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When it comes to running a business, there’s a big difference between being an expert in a particular industry and being an entrepreneur. Yes, as an expert you might develop great products or solutions, but without sales skills, your business will not survive, let alone thrive.
Entrepreneurs know how to sell; this is what differentiates them. But as someone from the “expert” side of the aisle, I’ve found my lack of skill in sales to be a painful lesson. I’ve tried to remedy the situation by reading books on sales and listening to podcasts on the subject, but those resources teach you only so much. At some point, you just have to pick up the phone and dial.
So, when Chris Beall, CEO of Connect and Sell in San Jose, offered, via LinkedIn, the opportunity for 12 people to join an April cold call challenge, using his company’s software for free, I jumped at the chance. Beall claimed that the tool would help people do 150 cold calls per hour, and given the fact that I was doing only five a day, his offer seemed like a great opportunity.
Many of my friends said I was crazy because, they argued, cold-calling is dead, and social-selling is the way forward, but I needed to push myself out of my comfort zone and start my journey from expert to entrepreneur. So, I jumped in, and guess what? It was a great learning experience. Here’s what I learned from making 2,000 calls in 20 days.
Those 20 lessons
1. Senior people will speak with you. What was most important for me from that experience was the fact that senior people will pick up the phone and speak with you. My call lists were all CEOs, SVPs, VPs and directors of Fortune 500 companies; and I got through to speak to them on 6 percent of the calls.
Related: 7 Tips for Cold-Calling Success
2. An average of 17 calls per contact. Based on the 2,000 calls I made, it took me an average of 17 calls before I was able to speak to someone.
3. The tool you need. If it takes you 17 calls to get through,you’re going to need a tool to do that leg work; otherwise, you’re going to find cold-calling very frustrating, time-consuming and unproductive.
4. Voicemail. Over 50 percent of my calls went directly to voicemail.
5. A voicemail strategy? Nyet. Don’t bother with a voicemail strategy as less than 1 percent of people (in my experience) respond to voicemail.
6. Follow-up meetings are possible. One in ten of my initial conversations led to a follow-up meeting.
7. Call-to-conversation ratio. To make 2,000 calls, you need a list of around 600 prospects to call; otherwise your call-to-conversation ratio is negatively impacted. Given that with the right tool you can easily make 2,000 calls a month, your business needs to have around 7,200 prospects per sales person to keep your sales teams moderately busy for the entire year.
8. Follow up now. Do the follow-up immediately. Don’t leave it for “tomorrow” or a later date, as things build up and that call might not get made.
9. Chill! Try to stay relaxed. I found that the more relaxed I was, the more relaxed my prospects were.
10. How good is your contact list? The quality of your contact list is everything. I would recommend that you spend as much time on ensuring you have the right people on the list as you do calling. The reason: This action will significantly help you get through to the right people. Calling any number for the sake of hitting a call target is just a waste of effort
11. Persist and persist some more. Only 6 percent of my calls led to a conversation, so perseverance and persistence turned out to be key attributes for being successful at sales.
12. Time of day isn’t crucial. Time of day, morning or afternoon, I found, didn’t really make a difference.
13. Which days spell success? My most successful day for calls to turn into conversations was a bank holiday, as most senior managers were in the office then, but not in meetings, and therefore available.
14. Attitude? Attitude is everything.
15. De-emphasize email and texting. Pick up the phone with everyone, not just for cold-calling. Yes, email, text and messaging are easier and more convenient; but you will learn more from a call, I determined; and people will often be happy to hear from you.
16. Forget multitasking. Don’t try to do too many things when you’re waiting to connect; that can cause you to make mistakes, or even lose the connection. I appreciate that for people spending the whole day calling that might not be an issue; but as I was doing it for only one hour, I had no excuse.
17. Start easy. A great start builds great confidence, so start off by calling someone you’re confident things will go well with.
18. It’s not personal. Cold-calling can be tough, and rejection a little brutal but the more calls you make, the more resilient you become. You quickly realize that rejection isn’t personal.
19. Don’t worry whether “this is a good time.” If you’re not sure whether it’s a good time to call, do it anyway, and you will soon find out.
20. If you can’t sell . . . If you truly can’t sell, then outsource this task; or hire someone who can do it. Why? Because the success of your business is at stake.
Sales? It’s an expertise you develop. And it’s not easy. But for experts to succeed in business, sales is something we need to master. By applying the 20 lessons I describe, you will definitely find the journey to becoming a successful entrepreneur easier and more satisfying.