The hardest part of communicating is making a connection – and that means demonstrating you’re worth listening to. And that’s not always easy, especially if it’s your first time meeting someone and even more so if you're speaking to a business prospect. The fact is that the first time you talk with a prospect, you need to ask yourself one simple question: did you, or didn’t you, establish your credibility with them? Ultimately, you really only have thirty seconds, maybe forty, before your leads start to think about hanging up the phone or ignoring your emails.
But if you can make the claim quickly and convincingly that you know what you’re talking about and that you’re worth listening to, you can instantly connect with your lead, their fears, and their ideas about the future. That has to come before you say a single word about what you do, what you’re selling, or what it costs.
A distaste for “phoniness” has been one of the defining marks of American politics for the past two generations, and that extends to prospecting calls. You don’t want to come off as too slick and too polished that you cease to be a human being; don’t force it! Calm down, ease off the throttle, and let the conversation happen naturally.
When, inevitably, someone asks a question you can’t answer, you just say “You know what? I don’t have the answer for that. But I’ll make sure you get an answer.” Weakness is welcoming; it helps people remember that they’re talking to a person and not to Sales-O-Tron, and (very importantly) it levels the power dynamics. They’ll feel less vulnerable and more willing to connect if you don’t hold all the cards.
We live in the twenty-first century. Social media is huge. So do a little digging – Google around, check LinkedIn – and see if you’ve worked with any of your prospect's associates in the past; if you’re talking to people who are consistently in the same vertical markets, odds are very good you may have. And if you have, call those associates up and ask if you can mention them or use them as a reference or referral. If you can, you’ll have a leg up right out of the gate; someone they already trust trusts you. That gets you through the door quickly.
Here’s the thing: people trust referrals and recommendations more than they ever will the words that come out of a salesperson’s mouth, and referrals transfer that trust onto you. In effect, you become their friend by proxy; they have vouched for you, and that immediately establishes your credibility.
Like your mom always said, do your homework. An occasional “I’ll have to check” is okay, but if you can’t answer any of their questions, and the only word in your extended vocabulary turns out to be “ummm,” you’re simply not going to close the deal. You can’t rely on a script to get you through; instead, you need to know your product, your company, and – most importantly – your customer. Understanding their needs and their history from the get go will help you establish immediate credibility that will carry you through the rest of your relationship.
That means you need to dig in, do the research, and make sure it’s easily accessible; don’t lose track of who you’re speaking to and why, and make sure you come pre-armed with the most relevant information; do you have a service offering that directly relates to their needs? Be prepared to discuss it at length – and to answer detailed questions about it for some time after that.
Here’s where you bring out the big guns: who the heck are you to be talking about all this? Well, you’ve been working in this business for thirty years and you spearheaded six projects et cetera et cetera. The important thing is that you don’t come off as a braggart; that means you need to try and work this information into the conversation organically, citing your expertise and experience where relevant rather than opening with it in an overly-dramatic fashion. This is especially effective combined with knowledgeability; it serves to reinforce the credibility you’re already working to achieve.
Stay in control
This is incredibly important. Prospecting calls can get a little….fraught, can’t they? It’s important to keep cool and not get frustrated with your lead. The moment you let that mask slip, lose your cool, or start letting someone get under your skin is the moment your lose the sale forever. And that’s true across the board; stay pleasant, stay positive, stay helpful. Frustration, irritation, annoyance – any negative emotion beyond genial regret has no place in a first-impression prospecting call where your goal is to convey professionalism and competence.
So grit your teeth, take a breath, and don’t take the bait.
With these tips in mind, you’ll be able to build a connection with your prospects that you can turn into a real business relationship down the line. Just keep your eye on the prize and keep the conversation rolling once you’ve lain this initial groundwork.