Avoid Bungling Your First Call With A Prospect

Recently I was interviewing Tim, a busy, business development rep, as part of my assessment for a new client.  Tim confided in me that his first calls were not going as well as he had hoped.

Although he had names and titles of people to call, and did his research, he was not able to confidently state why he was calling, how to get people interested in what he was calling about, or navigate to the proper person if his initial contact wasn’t the right person.

Do you feel good about your first calls?

After listening to Tim and the rest of the team, I instantly rallied a training session that inevitably made the entire team three times more productive after one week of dedicated practice.

I’m going to share with you what I taught in that impromptu session so you can immediately put it into practice for your business.

Step 1:  Prepare for call success

Think you can get a key prospect on the phone and just “wing it?” You’re only fooling yourself.  The instant that prospect senses “on-the-fly,” they’ll automatically assume you’re a salesperson and you’re dead in the water.  Therefore, you must prepare.

Put on your detective hat and dig up answers to these three questions:

  1. Why should your prospect change how he does things?
  2. Why change now?
  3. Why choose you?

Know How You Help

Learn how your organization helps clients and translate what you’ve learned into value-added benefits.  What results do clients get after they choose you?  It’s vital you explain your value.

To do this, follow this simple exercise:

For each product or service, create a chart that:

  1. Column 1- describes your product features and
  2. Column 2- addresses at least 5 problems that your product solves

Bonus homework: If you sell to multiple buyers, create a table for each buyer type.  Review it once daily.  Write it out in long hand.  More than once. Continue to absorb until it feels natural.  If I came to your house at 3AM, woke you up from a dead sleep and asked you what your product does for me, your response, although somewhat sleep deprived, should be thought provoking.

Anticipate Objections

Let’s be honest.  You’re going to hear objections.  Perhaps a multitude of them.  But if you prepare common objections with logical rebuttals, you’ve built a toolbox full of ways to overcome them.

Creating a chart with three columns:

  1. Column 1- Create scripts of common objections,
  2. Column 2- List how you resolve them with benefits, and
  3. Column 3- present your rebuttal.

Commit these scripts to memory.

Role Play and Record

It’s time to come together and leverage the power of your team:

  • Build buyer’s language scripts filled with common objections, dialog and questions.
  • Cover the types of first calls you expect to have:
    • Find-the-right-person
    • Gatekeeper
    • Got-the-right-guy – determine fit, begin discovery
    • Reception / front-desk
  • Role play calls.
  • Switch roles – you as you, then you as the prospect.

Record role play calls and review with the team.  Discuss and critique.  Cover the good as well as the not-so-good.

When you’re ready to send the troops back into the fight, record live calls as well.  Play both good and rough calls to the team.  This helps reps spot their own strengths and weaknesses to improve.   Keep recorded calls for training purposes.  It shortens the onboarding process of new reps.

Step 2.  Prospect

It’s time to put the rubber to the road and pick up the phone and dial.  Using the scripts you’ve prepared in the above exercises, keep these concepts in mind:

  1. Treat the call as a warm call, not a cold call

You’ve done your research & perhaps sent relevant material to the prospect already.  You are connecting with someone who may benefit from your conversation.

Keep a light, casual tone.  Similar to how you speak with a personal friend. Smile.  People can actually hear you smile.   This helps with your comfort level.

And remember, many times the first call is used to confirm they are the right person to talk to or asking for a referral if they are not the right person.  Nothing to be tense about.

  • Gatekeepers are our friends

A lot of “gurus” will teach you to be stern with the gatekeeper, command authority, and scare them out of their wits.  Inferring you’re important.  This may work once with the gatekeeper, but after they catch an earload from their boss, it will never happen again.

Besides, gatekeepers are real people.  Treat them like it.  Win their trust by being authentic & genuine. Ask their advice on how they think you should proceed. Make them feel valued.  They will work with you, not against you, if you treat them with respect.

  • Less specificity, more puzzle piecing

Imagine you’re a savvy detective working on a hot case.  Ask questions to piece together the puzzle of mapping the organization, uncovering who you should be talking to.  Be curious.

Lastly, have your clear benefit pitch (why change, why now, why you) ready and waiting in the hopper.  Just in case you’re connected to the decision maker on that first call.  It does happen at times, so always be ready.

Step 3:  Post

No matter if your calls are good or bad, if you’ve learned something new on your call, record it in the CRM.  I like to have clients record meaningful conversations and disposition calls with specific codes that help us better understand the nuances of the pipeline.

Having impeccable, up-to-date prospect information in your CRM is the key to building a predictable and consistent pipeline.

Bonus Insights:  What you learn in your conversations (buyer language, objections, likes, dislikes) can be used as repurposed material for your e-mail messages, nurture content and even phone scripts to build tighter bonds and faster rapport between you and future prospects.

Your Results Will Blow You Away

I’ve seen teams post success rates from a low of 2 – 5% to a high of 87% following the above process.  That is, for every 10 people they talk to, 8.7 of those people either:

  • point them in the right direction,
  • confirm they are the right person, or
  • engage in some level of discovery

because what they heard sounded interesting, was relevant, or they understood enough to route the call appropriately.

Have a question, comment or success in boosting your success rate that you’d like to share with our community?  Leave one below!

3 thoughts on “Avoid Bungling Your First Call With A Prospect”

  1. I’m in the process of revamping our sales team to a specialized approach in the book Predictable Revenue. I’m hiring BDR and CAM and even a few more AE’s to round out the team. I’m looking for onboarding and a online training program for BDR’s that are prospecting.

    • All of my programs are custom – starting with a 52-item assessment of the current sales process, teams and marketing readiness to feed the outreach channel, then working through each block of my table of elements (28 blocks) to assemble, activate and optimize the assembly line. I do have an old online version of the Predictable Revenue course. Please fill out my contact form if you want the link to that URL.

  2. I am very pleased with the level of expertise your website and blog have provided much needed sales training and insight. I have learned a great deal just from your “Avoid Bungline Your first Call With A Prospect” and “Seven Prospecting Telephone Tips.” I have read thru a lot of Sales Training; however, I find your information is straight forward, the most honest and helpful I have every come across. I am going to invest in your book for myself and my son-in-law. Thank you for such providing such helpful training and insight for those of us who are wanting to become better at sales.

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