Getting the initial sales appointment

After reading “Where do sales leads come from?” you no doubt have a threatening large pile of leads – now what are you supposed to do with them?

The most obvious answer is that you should get in touch with them and setup an initial meeting. And in fact that obvious answer is the correct answer. This post will begin to give you the tools to get your foot in the door. The accompanying article will get your entire leg in the door.

It seems that at every layer in the sales funnel, you can say that you’re at the most important layer. But getting that initial appointment is truly one of the most important steps in the sales process.

Initial Communication Layer

It should be noted here that the goal of this meeting, once we get it, is to disqualify the prospect as rapidly as possible. Yes, you read that correctly, disqualify. Let’s talk about that for a minute.

Using the selling techniques that we’re developing here, you will soon have more leads and repeat business than you can handle.

As such, we need to make the best use of our precious time. And that is accomplished by catering to our repeat customers and focusing only on the best fitting prospects. This may seem counter-intuitive, but prioritizing prospects will save you time and make you more money in the long run.

It’s time to put some meat on the bones of this abstract idea of getting a lead to invite you to do a sales pitch. Going from the pile of leads to setting up a meaningful meeting is a five step process.

Prioritize prospects

Even if it’s not politically correct to say it, not all prospects are created equal. There are countless people out there that are more than happy to slowly bleed technically competent salesmen out of all their knowledge and then simply walk away as a smarter jerk and leave you hanging. You need to rank those leads.

Sales appointment flow chart

The first step is to see if you know any of the companies in the list – this is a great way to pull out top prospects and dump a few losers. Next look at what industries the leads come from. Maybe you want to steer away from the automotive world because of the oppressive cost pressures or perhaps you want to get in good with academia to get your name in publications. Finally, look at your prospect titles and choose accordingly.

Gather background information

Even with a manageable stack of leads now at your fingertips, you’re still not quite ready to pick up the phone and try to close a sale – although many so-called professional salespeople will do just that. What we’re going to do now is become somewhat knowledgeable about our prospect’s company and industry. You can become knowledgeable by looking at the prospect’s Web site, searching for news articles and press releases, reviewing annual reports and talking to others who have insight into this company. We’ll cover many ways to do this in upcoming posts.

A word of caution is in order here, as I’ve seen it happen multiple times. You need to be careful that you don’t come under the illness know as “analysis paralysis”. This happens when you feel like you’re doing meaningful work, but all you’re really doing is printing out Web pages and reading stories and filing papers. Always ask yourself if what you are doing will help you make that initial contact. If the answer is marginal, sit down and make the call instead of wasting any more time. This is one of the biggest mistakes that I see salespeople make.

Make the contact

You might already have the right phone number of your contact from your lead list. But many times your only lead is that you think you could sell into, say, Wal-Mart with your new inventory tracking technology. You can usually guess the title or at least the department of the right person to talk to.

You want to start the contact off at the highest practical level that’s possible.

You’re not going to call on the CEO of Wal-Mart, but Susan, a VP of Logistics would be a great fit. Typically when you start high, the end result will either be an excited buy-in right from the start, or at least a referral like, “Talk to Larry he’s in charge of innovative logistical technologies.” Starting high has major, major benefits because now when you talk to Larry, you can say “Susan thought that our new tracking technology was interesting enough for further consideration and suggested that I contact you to see how we should move forward.” Well if Larry’s boss said to look into it, you better believe Larry will look into it.

There are a lot of tricks to finding and making the initial contact; here are a few of them.

  • Google them – what more needs to be said about this one?
  • If your prospect is a technical contact, conduct a journal article search. If they were the lead author, their contact information will typically be contained within the article.
  • Search on-line networking sites such as www.LinkedIn.com and www.Jigsaw.com These two sites are worth their weight in gold and cover tens of millions of contacts.
  • Call the base number and change the last two or three digits. A typical corporate number is 123-456-7000; what you want to do is call 123-456-7xxx, until someone in the company answers. You respond “Oh, I’m sorry, I had this as Steve Smith’s number, is this extension 7xxx?” They will respond with the correct number. Sneaky? Yes, but terribly effective.
  • Search on “(123) 456-7” Oftentimes, this will pick up at least some of the contacts in the office you’re targeting.
  • Nothing yet? Well a last resort is to call the main number and deal with the gatekeeper. Here’s how to do that: “Hello, this is Joe Schmo from Schmo’s Industries, I was wondering if you could help me find the person responsible for purchasing widgets.” If you read up on sales, most texts will say that this approach is crazy and should never be used. I think that’s bologna, and I’ve used this exact introduction to reach countless prospects. There are very few hard core gatekeepers anymore, most places have a central receptionist/secretary that serves twenty people or so – they’re too busy to be guarding gates. See the accompanying article for a more formal guide to this technique.

Disqualify, disqualify, disqualify

You made the initial contact, congratulations! Now do your best to try to get rid of them. What?? You can spend your entire professional life consulting with and selling to prospects that will never buy one thing from you. You can’t waste your time here.

So the trick is to try to disqualify prospects without coming off as rude or insensitive. Because if they happen to be qualified, you don’t want them to think you have the tendency to be a jerk. You can easily walk this thin line by being upfront and letting the prospect know what you’re doing.

Set up meeting or phone call

So now you’ve made the initial contact, and haven’t been able to disqualify the voice on the other end of the line. Let’s get them to agree to a meeting or at least another phone call.

“Well, Mr. Prospect from my side it would make sense to set up a meeting and talk a bit more about a potential project here – would you say the same from your point of view? [Yes] Great! I’m on an east coast road trip in three weeks; would you be available say on the 14th around 2:00 PM? [Yes] Fantastic! Is there anyone else in your organization that we should bring in at this point to participate in the initial talks?”

Good job! You’re now in a position to take your pending sale to the next layer.

Be Sociable, Share!

1 comment so far ↓

#1 Sales prospecting, high level | Engineers Can Sell on 03.11.08 at 2:12 am

[…] Getting the initial sales appointment, we begin to stress the point that you need to start as high in your prospect’s company as […]

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge