What’s the Purpose of This Call?

(Kevin Callahan, the COO’s Bulldog, is on vacation. This article was originally posted on Aptil 19, 2010)

I received a call last week from a local number that I did not recognize and decided to answer the call. It was a person who I had originally spoken to a couple of weeks ago that was building a new business as a financial advisor for a well known company. In the first call, this person had asked if he could send me some information. Although I was not looking for a financial advisor I did speak to him for two reasons: first, he and I share the same alma mater, and second because as a former Real Estate Agent and current consultant who uses the phone to find business, I understand what his experience is.

My interlocutor rapidly went through some information that was largely incomprehensible because he was speaking so fast. That was probably due to a bad case of nerves because I had actually answered the phone. He was most likely expecting another voice mail (they never call back!). I interrupted him and asked the dreaded question that anyone who makes calls for a living often hears, “What’s the purpose of this call?”

My purpose was not to cut him off, but to actually offer some guidance, if he would be willing to listen. He told me his purpose; to offer his services as a financial advisor. I then asked him whether or not he knew if I needed his services. He was a bit taken aback, and admitted that he did not. I then proposed to him that perhaps he should first find out if I did need those services, before offering them to me. This was a novel concept to him. It had not occurred to him that he needed to know anything about me at all in order to propose his services.

Many small business owners and entrepreneurs use the telephone to find business. Many more do not, because it is a difficult and time consuming activity. You must speak to a lot of people in order to find the few that might need your product or services. Given the prevalence of gatekeepers (voice mail being the greatest gatekeeper of all), if you are going to use the phone to find business, you want to maximize the potential of every conversation that you actually hold.

A bit of preparation about the person that you are calling can help. Granted, you cannot do a lot of research on every person, but if you know even a little bit of information (their industry, geographical location, or business size for example) then you can craft a good question to ask that might lead to a meaningful conversation. For example, in my case, I have more than a bit of gray hair attained through experience (and age). If all my caller knew about me was when I graduated from college, he could craft a question that might be appropriate. For a financial advisor the question you would ask a 2000 graduate would probably differ from one that you would ask a 1973 alumnus.

The point that I am trying to make is that in telephone solicitation, like any other sales avenue, you must open up a dialogue focused on the potential client’s need, not on what you do. If you cannot focus on the need of the person that you are talking to then you have no chance of success in making a call. From my own experience, it is a difficult way to find business, but not impossible. Keep in mind that a well-targeted question, and the persistence to make hundreds of calls can produce success.

3 thoughts on “What’s the Purpose of This Call?

  1. No purpose, no plan, no results. I suggest Jill Konarth’s book – SNAP Selling to understand how to reach crazy busy people and be the Red jacket in the sea of Gray Suits.

  2. Kevin,
    Thanks for sharing your POV… and an even bigger thanks for the interest to help others. Your guidance is well-advised, but definitely not limited to telephone solicitations.

    I have very similar experiences with creative services firms (advertising, marketing, design, research, interactive, etc.) pitching their services to potential clients… direct, face-to-face presentations. Amazingly, the vast majority offered NOTHING in the way of perspective or guidance about our businesses… and a very small portion of these firms even asked questions about our businesses.

    I was one of those gatekeepers, you cited above, for many years at Procter & Gamble. When we started counting the firms who knocked on our doors, we learned that almost 3,000 creative services firms sought meetings and/or business with us, every year (for comparison, ~300 were product-, packaging-, and environmental-design firms, alone).

    To my astonishment, these firms (who, mind you, get paid to differentiate their clients’ brands) all sounded the same… highlighting the same core strengths and “advantages”, and sharing virtually identical “key differentiators” – which of course were not different at all. The similarities were mind-boggling, and the “noise” from the sea of sameness was frustrating to us as we continued to seek world-class talent… and also frustrated us as we tried to offer coaching and perspective to all who knocked on the door. The good news for us, is that the feedback was all too often the same. The bad news was that the vast majority of firms simply rejected our attempts at feedback and guidance – in their own frustration of being turned away… citing something like: ‘… don’t tell us how to build brands and position ourselves. We work with some of the most recognized brands in the world. We know what we are doing. We can do it in our sleep.’ Well, our view as a client company who knew a little about brands and marketing, thought that this is exactly where they did their own branding work… in their sleep.

    Kevin, as you highlight and suggest in your guidance, above… they offered NOTHING specific nor targeted against our needs (or even what they might have perceived as our needs). And almost no one asked questions about our business… before launching into their ubiquitous scripts.

    I found it sadly ironic that these firms all sounded the same, did not know how to have a business conversation, nor had any clue that their pitches were identical scripts from every other firm that knocked on the door. But they must have suspected some homogeneity, as their reply when confronted about this noisy and commodity messaging, was: “oh, well, you… the cobbler’s children have no shoes” or “the plumber’s pipes leak”. Astonishing to me that they seemed to KNOW this commonality of message… yet were intentionally choosing NOT to do anything about it.

    By way of comparisons for example:
    1) the best architects or interior designers do not ask about your favorite colors or shapes or preferred styles. They ask about your life, how you live or use a given space. This is how that can find the elegant solutions for your lifestyle.

    2) financial advisors who ask if I need financial advice, get an almost immediate and reactionary “NO”. But when people with whom I feel comfortable ask about what I would like to do in 20 years, and what more immediate/pressing cash needs I might need… these people might

    Net… if you are trying to sell something… anything. Please do, at least, a little homework on the target of your contacts. Over time, you should be able to build up some common themes, attributes, characteristics, and likely needs by industry, marketplace, and maybe by the types of people or companies within each of these industries and markets. Even if you “guess” wrong about needs – you have taken several steps that your competition has likely not taken… and you should be able to learn from these extra steps about how to utilize and leverage them even more the next time.

    Thanks, Kevin!!

    Could I call you sometime… I’d like to try to sell you something. 🙂 kidding.

  3. Hi Kevin,

    Hope you are enjoying your vacation. Thank you for the article. I found it informative and engaging. Best to you.

    Courtney

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