Well, the economic world has moved on some since my last post earlier this year – or rather it has not, as it’s all come to a shuddering standstill. Three paces forward, four back, five paces forward, four back again: where are we? In truth, nobody has the slightest idea. Doomsters are looking at the US as an empire in ruins and are citing municipal debt as the next fault line; optimists are on an uphill slope trying to talk up their own economies; pragmatists are declaring that Europe appears to be heading for civil war; every western public sector, rather than providing stimulus, appears to be contributing to stagflation; the US federal government, with its electorate split right down the middle, has become fond of the ostrich position, seeming to have no idea how to mend a deeply broken social and financial system; and the same government continues to contribute to the shrinking percentage (now 1% instead of the 20% it was not so long ago) of wealth owners and creators, with the fat cats in Washington recently overtaking Silicon Valley’s San Jose as the richest population per capita.
So where in all this is the supposed jewel in the crown, the private sector, to which everyone is desperately and hopefully holding out the leadership baton.
The answer right now is pretty well nowhere. Some companies are sitting on stockpiles of cash, others are trying to find more, but most are standing absolutely still. Projects are on hold, under resourced staff are now permanently tired, much less proactive and working in a culture where it is now entirely acceptable not to respond to emails, answer voicemails or pick up a ringing telephone. Each call, each meeting, leads to more work that they do not have time for and, to cap it all, many senior staff, especially in IT, do not have landlines any more and have no point of contact reference at switchboard. On top of which, they often have cause to regret picking up the telephone, which they might once in a blue moon, because the call is ill prepared, badly directed and poorly researched.
So, what actually does make your call different? How can you make the most of a rare conversation?
As I have mentioned before, you do not pick up the telephone unless you are as sure as you can be that your call is likely to make their company and yours some good money. Just as listening skills are the keystone of every sales conversation, putting thought into why exactly your prospect may want your service or product works well too! Before you talk to senior people, try and engage with a junior or two first. Ask advice; get perspective; understand, as far as you can, their current priorities. Are they currently operationally geared, rolling out applications across the enterprise? Are they moving from a regional to a global structure? Is their current structure global already? Are they in a merger or prime bid situation, recent past, present or near future? Are they making yet more people redundant and therefore do not want to talk about new spend?
The positioning of this information in such a way as to leverage your subsequent conversation makes it clear that you have put thought and time into making the call relevant and that you understand, to a point, their possible dilemmas. You are not just machine gunning the entire sector or market you are after, are you? And in case you think only paying lip service to just a little research fits the bill, mentioning that you have looked at their web site is simply not enough. The web site only tells you what that particular company wants to place into the public domain. Try reading some of the related company articles posted by other people on the Internet. The effort is likely to give you some of the depth you need.
You must also bear in mind the other side of this particular coin: you will not ever have a complete understanding of your prospect’s needs without working for them. In fact, confidently telling them where they are and what they are doing will often lead to your proposition’s demise, because you do not and cannot ever know as much as detail as they do. So just be deferential and simply demonstrate that at least you’ve tried to research and position your call to make the most of their time.
If an analogy helps, think of your call in the same light as cooking a meal: the more important the meal, the longer the preparation time; the better the preparation, the better the meal; the better the meal, the more it is worth lingering over. Then realise that eating the meal takes a fraction of the preparation time – even though it is the only piece of the process in which the recipient is involved. Make note of the fact that around 90% of the success of any direct marketing campaign depends on the strength of the ingredients.
If that does not work for you, then think about the call in terms of you spending your own money. Each minute on the telephone could be worth a substantial sum in terms of your prospect’s time and the organisation’s turnover. Four minutes on the telephone might cost the company anything upwards of £200. Would you spend that amount of money these days without a thought, just because it is as easy for you to get out your wallet as it is for you to pick up a telephone? So make sure you give that possible future client or customer value for money. This alone will get your call at least some of the attention you need.