When you’re dealing with hard-to-reach prospects, persistence is key. According to Stewart Intagliata, Director of Operations, and owner of St. Louis-based Unispot, Inc., the solution to your problem is simply not giving up. “If a guy won’t return your calls, just keep calling him," he suggests. "Keep calling. Keep calling until you get him. Some guys are just that way.”
Intagliata outlines some other methods he’s used. “I’ve stayed outside of places and waited an hour, hour and a half, for people to come out so I can talk to them,” he says. “Or you’ve got to know somebody. A wholesaler can get you in a lot of places you can’t get into just by cold calling.”
The machines may have made it more difficult, but they haven’t taken over completely, according to Steve Hill, Sales and Marketing Manager of Blender Products, Inc., of Denver, CO. He says Blender Products works on “Maintaining direct relationships with end-users, with specifying engineers, while at the same time maintaining a sales force to echo our message. The importance in this industry of continuing to have that face-to-face relationship, which only a local person can build, still holds a lot of weight.”
Attention Can Be Bought
“Sometimes you have to put yourself outside of the box,” according to Jerry Moechnig, Sales Representative for Architectural Energy Corp. in Boulder, CO. “So many people get so many calls everyday, and people just don’t have all the time they need to do all the work they have to do. Fresh baked cookies is probably the best door-opener that comes to mind.”
“You grease the wheels,” Intagliata says. “You send them a shirt, a handwritten note, news clippings. If it’s handwritten, they’ll open it. It’s the soft things. It’s the relationships.” But there are limits.
“We haven’t sent any hookers over to customers or anything like that,” says Bill Nowak, Vice President of Martin Walshin, Inc. in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY.
Moechnig, too, follows a straighter path to get the customer’s attention. In fact, he has a very systematic approach. “Typically, we’ll do a mailing, then an emailing. Then we make an effort to call those individuals with whom we had prior contact.” And what happens after numerous calls? Moechnig says he makes just one more. “When you reach that point when you’re finally ready to throw in the towel,” he says, “I find it very beneficial to leave one last message that reiterates what I’m trying to say, then tells them that this will be the last call I’ll make to them. That gets a response 15 to 20% of the time.”
It’s Still About People
Establishing relations with a new customer isn’t the only part of the sales game that can be problematic. Unfortunately, existing customers sometimes drift away and it can be even harder to get their attention than to get an appointment with someone that doesn’t know you. After all, they know (or at least think they know) what you have to sell. As Intagliata explains, “I was one of those people. I wouldn’t listen to anybody. How much can you tell me about a humidifier? You turn it on, you add water, and you’re ready to go.”
To get back on the past customer’s radar screen, Moechnig recommends trying something different. “We did a mailing campaign to previous customers to re-intrigue them,” he relates. “We went to an old record store and bought some cheap LP’s. We brought them back to the office and broke them with a hammer and stuck them in an envelope with a mailing that said ‘we hate to sound like a broken record….’”
It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling sheet metal, diagnostic software, or million-dollar multi-work-station cooling systems, you still have to get the customer’s attention first. The best way is on the human level, because, despite a wide-spread opinion to the contrary, customers are people, too. You need to understand their foibles. As Intagliata says, “They’re all crazy, but I like crazy people.”
Dave Donelson distills the experiences of hundreds of entrepreneurs into practical advice for small business owners and managers in the Dynamic Manager's Guides, a series of how-to books about marketing and advertising, sales techniques, hiring, firing, and motivating personnel, financial management, and business strategy.