A former boss once said people typically drift toward tasks they feel most competent doing. If true, that may explain why, with all the hats I wear as a small-business owner, the task I dread most is cold calling to prospect for new business.
I’m simply not comfortable with that level of rejection. And knowing how much I hate getting cold called myself, I assume that anyone I call will be equally annoyed.
For advice, I turned to Emma Farmer, who owns Cybertary Charlotte, a franchise in Ballantyne that provides virtual assistance to small and mid-sized businesses. Of the roughly 150 services that Farmer and her staff provide, cold calling is one of them.
Her first piece of advice: Decide whether, as a business owner, I should be making cold calls.
“Not everybody is cut out for it,” she said. “Just because you own your own business … you may not be the best person.”
She continued: “You’ve got to have somebody who likes to talk on the phone, who likes to talk to different people, who likes different backgrounds, different geographic areas, all different cultures. There are people who really like that. And there are people who really don’t like it and would rather go to a soup kitchen first.”
Resilience is also key. Anyone who hopes to be successful at cold calling, she said, must embrace the challenge of getting past the gatekeepers to reach the decision makers.
Here is some other advice she offered:
Start with a spreadsheet laid out to accommodate your specific needs. One column should list all of the phone numbers you intend to call. Another column might be used to note comments and observations once the call is completed. Other columns might be used to record appointments, email addresses or the individuals who simply hang up or ask to be removed from your call list.
Yes, some prospects will be rude, Farmer said, but most will be courteous if not accommodating. She estimates that about 10 percent of the calls her staff makes ends with rude behavior by a prospect.
“When you are dealing with people, you don’t know what their day has been like, what’s going on in their lives, you don’t know what life changes happened,” she said. “I’m looking for (callers), first of all, who are thick-skinned.”
Develop a script
Don’t make a single call, Farmer said, until you know exactly what you want to say and have written it down and rehearsed. A good script, she said, should be no more than four or five lines and get to the point quickly.
“We advise clients not to give us a book,” she said. “A script is just two or three or four lines of informative information to help you get the results that you desire. And it should always, always stay to the point.
“Within the first two sentences, we get to what the call-to-action is,” she said. “People don’t like things being dragged out. And if they are reluctant at all, we always thank them and we always let them know that we appreciate them allowing us to call them.”
Farmer said rehearsing reduces the likelihood that calls will sound robotic or scripted.
Set realistic expectations
Whether you make calls yourself or hire someone else, Farmer said it’s important to start with realistic expectations. She estimates that about 60 percent of her calls result in “something positive.”
“Something positive could be, they stay on the phone with us to hear what we have to say, they give us the name of the person we really need to be speaking to and the extension, they give us an email address, they schedule an appointment with us, or at minimum they give us some kind of indication that they are not interested and there’s no need to call back.”
To temper expectations, Farmer said she often recommends that her clients place a few calls on their own.
“You cannot walk in that caller’s shoes until you’ve actually done it yourself,” she said. “If you can’t get on the phone and make 100 calls and get 25 appointments in a day, then guess what: The next guy probably can’t either. Be realistic in what you expect.”
Glenn Burkins is editor and publisher of Qcitymetro.com, a news site for Charlotte’s African-American community. He is a former Wall Street Journal reporter and Observer business editor.
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