Terrified by the thought of making a cold call? Does the thought of ringing a Fortune 500 firm and asking a high-profile executive for some face time give you goose bumps? There's good cause to be anxious about cold calling. Large corporations are cautious, hierarchical, and difficult to penetrate, says Wendy Weiss, a New York City-based sales coach and the author of Cold Calling for Women: Opening Doors and Closing Sales.
"You don't want to wing it when you're trying to introduce yourself to an executive at a Fortune 500 company," she says. "You're bound to hit a dead end, often in the form of a hang-up or a 'Don't call us again.'"
On the other hand, such firms have extensive resources, and, if you sell them effectively, can become some of your most lucrative customers. So, how do you ask sales prospects — in this case highly visible companies — to pony up? Here are some tips on how to pitch to the big guys, and how to turn those cold calls into sales.
How to Cold Call a Big Customer: Narrow Your Search
"All prospects are not created equal," says Weiss. "I see a lot of business owners really spinning their wheels and chasing after inappropriate customers. It's easier to talk to somebody who actually uses the type of thing you're selling."
Narrow your search by figuring out who would make an ideal customer. Weiss recommends selecting prospects whose traits match those of your current clients. You can even examine your competitors and their customers to get an idea of who you should be calling.
Use social networks such as LinkedIn to generate leads and to search for contacts at companies, adds Weiss. She also recommends Jigsaw, a free web directory of business cards that maintains a database of more than 20 million company and contact records.
The advantage of targeting a large firm is that there is a wealth of information available to help you hone in on its needs. "There's a lot more data out there on big companies," says Stephanie Hackney, chief brander at Branding Masters in Austin. "You can find statistics, news stories, SEC filings, 10K forms — it's just much easier to research this type of customer."
Impress a prospect with your knowledge of the company and, more importantly, its concerns and problems, and they'll be more receptive to speaking with you.
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How to Cold Call a Big Customer: Practice, Practice, Practice
Ringing a manager at a large firm is probably the most daunting cold call you'll ever make. The only way to overcome fear is to craft a script, and to practice it until you feel confident about approaching a prospect.
"How are you going to introduce yourself? How are you going to ask for what you want? How are you going to respond if they say, 'I'm too busy,' or 'I have a vendor, or 'Call me next week,' says Weiss. "Those are all things to think about when you're writing a script."
Still, Weiss cautions against sounding too artificial or rehearsed. Keep the jargon to a minimum and stick to a fluid, friendly, and conversational style. Write your script in the way that you speak, she says, and leave room for improvisation. Try talking into a tape recorder and playing it back to see how you sound and what you need to improve.
"Prospects at large organizations are similar to prospects at small organizations in that they're human beings," says Weiss. "You're looking to make a human connection."
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How to Cold Call a Big Customer: How to Handle Gatekeepers
Large companies are also more hierarchical, and you could face many "gatekeepers," — executive assistants, associates or secretaries — who screen calls made to the decision maker.
Don't treat them as less valuable contacts, and don't shy away from telling them who you are and what you're trying to accomplish, says Hackney. "It's very important that you express to them what it is you're offering and why it's important to their boss, because many times they're making a decision about whether or not your message gets passed through to their boss."
Weiss, however, recommends a different approach. Though you should always be polite, "you want to act like the peer of the person you're calling, not being the peer of the gatekeeper," she says.
"There's this myth about spending a lot of time courting gatekeepers, but I like to think about how Donald Trump would do it. He would probably say to the gatekeeper, 'This is Donald Trump, is she there?' It's really that simple — it exudes confidence and authority, and it often saves a lot of time."
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How to Cold Call a Big Customer: It's Not About You
"It's not about what you do, it's about how you help your customers," says Weiss, adding that entrepreneurs often spend too much time talking about themselves while pitching a customer.
Instead, keep your introduction short and switch gears quickly to explain what you can do for the company. Sweeten the pitch by offering testimonials from existing clients. Tell a brief, compelling story of how you solved a problem for another company. "I call it a mini-case study," says Weiss. "It's something that tells the prospect that you are credible."
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How to Cold Call a Big Customer: Deflecting Excuses to Get You Off the Phone
Decision makers at large corporations are busy and often have limited patience for unsolicited sales calls.
"They're doing something else, the phone rings and they've been interrupted, they pick up the phone and you say hello," says Weiss. "What you're prospect is thinking is 'Who are you and what do you want?'"
Here are some common excuses prospects use to cut a phone call short, and how you can navigate past them:
• "Not now. I'm too busy." Be respectful of a prospect's time. Politely ask them when you can call back, or even suggest a few dates and times. "Most of the time they'll tell you," says Weiss.
• "We already have a vendor." That doesn't mean you should give up on the prospect, but you shouldn't aggressively try to unseat the competition either. "If you start telling them how bad that vendor is, essentially what you're doing is telling the prospect they made a mistake," says Weiss. "That doesn't usually blow over well." Instead, prepare to differentiate yourself by researching competing firms and finding out what their weaknesses are. "Let's say you have fabulous customer service and your competition is known for not answering their phone," adds Weiss. "Tell the prospect that they will always get a live person on the phone when they call. You're explaining how you're different without having to say, 'The competition is terrible.'"
Finally, be persistent. The goal of the initial call is not to close the deal, says Weiss, but rather to establish a relationship that could lead to a sale down the road.
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