By Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing
A past client of mine once mentioned that she knew of a store that needed some marketing help.
That captured my interest so I asked her about the store, the owner, and the marketing issues they were experiencing, but she had no more information.
“All I can tell you is that I’m a customer and I know they need help,” she told me. “I was talking to the owner a few days ago about the struggles she was having in attracting enough business. So you should call her.”
I asked if I could use her name. But she declined, saying she didn’t want the owner to know she’d been saying the store was having troubles.
Not much to go on, right? But since I was pretty new in my business and I needed clients, I gave it a shot anyway.
This is what I told the store owner on the phone:
“Hi, my name is Robert Middleton, the owner of Action Plan Marketing. I was talking to one of my clients the other day and she told me about your store. She got the sense that you might need a little help in growing your business.”
What surprised me was that the store owner was very receptive and booked an appointment with me immediately.
What struck me was that the only thing distinguishing this call from a cold call was that I mentioned my client had asked me to call her. That was enough to get her attention and interest and not treat me like a stranger.
This led to trying out all kinds of things to connect with new prospective clients. One of my most successful ventures was calling San Francisco Chamber of Commerce members. All I said, was, “I’m also a member of the SF Chamber and I was wondering if marketing and attracting more clients is an issue for you right now?”
Every single person I called gave me a warm reception and invited me to come and speak to them. Many became some of the best clients I had had up to that point.
The lesson? Affiliations and connections, no matter how weak, count for a lot more than you’d expect. In fact, they make all the difference.
This is why I rarely suggest making cold calls. Instead, find connections and make warm calls.
So, if you have a connection, use it. In fact, make that the foundation of your marketing. But then you need to have successful conversations with these contacts if you hope to turn them into paying client.
These five tips will help you make this kind conversation more successful.
1. Make a list of anyone and everyone you know in business and socially. A long list. These are your connections. Of course, some are better than others, but you never know who might become a new client, be a repeat client or lead you to a client.
Then write down your connection’s name, what your connection is, and how you might approach this person. For example:
He just attended a talk I gave and indicated an interest in my services. I sent him an article a few days ago. Now I’ll call him to determine his interest and see if he has a real need.
She’s a past client with whom I did some great work a few years ago but we’ve lost touch. I’ll give her a call to let her know what I’ve been up to and then set up a more in-depth meeting.
When you make a simple plan like this, the work is half done. You know who to connect with and what to talk about. Now just pick up the phone. (You can also send an email, followed by a call, as that’s usually an easier way to reach someone.)
2. Practice your calls out loud. This is an absolute must. Can you imagine being hired as an actor, reading the script a few times and then going on stage with no rehearsals? Absurd, right? Yet thousands of people do this every day when it comes to making contacts.
Professionals practice. They master the spoken word and make every single word count. They actually write out a script – exactly what they plan to say and practice it out loud several times.
Early in my business I remember making a call to a potential client without practicing. It was a disaster. I was humbled. I started making practice a central part of my outreach.
3. Listen more than you talk. Everybody thinks they’re a good listener. In my experience, listening is the marketing secret that everyone knows but few practice. A good listener is a rarity who understands they need to listen even more.
When making a call to a connection, use your script to get attention and interest. And if that interest is there, start to ask questions. But interest is not enough. The question is, do they have a need, a problem or situation that they’re motivated to change?
You’ll only know if you ask very focused questions and spend a lot of time listening.
4. Know when to ask for a meeting. This is not a social conversation, but a business conversation. That doesn’t mean it isn’t friendly and upbeat, but there’s an intention for every call.
It’s rare to make a sale on a first call like this. So, your intention is to use the first conversation to get you to a selling conversation or meeting.
To get meetings, use your script, listen very closely for needs, and suggest a more in-depth meeting only when you are confident you can help them, and when the contact’s level of interest is at its peak.
You know this when they start to ask you questions about how you work, the benefits and outcomes of your work, and what your services cost. This will take a longer conversation, so make a suggestion:
“Janet, based on our conversation today, I think there’s a good chance I can help you. But this is going to take a longer conversation. What I offer is a meeting (often called a Strategy Session) from 60 to 90 minutes to explore your situation and goals in more depth and then explain how I might help you. How does that sound?”
To most contacts this sounds great. No pressure, and they are happy that someone really wants to listen instead of selling.
5. Relax. Once you understand the structure of an initial call to a contact, have created a script and practiced it, written out your questions and practiced them, scripted your close and practiced it, your confidence will soar.
Again, practice builds confidence. Nothing else even comes close.
Lack of confidence makes you nervous and reluctant to make calls in the first place. But when you know what to say and have practiced the conversation thoroughly, then you can relax and have fun on the call.
You can now make a real connection and build a relationship. And your contact will hear that in your voice, which makes them more comfortable and relaxed as well.
Taking all of these steps will enable you to make the most out of your connections. Good connections are gold; they open the door for you. But if you don’t master the conversation, those connections will lead you nowhere.
P.S. This article is one of a series about direct outreach. The other recent articles in my blog (see below) cover various aspects of the outreach process, including details of exactly what to say on your calls.