The fundamental purpose of cold calling is to engage prospects in conversations that progress to the next step. The goal of these calls should be to move beyond an interruption to a scheduled call that leads to a predictable outcome – a sale. Anytime salespeople make calls to someone they have never spoken to before that is cold calling. It may take a dozen attempts or more to reach a decision maker. It could require multiple calls, emails, and social touchpoints to break through the noise to connect with a prospect. Once a prospect is engaged, for simple sales it may be possible to close the prospect upon first connection. For more complex sales, it will take more than one call.
Inexperienced salespeople often think that cold calling is about closing the deal upon first contact regardless of the complexity of the sale. It is not. It is critical to have clarity about the task to accomplish upon first connection. It is about setting the stage so that the salesperson gets the chance to make the sale during a scheduled call or in-person appointment where they have the full undivided attention of the prospect. Only then can the salesperson setup the pitch and with skill and luck they will progress the deal one or more steps towards closing the sale. The more complex the sale, the more calls, virtual interactions, and in-person visits may be needed. In some cases, complex sales can take weeks or months to progress to closed won. And there a plenty of challenges and roadblocks along the way that can derail a promising deal from closing.
What should happen before the first call?
Salespeople that do their research before they make the first attempt to contact prospects will be prepared to engage with them based on intelligence gather beforehand. This shifts cold calling by uninformed salespeople from asking if prospects want to buy something to calls with purpose – reasons to connect with those prospects. Informed calling, not cold calls, start conversations with prospects that lead to needs analysis during subsequent conversations. Salespeople can leverage data from their company’s own customer relationship management system (CRM) and third-party information aggregators that bring together intelligence about prospects and their online interests and activities. This intelligence is collectively referred to as “buyer intent data.”
What should happen during the first call?
Upon first contact salespeople should attempt to ascertain if they have reached the right person. Not that they have reached a person by the right name. Rather, that the person to whom they are speaking is the one who has an interest in the product or service. Later in the conversation or in follow-up calls salespeople can confirm that the prospect has a budget and the authority to spend it.
Establishing interest or intent becomes integral for successful cold calling. Confirmation of interest and intent is the ideal outcome of the first connection with a prospect. First party intent data from the company’s website identifies those prospects that have engaged with company assets by visiting the company website, downloading its white papers, watching their videos, and engaging with any interactive demos. Third-party intent data aggregates information into large datasets from multiple sources that cover a broad spectrum of activity. The goal of first party or third-party intent data is to identify companies, not necessarily specific individuals at the company, who have an interest in products and services. Properly leveraging intent data in account scoring models is akin to putting one’s foot down on the company’s sales accelerator.
What is “iBANT”?
The classic and most basic of business-to-business sales qualification frameworks is BANT. The acronym stands for Budget, Authority, Need, and Timing. Adding an “i” in front of the acronym puts Interest or Intent on the part of the prospect ahead of traditional qualification criteria. In the case of inbound leads, prospects are interested – they are hand raisers who have called in or filled out a contact me webform. Outbound prospecting – cold calling – is about engaging prospects that have not expressed any interest even though they may have the authority to buy, the budget to spend, might have the need, and could articulate the timeframe. Intent signals that there might be interested. But there is no guarantee that the prospect will be interested.
Salespeople believe that their products and services are needed by everyone. Assessing the prospect’s interest upon first contact is one of the most important outcomes of any cold call. Intent data helps salespeople identify accounts where there may be interest by one or more person at that account. Interest may be coming from someone who is an influencer within the company, i.e., someone who has the ear of the actual decision maker. These prospects could be conducting research into products and services that might solve a business problem or just researching a topic for a college paper. Nonetheless, influencers can lead salespeople to a buyer with an interest and an intent to purchase.
Sometimes salespeople cold call C-suite executives who will make the decision to purchase, but the actual buyer is someone in the procurement or purchasing department. This is common in large enterprise sales. The person that signs the contract may be someone the salesperson has never spoken to before. And it is possible that they have “to sell” them on everything from what the product or service will to do to the terms and conditions of the sale (for example: net 30, cancellation clauses, warranties, indemnities, and other things collectively referred to as the “T&Cs”).
What should happen before closing the first call?
Knowing what to listen for and what questions to ask can lead to knowing what to do next. Understanding the business problem that the customer might have or creating awareness about a problem that they might not know that they have are key objectives of the first conversation. Salespeople who first seek to understand challenges prospects are facing are in a better position to determine if and how their products and services relieve those pain points for prospects. Salespeople who can elicit this information from prospects can establish a need for the products or services they have to offer. All that is then left is to establish the timeframe within which the prospect might want to solve the problem and relieve the pain.
Before closing the call, salespeople will have determined that the prospect matches the company’s ideal customer profile, obtained sufficient information to determine that the prospect meets the established BANT criteria, and has set expectations as to what will happen next. With these steps fulfilled salespeople can move to aftercall wrap-up.
What should happen after the concluding the first call?
After the first call you should measure the success of the call. Did the salesperson reach the right decision maker. If so, was the salesperson able to obtain agreement as to a next step which could be a scheduled call for an in-depth discussion to uncover interest and intent, purchasing criteria, evaluation process, budget, and timing. If a follow-up call was scheduled, then the call could be considered a success. However, sending more information or dropping off a brochure may not be the success for which one is hoping.
Salespeople by nature are often overly optimistic about the likelihood of a prospect progressing to closed won. Using objective measures reduces uncertainty. Does the prospect match the company’s ideal buyer: title, role, and authority. Does the prospect’s company match the company’s ideal customer profile: size, industry, revenue, and geography. Prospects can be scored to determine how well they match customers who have purchased in the past.
Propensity to purchase models score prospects on their likelihood of purchasing. Using objective measures helps salespeople know which prospects merit their focus and efforts. Working with prospects that have no intention of making a buying decision wastes valuable time.
What is wrong when buyers do not buy?
Even when all the models suggest that prospects will buy, they do not. Even when there is interest and intent suggesting that prospects are likely to buy, they do not. Even when there is an ICP match and BANT has been established, prospects do not buy. So just what has gone wrong?
There are many reasons why prospects do not progress to a buying decision. Topping the list is that they are not interested in change. It is difficult to leave one comfort zone for another even if the next zone is a better place. They do not want to rock the boat. Change is risky and disruptive. Anytime someone introduces something new into the business, there is a chance that it will not work as expected or solve the problem. Prospects may simply not be willing to take the risk.
Steve W. Martin in his May 2013 Harvard Business Review article “Why Customers Don’t Buy” put it best “The real enemy of salespeople today isn’t their archrivals; it’s no decision.” He goes on to say that customers are stressed out and experience fear, uncertainty and doubt when deciding. It is common for salespeople to have great first calls that are followed by silence. They hear nothing back from these prospects and attempts to reengage with them result in no further contact. Uncertain if they assessed the situation correctly, salespeople have several options available to them at this point. They can reach out to other prospects at the company and create multiple paths into an account. They can nurture these prospects waiting to see if there is reengagement in the future. Or they can mark the prospects as unresponsive in the company CRM and move on to other more engaged prospects.
After action analysis of these non-buyers can reveal valuable information about them. Buyer versus non-buyer analysis can provide valuable intelligence about which prospects are likely to progress along the buyer journey. This information can be fed back into lead scoring models, propensity to purchase models, and other sales models improving the reliability of model predictions.
Was the right person reached? Was there interest or intent? Was BANT established. The goal of cold calling should never be having as many conversations as possible. It should instead be having as many conversations as possible with the right people. Salespeople that have leaner pipelines filled with higher quality prospects will close more deals faster than those that do not. Cold calling with a purpose by skilled salespeople will accelerate sales results exponentially.
About the Author
Stephen Howell is a multifaceted expert with a wealth of experience in technology, business management, and development. He is the innovative mind behind the cutting-edge Chatbot ChatGPT plugin for WordPress. Utilizing the robust capabilities of OpenAI's API, this conversational chatbot can dramatically enhance your website's user engagement. Visit Chatbot ChatGPT to explore how to elevate your visitors' experience, and stay connected with his latest advancements and offerings in the WordPress community.