This time of year you see a lot of surveys about sales, views of sales leaders and their goals for the year ahead. One consistent theme is the need for more prospecting both within existing accounts and for new clients. This can not be accomplished without getting appointments, probably the least liked activity for all sales people, veteran or new. It’s not rocket science: Sales come Prospects, Prospects are a result of meeting with people: Appointments.
Our Appointment Making Program deals extensively with the art and science of getting appointments with decision makers on a consistent basis. Here are some proven methods to help improve your appointment setting skills and numbers.
Shift your calling hours: Many trainers suggest that you do your calling first thing in the morning. Theory being that you “get it out of the way” first thing, and then go on about your day doing what you do best and like to do: sell. The reality is that you need to shift your prospecting calls to when your target audience is more likely to be available. For some services like ours first thing in the morning is best, first thing being 7:00 to 8:00 – 8:30 a.m. However if your target is a plant manager, service manager, traffic manager, VP ops, you are not likely to find them in their office in the morning, mid-day is probably a better time.
With a bit of research and keeping track, you can typically learn when is a likely time not only to find your target by their phone but also in a position to listen to your approach, and respond in a way that serves your mutual needs. A little preparation, segmentation and planning goes a long way.
Please be clear, we are not excusing you from making calls at all times, just encouraging you to call targets at a time that will yield best results for you.
Voice Mail: ALWAYS LEAVE A VOICE MAIL MESSAGE! A lot of people don’t believe in leaving voice mail, and that’s alright, because if you do, you’ll get more appointments.
There are a couple of dynamics at play. A lot of reps say “I never get a call back”; “No one ever returns voice mails”. Not true, I get return calls from 5 out of 10 messages I leave. (Our Appointment-Making Program instructs participants on how to leave effective voice mails.)
But you can also benefit from the ones that do not call back. Studies have shown that it may take anywhere from 4 to 7 approaches for someone to respond or deal with a new matter. Other studies have shown that most sales people give up after three attempts at reaching someone (usually with a manager saying move on in the background).
Now if you do not leave a message, then you may have tried 3 times, and let’s say you’re one of the keeners who tries 4 times, as far as the prospect goes you’re at zero, because they have no way of knowing that you called, because you didn’t leave a message or “calling card” telling her you want to talk to her. You also don’t want to be at the other end of the spectrum, wasting your time dialing someone dozens of times, not leaving a message, then finally connecting and letting built up frustration out on the prospect, as though it was their fault that you called and called and called, instead of leaving a message and having them call you, like every other person I leave a message for does.
Another thing to consider is that a vast majority of reps, who do not leave messages, still listen to the entire outbound message on the voice mail, so why not take a few more seconds and leave a message.
It’s a no brainer, on the one hand, even if they don’t call back (within 72 hours), you are on the prospects radar (yes initially at the fringe) but still better than the superstars who don’t leave messages; on the other hand a 50-50 shot of getting a call back, good odds, and certainly many more conversation leading to more appointments.
If by chance you do miss a return call from someone you left a message for, not the time of their call to you, and aim to call them back in the same time frame, another way to shift your calling hours, in addition to those detailed above.
Preparation and Recycling: this is probably the most straight forward instalment but when adopted, it is the one with the greatest return. Since most sales people do not like to prospect to begin with, they like preparing for the activity even less. But at the end, anything worth doing is worth doing right, and in sales and prospecting that means taking the time to prepare.
With prospecting preparation is just as vital as at any point in the cycle. This goes from a simple thing like having a complete calling list ready, including name, title, number, potential value statements, references, potential voicemail message, but most importantly the ability to anticipate and deal with objections.
While these may seem obvious, many sales people do not take the time to be ready, and as a result get distracted, rejected and dejected. I fully believe that it is not rejection that turns people off on cold calling, but the knowledge that they have not prepared, especially to avoid and handle objections, and therefore failure is inevitable. Most reps who have a proper process for prospecting have similar success ratios as they do with closing, roughly 1 in 5, yet you never hear sales pros say that they have a fear of rejection when it come to proposals or closing. Why, because they have properly prepared for the proposal, and as such can deal with the results.
Having the things listed above, having an understanding of how to relate to the person you are calling can dramatically increase the resulting appointments. As with any of the things discussed in this series, the better you are at getting the right number of appointments to drive your business, the less work you will have to do, and the less dreaded cold calls you will have to make.
I would caution that you have to be realistic not confuse “preparation” with “deep research” for each appointment setting call, that would be a waste of time at this stage. If your numbers are 12-6-1, (12 dials to reach 6 decision makers resulting in one appointment), and you spend 5 minutes researching each call, that’s 2 hours of research for 1 appointment, not a good use of time.
Recycling is another key; most reps do not have an active lead management process. But in these days of climate change, it is important that you recycle your leads and use the right ones for long term value. We recommend a process of Touch > Contact > Engage. An approach designed to managing your leads, an organic replenishment plan. Recycling leads, ensures that you benefit from the fact that today’s dud is tomorrow’s cash cow, understanding that more is not best, just a start, you still need a means of brining new leads in to you base. Remember even in these days of global warming, the inconvenient truth is that you need prospects to sell, and that means cold calling leads.
Leverage: As you are working with clients, or calling prospects, you are in a position to glean a lot of useful information that is current and relevant to a given sector or type of buyer. Why not use that information right away to generate more appointments.
You can call people in the same sector that you have tried in the past, and demonstrate the interest you have in their sector, how you are keeping up with developments and why they should rethink meeting with you. This especially works if you present it to them in the context “I was thinking about you and the impact ………would have on you company” (project, initiative, what-have-you). People really respond when you tell them you were thinking about their issues and how you can help rather than just as an order.
You can also call new prospects and lead with something current and relevant, distinguishing you from the horde of reps whose initial prospecting call is generic with questionable relevance for the prospect.
The more folks you engage with based on their points of interest, the more you increase your probabilities and resulting appointments.
DO IT! We’re not being cheeky; the number one reason for lack of appointments is lack of action taken, lack of effort. It’s something most reps don’t like to do, so they find any number of reasons not to do it. A sales manager at wireless company captured it very well when he said “there is always a battery that needs to be driven across town just when its time to prospect”. Sometime the greatest creativity shown by sales people is demonstrated in the way in which they avoid making the appointment setting calls.
But as with any professional endeavor, there will be necessary aspect of the drill that are not fun, yet those who excel understand that they have to incorporate it into their game. The way to minimize the grief is to improve your skills, master it and thereby have to spend less time at it while still achieving the levels required to be consistently successful.