Sunday, March 6, 2011

Getting Your Foot In The Door

You’ve researched your prospect’s needs, estimated his potential spending, and written a proposal that’s worthy of a Pulitzer Prize. It’s time to make the sale!

Right about here is where most new salespeople (and plenty of experienced ones, too), make a major mistake. They’re eager to get the process started, they’ve got a lot of things to do, and their sales manager has been bugging them about all the time they’ve been spending in the office working on proposals. So they rush out and drop in on the prospect, saying something like, “I was in your neighborhood, so I thought I’d stop by and see if you wanted to buy something today.”

This is not a great way to impress the prospect with the careful thought that went into your proposal.

Or they try to make an appointment by calling ahead with a pitch like, “Hello, Mr. Big. I’d like to show you our newest line of widgets. When can you see me?” Then they wonder why Mr. Big is too busy to fit them in. And why they always seem to get his voice mail when they call back.

At least the second salesperson made an attempt to demonstrate some professionalism by making an appointment. The first one apparently didn’t place enough value on the prospect’s time to reserve some of it in advance.

When you just “drop in” on a prospect, you and your proposal are placed in the same category as the other salespeople who work without appointments. These include people like political pamphleteers going door-to-door, cute little girls selling cookies, and route sales operators who fill up vending machines. All of these people serve perfectly respected functions in the grand scheme of our economy, but do you really want your $120,000 idea considered along with the proposal for a new gum-ball machine in the employee’s lounge?

Making cold calls in this day of voice-mail-protected, work-over-loaded executives isn’t easy. It’s about as much fun as changing a flat tire on the New Jersey turnpike during rush hour in the snow. Done correctly, though, it doesn’t have to be a chore. It’s also helpful to remember there are many ways to skin a cat—or to get an appointment.

“There are people who like the bizarre and the strange, and those are the people you do bizarre and strange things for.” That’s one of the marketing tips from Stewart Intagliata, Director of Operations, and owner of St. Louis-based Unispot, Inc. Like many (if not most) HVAC salespeople, Intagliata has faced his share of difficulties getting appointments to see prospective customers. It’s the first hurdle in selling—the one popularized by the cartoon with the salesperson’s foot stuck in the prospect’s door. If you can’t see them, you can’t sell them.

Fortunately, not every prospect is stand-offish. Intagliata says there are big differences geographically. “If I’m in Mississippi, I can get in to see anybody I want. They might not do business with you, but they’ll sit there and talk to you for an hour.” New Yorkers tend to be more brusque; Californians less focused, in his opinion.

South of the border, though, there’s another factor at work. Intagliata says you have to establish a friendship before you can do business. “I remember flying down to Mexico, my first time, and walking off the plane and the guy kissed me on the cheek. That was his way. What are you going to do? You just sort of stand there and say, ‘I appreciate it.’”

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.

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