Molly Sargent

Can’t Get Meetings With New Prospects?

Six tried-and-tested steps revealed.

June 1, 2009
by Molly Sargent

When placing calls to prospective clients — cold or hot — use these six steps to increase the likelihood of obtaining that meeting.

Common Contacts: When it comes to cold calling, one of the most effective techniques for success is to warm up the relationship as quickly as possible and, ideally, to do so before the actual call is placed. That means finding common acquaintances, taking advantage of colleagues’ and current clients’ referrals, working every angle to create a “six degrees of separation” connection. Googling the prospect can give you ideas for where to find connections. If you don’t find a ready trait or person in common, then you’re no worse off for having tried.

Seconds Count: You have seconds to capture the attention of the person on the other end of the phone. Start with your best information first. Don’t start by asking the question, “How are you?” Your contact won’t have time for such niceties. Instead, first mention your name and — if it’s a recognizable “brand” — the name of your firm. Quickly follow this with the name of your common acquaintance, if you have one.

Opening: Mr. Rubeck, this is Chris Foster with Watson & Wingrove, accounting specialists. John Turner suggested I call you.

WIIFM: What’s in It for Me? Right away, your contact will be wondering, “Alright, what do you want?” Remember, they receive a lot of similar calls, so the next step is to tell them why you’re calling. Caution: You must position the purpose of your call in the language of your prospective client. Do not tell them that the reason for your call is to offer your services. You’ll want to propose something that will be of most interest to them — define a business problem you can solve for them.

Example: Instead of saying, “I’d like to share with you a bit about Watson & Wingrove and our services…” it would be more effective to say, “Given the recent announcement by your company to reduce overhead by 10 percent in this fiscal year, I’d like to learn about your current strategy and share ways how Watson & Wingrove has been effective in doing just that with other organizations like yours.”

The focus is on the business problem being solved. You build immediate credibility by demonstrating that you know something about their business. We’ll call it “intimacy” — having an inside perspective on their situation. Even when you don’t have a referral name to mention, this takes the call from cold to warmer by grabbing their attention.

Respect the Prospect’s Time: One way to do this is to check to see if this is a good time to talk.

I’d like to take four or five minutes to learn more about how the reduction plan impacts you and to find ways that Watson & Wingrove might help you to save money. Is this a good time?

Get Them Talking: At this stage, you can increase their commitment to the conversation by engaging them in a productive dialog. You’ve put a relevant topic on the table; ask them what they have to say about it. Don’t worry if they push back. That’s actually a good sign. When prospects (or even clients) object, it’s a sign of interest.

Mr. Rubeck — may I call you Dave? — What are your thoughts about how the reduction plan impacts you and your staff?

Note that this question is intentionally vague. It allows for your prospective client to steer the conversation toward those points that are of greatest interest to them. Again, don’t worry about the surprise answer; it’s more important to get the prospect’s point of view out in the open than to have the right response to their concern. In fact, if your responses come too quickly on the heels of a prospect’s questions, your ideas can sound canned and not thoughtful.

Really Listen: Listening is not the silence you keep waiting for your turn to talk. Listening is an active sport. There’s a simple yet powerful process you can follow to not only ensure that you understand the prospects needs, but also to ensure that the prospect feels heard. It’s not enough that you “get it;” the prospect has to know that you understand them. This predisposes them to want to listen to you when it’s your turn to share your story. It also saves time and confusion by knowing with certainty what the client actually needs before you start offering suggestions. The process starts with acknowledging the prospect’s point of view.

These first six steps take calls from cold to warm. In the next article, we’ll talk about five more steps that help you take a call from warm to red hot.

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Molly Sargent is the Principal of Norwalk, Connecticut-based Professional Impressions Consulting. She has trained and coached thousands of financial professionals and client-facing executives in professional image, presentation skills, business etiquette and sales effectiveness. Since 1985, Molly has helped major accounting firms and Fortune 500 companies, including Aetna, American Express, AT&T, Citibank, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Key Bank, MasterCard, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Prudential achieve breakthrough results.