(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.