PROSPECTING: PART TWO
Tips for cold calling and leaving voicemails
By Christopher W. Cook
It probably seems like it was “just the other day” that you read the first installment of our prospecting twofer. In this second piece we’re going to discuss cold calling and other phone-related tips.
“Prospecting is a key fundamental for a producer’s job for growth, but most producers hate cold calling,” said Joan Sansing, CIC, ARM, AAI, president of Sansing Consulting, Inc., during her course at the 2019 MAIA (Michigan Association of Insurance Agents) Conference. “Should you be cold calling? For a brand-new hire without a book of business or without a pipeline, the answer is ‘yes.’ There’s no way around it.”
Before you start making random phone calls, preparation plays an important role. Make sure that your workspace is distraction-free for the task at hand. Typically, people are distracted either visually or auditorily. If your office has a door, close it before making calls; a headset should be worn in both an office and cubicle environment. Headsets can lead to 50% more effectiveness. Standing up while making a call allows you to use body language as if you were talking with someone and not into a phone.
“Should you be cold calling? For a brand-new hire without a book of business or without a pipeline, the answer is ‘yes.’ There’s no way around it.”
—Joan Sansing, CIC, ARM, AAI
Sansing Consulting, Inc.
Self-management can be achieved for cold-calling prospecting, but producers must hold themselves accountable. An uninterrupted block of no more than two hours should be slotted on your calendar—if it’s not scheduled, it probably won’t get done—to focus only on making calls. If you spend more than two hours cold calling, you’re likely to run short of energy and motivation. If you are a producer trying to grow your book, you will need multiple two-hour blocks to cold call in a week; a seasoned producer should also schedule time, but it will likely be used to set appointments and follow up on referrals.
Sansing advised: “For the first ten minutes, call people you don’t care if you write.” The best calls tend to come toward the end, after you’ve warmed up and become more alert.
When blocking off time to cold call—or make calls to clients in general—set goals daily; daily goals are more effective than weekly or monthly ones. Track your results. A daily call sheet can easily be created that includes information like:
- Date (including day of the week)
- Start time for making calls
- End time for making calls
- Number of dials made
- Cold call contacts made
- Referral call contacts made
- Callback contacts made
- X-date (expiration) call contacts made
- Information requests
- Appointments made
Use the results of these call sheets to discover what time of the day and/or day of the week works best, since every different type of business has a best time of day to call and make contact with the decision maker. Also, while prospecting for new clients, don’t forget about your current clients and renewals.
What to say and how to say it
When reaching out to new prospects over the phone, it’s important to sound professional. A section titled “A Way with Words” in the handout provided at Sansing’s session gave some basic tips on ways to “elevate your elocution,” or the skill of clear and expressive speech, especially distinct pronunciation and articulation. These tips included:
- Eliminate digestive noises like “ah” and “um”; these make you appear less sure and knowledgeable
- Eliminate words like “kinda” and “sorta”; these make you appear less sure
- Refrain from using lingo like “basically” and “my point is” before making a statement; it wastes time
- Avoid using absolutes like “always” and “never”; you are just asking to be proved wrong. Instead use “often” and “rarely”
- Leave behind “high-school” slang like “awesome” and “cool”
But what if certain words—like “awesome” or “cool”—are stuck in your everyday vocabulary?
“If you use a word or phrase that you want to remove from your everyday speech patterns, get together with a small group of friends or co-workers whom you’re comfortable around and every time you use the word, have them immediately repeat it out loud,” suggested Sansing. “Within the first few days, you’ll get to a point where the moment you say it, you’ll realize it. Typically, after 30 days it’ll be gone.”
To further prepare for making calls, develop a simple script. This should include an introduction that states your name and the company you work for; a statement of benefit—how you can help the company/person you are calling with a problem they are facing; and a solicitation of interest—to determine if the client is interested in meeting you.
This writer gets several telemarketing calls on his office line every day, so chances are that if you call me and I don’t recognize the number, it’s going to go to voicemail. People have meetings throughout the day, luncheons, conferences and webinars to attend, and so on. Research shows that nearly 80% of new prospecting calls end up in voice-mail, yet 83% of salespeople stop leaving messages after the second attempt. Seventy-eight percent of meetings are set after the fourth or fifth attempt.
Cold calling can be a two-step procedure—initial contact and setting up an actual call. You’ve probably heard before that it takes multiple touches to reach a new client; it can take up to five or six phone calls if you’re attempting to reach a key decision maker.
“Follow-up is critical, but you shouldn’t be stalking anyone,” Sansing said. “How frequently should you call? A good goal is to call once a week.”
If the opportunity arises, you should always leave a voicemail message; it’s a free uninterrupted commercial for you. Share your name and phone number twice during the message and make sure it’s brief—under 20 seconds—but don’t speak too quickly. Use variety when you’re calling different people; it’s good to have a script, but don’t deliver the exact same message to the client or prospect on each call.
Sometimes the phone gets answered. If you want to leave a message, call during non-business hours. Just before (6:45 – 8:00 a.m.) or after (4:30 – 6:30 p.m.) are the best times to do this, although you should double check the business’s operating hours before using this strategy.
No, I’m not talking about Zuul (Ghostbusters, anyone?) Let’s talk about receptionists, switchboard operators and executive secretaries.
When trying to reach a key decision maker, chances are you’ll be talking to one of the above. Executive secretaries may possess more information and be more helpful because receptionists and operators take a higher volume of calls, help customers in the office, and sign for deliveries. They’re not intentionally getting rid of you by putting you on hold; they just have more going on.
Gatekeepers tend to like callers who listen well and have a friendly, businesslike communication style. This includes not being too “salesy” or rushing through the reason you’re making the call. Saying “please” and “thank you” is always appreciated.
A few dislikes of gatekeepers are:
- Not listening to the response before moving ahead with your message
- Lengthy scripts or explanations of the purpose of the call; it makes them feel trapped, and the message isn’t for them in the first place
- Being treated as less of a person than the decision maker you are trying to reach
- Over-friendliness and arrogance
When reaching a receptionist, you might receive a pushback question. Know how to answer questions like: “What company are your calling from?” “What’s the purpose of your call?” “Will he or she know what this is about?” “What does your company do?” or “Is this a sales call?”
If you want to speak with that key decision maker, a loophole that Sansing shared is to ask to be transferred to the accounting department. Proceed to have accounting transfer you to your intended source.
“In a modern-day phone system, there typically is one ringtone for an outside call coming in and a different one from an internally transferred call,” Sansing said. “Do you think a key decision maker will take a transferred call coming from accounting?”
If you don’t want to talk to the gatekeeper, try calling during lunch hours or before or after the office opens.
That’s a wrap
“Cold calling is having to deal with goals, keeping records, calculating your averages and making sure you have incremental increases over time,” Sansing said.
When it comes to prospecting, pay attention to the three Ps:
Preparation—“winging it” destroys your credibility and reflects poorly on you and your agency
Persistence—Never give up, because when a prospect is saying “no,” it’s not to you but just at the time of your offer
Professionalism—Behave with integrity, and always keep the best interest of your prospect in mind.
This ends our prospecting twofer. Until next time …