays an important role in the process, and you may want to use it, but most prospects will willingly accept literature as a simple tool to end the conversation.

Remember, writing the script is a process and you should expect to revise and rewrite it several times before you arrive at a final version. A script is a dynamic document, and as the economy changes, as new technologies emerge, and as other conditions change, you will need to revise your script to fit the situation. Paying attention to how prospects respond to and keeping careful records will help you analyze what is working and what is not. Keep the things that work and rework the things that don’t until your prospecting conversation is a pleasant experience for both you and the prospect.

For more insight into prospecting scripts, see: Questions That Can Make You Money

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

More Information on CRM Databases

Since we’ve been discussing the importance of knowing:

Your current customers

Who your target audience is for prospecting, and

How you want to organize your information about these groups

The following video seems appropriate

As I previous mentioned there are many, many different database and CRM programs available in the market. That being said, one of the most important things to remember when you begin comparing programs is that none are perfect! What I am trying to say is that they are not written with your unique customer (prospects) needs in mind. The best decisions are made when you take your top customer and prospecting priorities and match them to a program that can best help you meet them.

On May 12, 2009, Selling Power Magazine published an interview with Eric Berridge, CEO of Bluewolf, in their Daily Report a five minute video entitled The Secrets Of Successful CRM. You can view it here or by following the link for yourself to: Eric explains why whatever CRM or database you select you will find it necessary to make compromises in what you’d like to accomplish or be prepared to program the database to meet your unique needs.

Remember to allow yourself a learning curve. Don’t expect a perfect match your first time out the door. Prospecting is a dynamic process and so are the tools you’ll use to be effective in your efforts. Do expect you database to provide a set of productive steps forward in meeting your prospecting needs.

Thanks for the great tip Eric Berridge and Selling Power Magazine!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Your Prospect and Client Database

Once you have defined the demographics of your ideal prospect, you go about searching for prospects who fit that description. No matter how you gather your prospect information, it becomes essential that you organize the details in the most efficient manner. You need that information at your fingertips.

A properly maintained Marketing and Sales Database is an indispensable tool that you can sort or mine to concentrate of particular marketing segments. The information can also be copied or exported for a variety of marketing purposes such as a direct mail or any targeted marketing project.

Conversely, a poorly maintained Marketing and Sales Database will only lead to confusion. It is important, therefore, that a concise and well-organized Marketing and Sales Database be a high priority for your sales organization.

There are many, many different database and CRM programs available in the market. Perhaps the most important thing for you to know about any of them is that none is perfect! What ever program you select you will find it necessary to make compromises in what you’d like to accomplish or program them to meet your needs.

Here are some suggestions that may help you in selecting a program. There are a variety of web based programs available today and we recommend you take a close look at those. They offer the advantage of being available anywhere you have access to the internet. If you are a sole practitioner that may not be important to you, but if you have more than one person who will want to use the program, having it available through the web is a great option.

Here is another suggestion. Keep it simple! Buy something inexpensive and begin there. In our experience the chances of you hitting the right program the first or second time are slim to none. As you develop sophistication in using your database or CRM program you will find there are other things you would like it to do for you. So we recommend you let your solution grow with your experience.

Another big topic of conversation is: what information should you house in your database? Again, our recommendation is keep it simple and don’t put anything in your database that won’t make you money, especially if you expect your salespeople to input the data. You will find them motivated to collect and enter data that makes them money, but if it doesn’t do that, don’t expect a high level of compliance.

Most companies today still use either Outlook or Excel, or both, for their database. It’s all a matter of what you want to accomplish and how much you want to spend to accomplish it.

Another big issue that both we and our clients have run into to is the quality of the data entry work. You will find that some of your employees are comfortable with data entry and using a database or CRM package. But you will find others that are not, and often these will be your most senior sales reps. You will also find that many of your sales and customer service reps lack essential data entry skills. For instance, they may not be good spellers, aren’t careful about the accuracy of the data they collect, etc. In our case we found it necessary to have our databases routinely reviewed and corrected by skillful data entry specialists.

To learn more about your available database options just go to your browser and type in “Databases”. You will find thousands of sources of information. There are even magazines devoted to the subject.

No matter which system you employee, the Marketing and Sales Database should be organized and formatted to make the process of prospecting easier and more efficient for you. Your goal is achieving a seamless call flow to ensure maximum calling opportunities. Information properly gathered, maintained, and stored is the key to a functional, accurate database. Over time, your database will prove to be a major business asset.

At a minimum you are going to want your database(s) to help in two broad areas:

(1) Prospecting, and

(2) Working with and selling more to your existing clients.

Because this blog is primarily about prospecting I will outline what we think the essential elements of a prospect database are.

After developing your marketing and sales plan, setting marketing goals and sales objectives is the next step. That process includes deciding what you want to know about your prospects and their need for your product and/or service. That necessitates creating a prospecting script to gather the information you require. If you follow that logic, then you will understand the need to have locations in your database to store the information you collect. Along with gathering information you also need to have some means of measuring and prioritizing it.

I can tell you how we solve these issues for ourselves, but I cannot tell you the best way for you to resolve them. On the other, we would be glad to provide whatever advice we can.

At a minimum you are going to want to be able to separate your suspects from your qualified decision makers and the companies that do not meet your qualifying criteria. You will also find that some portion of your prospect list contains bad telephone numbers and/or mailing addresses. I hope you can see that there is a lot of pre-planning that goes into developing any type of successful database.

I’ve not written any of this to discourage you just to help you understand the complexity of developing a database that will aid you in accomplishing your goals. Every question I have raised has a solution. If we can help, we are prepared to do what we can to point you in the right direction.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Your Prospecting List and List Broker

Once you’ve made up your mind to prospect the first step is determining exactly who you want to contact. As we’ve discussed, a good place to begin putting together a prospect list is deciding what your ideal client looks like.

How many employees do they have?

What are their annual sales?

What industry or industries are they in?

Developing your ideal list criteria is a high leverage activity. Minutes here will save hours and hours of non-productive prospecting later.

One you’ve developed your ideal list criteria, you are ready for the next step, selecting a List Broker. There is no “best” List Broker, but in our opinion, good List Brokers specialize. At Ekstrom & Associates we can offer recommendations for companies with proven track records. We think Farm Market Id has the best agricultural lists available. Dunn and Bradstreet are usually recognized as the List Broker with the best financial information. Suffice it to say that we would be glad to provide whatever insights we can in helping you come up with the ideal List Broker for your needs. You are welcome to leave a comment or email me privately with your questions. If I can’t answer them, I will pass them onto someone who can.

Over the years different systems have been developed to group similar types of businesses together. The most popular system is called the Standard Industrial Classification or SIC codes. Don’t be mislead by the word “industrial” in SIC codes. SIC codes contain an entire listing or breakdown of virtually every business type. Everything from wholesalers, to manufacturers, to all types of Federal, State and local government entities, retailers, banks and financial institutions of all types, farmers by crop, contractors by specialty, etc., etc, etc. There are over 12,000 SIC codes and they remind me a bit of the Dewey Decimal System used by libraries. SIC codes move from the general to the specific. It can seem overwhelming, but using these codes can provide greater accuracy in the resulting information. At Ekstrom & Associates we can help you navigate the SIC codes effectively. Again, if you have questions, please email me. I promise to respond in a timely manner.

What information can you expect a List Broker to provide? First, you should expect your List Broker to provide you a count of the number of businesses within the geography you select that match your criteria. This count should be free. Then, depending on their specialty and the criteria you defined, here is a general idea of the information a List Broker should provide:

  • Both company and decision maker names
  • Physical and mailing addresses
  • Telephone numbers
  • Employee sizes
  • Annual sales
  • Email addresses
  • Fax numbers
  • County information, etc.

The vast majority of List Brokers have a minimum order size. Whoever you work with, you want to know up front what their minimum order size is and how they price their lists. If you check around you will find there is little standard pricing among List Brokers. We know of List Brokers that charge less than 10 cents a name while another List Broker charges over 30 cents for exactly the same information. Watch it carefully. Ask questions and do your due diligence.

Also keep in mind that the more specific your list criteria are the smaller and less expensive your list will be. By changing the criteria even slightly you can open up more possibilities and add more names to your list. As you are deciding how many names you want, consider your future needs as well as your current needs. That way you can get a large enough list to draw from as your projects change.

I’m sure you have heard the old adage about measuring twice and cutting once. Putting your list criteria together is a great example of how true that adage is. This is why it is so important to begin your list search with a clear sense of your project purpose and ideal client.

Once that you have your prospect list, you will next want to consider several other essential steps in formatting your Marketing & Sales Database. I’ll talk about these steps in my next blog.