Here’s a puzzler: What’s something that’s hard to get, and once you have it, easy to lose? It’s not exactly the riddle of the Sphinx. Just about everyone knows that trust must be earned; what’s more difficult is figuring out how to do that. There’s no simple set of rules for cold-calling or attempting to woo a prospective client during that first sales presentation, but there are a few ways you can highlight your inherent trustworthiness.
Before you can begin earning their trust, however, you need some of your own. “If you do not trust the company that you’re working for, the deeper purpose that you’re representing, that conviction switch will just never turn on,” says author Rich Karlgaard. “It’s hard to sell something you don’t truly believe in.” Karlgaard, publisher of Forbes magazine, wrote the recently released book The Soft Edge: Where Great Companies Find Lasting Success.
It’s a matter of authenticity. “The insincere salesman that’s often portrayed doesn’t work in the age of social media. … Authenticity comes from a deeply sincere place,” Karlgaard says.
That’s been the experience of Kevin Scharnek, owner of Waukesha, WI-based 14 West LLC (asi/197092). His small company’s salespeople don’t do their own sourcing or quoting, something of an anomaly in the industry, he says; instead, they rely on what Scharnek calls “a fantastic bullpen of client service folks.” When Scharnek and his salespeople talk up the services 14 West offers, they don’t have to exaggerate, and that pride and trust in the team shines through. “I think people can sense truth. It’s maybe in the tone of your voice, your body language,” he says.
So, you believe in your company and its mission. Now what?
Do your homework. With some basic research and minimal prep work, you can easily warm up a cold call. “If you just do a blind cold call, you just sound like a telemarketer,” says Reggie Gonzalez, vice president of product sales at supplier iClick Decorate (asi/63125). “That’s the worst thing to do.” Get some background on the client’s company and unique challenges before you pick up the phone. Even something as simple as a Google search could do the trick.
Gonzalez recommends giving prospects fair warning. His preferred method: a handwritten note telling them to expect his call. He would attach the note to spec samples – perhaps a notepad and pen – and put the little packet in the mail. As a salesman, he used to send out about 30 such notes every quarter. The majority of the people who received them would accept or return his call, and nearly half agreed to a subsequent in-person meeting, he says. “When I called, people would always remember that note,” Gonzalez says. It’s a tradition he encourages his current sales team to carry on.
Ask questions (and listen to the answers). Once you’ve connected with a potential client, the temptation is often to launch directly into your pitch. But dominating the conversation is a mistake, experts say, and it fits right into the stereotype of the huckster salesperson. “By DNA, we’re high-drive, low-compliance, so we just want to take over the situation,” Scharnek says of salespeople. “Everyone needs to do a better job of just listening.”
Let the client tell you about their challenges, and then ask them thoughtful questions to help unearth their true needs, says Chris Vanderzyden, sales consultant and author of 7 Steps to Entrepreneurial Victory. “They will know if you’re wasting their time,” she says. And don’t forget to take notes. Not only does it show you’re paying attention, those notes will come in handy when you need to recall your client’s specific concerns in the future.
Follow up. After that initial meeting or phone call, keep yourself top-of-mind by sending a handwritten thank-you note to potential clients. It’s what salespeople at iClick do to stand out, Gonzalez says: “That really solidifies that relationship. Nobody does handwritten cards anymore.”