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Michael : Good morning Shaun.
Shaun : Yes, good morning Michael.
Michael : I’m absolutely delighted that you’re able to join us this morning to talk about cold calling. To kick this off, could you introduce yourself and say a little bit about what you do?
Shaun : Yes indeed. Michael, I’m Shaun Gisbourne and I run http://www.phoneforbusiness.com which is a telemarketing company. We tend to specialise in generating qualified leads and appointments particularly. We provide market intelligence as well, for mainly IT software, services and niche consultancy companies, those are typically the business’s that we tend to serve.
Michael : Two questions to lead on from that – What do you actually mean by cold calling? And what’s your own personal experience of cold calling?
Shaun : That’s always a good question this one. To my mind cold calling is when the person that you’re looking to reach by telephone has no knowledge of you, doesn’t know anything of you – literally doesn’t know you from Adam – couldn’t point you out in a line of people. That’s what a cold call is.
Now this doesn’t mean to say that if you have sent a piece of literature or maybe you’ve sent some other correspondence to the person that you intend to speak with that it isn’t a cold call, because as far as they’re concerned, if they haven’t received your piece of literature, or their previous correspondence, to them it’s still a cold call.
I think where it stops being a cold call is where you’ve had some previous contact with, if not them themselves, then certainly somebody that they work very closely with, or somebody that they would recommend, or somebody that they feel confident about hearing from.
So let’s say for example, Michael, I contact you for the first time, but previously I’ve had a conversation with let’s say, I don’t know, a fellow Ecademy Blackstar, somebody that we mutually know, it’s just that we haven’t conversed ourselves before. That I wouldn’t consider cold.
Michael : And what’s your own personal experience of doing cold calling?
Shaun : Well, I first started doing cold calling back in 1994, back then I was selling Anadin of all things. Anadin of White Hall laboratories fame to pharmacies, I was conducting surveys into sleeping patterns, doing surveys also for a group of vehicle lubricant manufacturers.
Later on I sold advertising to academic institutions, which was a lot of fun. I’ve called to fix appointments for business-rates assessment, car rental packages I’ve sold loads of those. Routing and switching technologies. Various software packages, and also some niche consultancy businesses that I alluded to earlier.
Michael : Why do you think cold calling is important in business today? Do you think cold calling still is important in business today?
Shaun : Well Michael, there will be people that tell you that cold calling isn’t important. I mean, it’s true that there is more resistance to it than there was before. But its important because its still the only way for the other person to gain any kind of rapport, or any kind of impression of who you are and what you represent – the only really publicly available way to reach a live human being without leaving your office.
Yes, we’ve got the Internet and email, and they’ve helped greatly, as well. But people still buy people, let’s not forget that. No faceless brochures, email, letters or hype is going to do it.
I’ll illustrate a point here Michael. Take a pure online business, somebody we probably both know, like http://www.nikkipilkington.com. People know that that business is as much about Nikki herself as it is about the processes and the results that she and her team can generate. She and her team don’t go to client meetings, they don’t need to, but due to the evident quality of what she does and the communication that she puts out, its still very much the person that they’re buying before the service or the product.
Michael : So how do you think its changing? Or is cold calling changing at the moment?
Shaun : Well, cold calling I think is changing. Its changing in the sense that you’ve now got a lot of countries like India, now this may work in certain cases, for example if you’re trying to direct a high volume of calls to a vast consumer market where profit margins per transaction are small, but lets face it, an offshore outsourced company isn’t going to be the best option to represent you on the phone if you’ve got a high-ticket niche consultancy offering, I don’t know about segments, per-se Michael, but I do know that its different depending on what you’re selling.
First and foremost we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that we’re here to gather information, that’s never changed.The information that we gather is going to give us the chance to position or tailor product or service to solve a particular issue – so if you’re selling a low value service its going to want less time to research, less time to gather information about the people that we want to contact, and the reverse is true obviously if you’re involved in opening up sales-cycles for a higher-value ticket purchase.
There’s just a lot more risk involved and fewer qualified buyers.
Michael : Now let’s look more specifically at cold calling itself. Very top level, what do you think are some of the key factors in making a cold calling campaign successful?
Shaun : The first and foremost important thing that I have to say there is opening statements. What you say first and how you deliver it, that’s the most crucial thing. The reason that I would say that is because of the sheer lack of patience that people have these days. They’re getting marketing messages thrown at them from all angles and all the media all of the time.
So the opening statement is crucial, and that applies to whether you’re talking to the receptionist or the actual decision-maker that you want to reach.
Michael : What do you think makes a good opening statement?
Shaun : Well a good opening statement has to be very much to the point. It’s about knowing what you want to happen, like in my case what I’m looking for is either a commitment from them to speak further, or a straight “No” from them. So it’s when you don’t allow people to think things over and get back to you and it’s very wishy-washy, or they’ve not fixed a date to commit for action.
That’s when cold calling really fails to realise any value at all. At the Sandler Sales Institute for example they’ll say “Be clear, specific and certain” I couldn’t agree more. If you could do that from the outset it helps greatly to ensure that both you and the person that you’re speaking with are on the same wavelength.
So literally, I would say “Michael, sometimes I find that I get confused quite easily. Michael, would you be offended if I said that we should be “Clear, specific and certain” in our communications and in anything that we agree to or commit to today?”
Michael : So going into a little bit more detail – What do you actually do when you make a call? Take me through the actual sequences or stages in a call, if you consider that there are some different stages of a call.
Shaun : This is a really good one. What I always make sure that I have to hand are pens and a big notepad…In the event that a conversation takes place between myself and the person that I intend to speak with.
And it’s the same with the people that I work with. Make sure that you’ve got the ability to record the conversation, not just by (using) recording software, which I sometimes employ as well, then certainly a good old pen and paper.
The mindset and attitude have to be straight as well. My basic mindset and attitude, Michael, are “I’d like to help and I’d like to do business with these people, but I don’t actually need to be liked and I don’t actually need their business.”
It’s a sense of authority that I have to have to remain equal. Some people when they cold call, they’re paralyzed that they’re not going to know what they’re going to say, whether they’ll be rejected, hearing the word “No”.
Let me state this categorically Michael, hearing “No” is good. “No” is good. It’s when you hear things like “Maybe” or “Sounds interesting” or “I’ll think it over.” That’s not so good.
Hearing “Yes” is even worse, because that requires you to ask a really strong series of questions to ensure that the person that you’re dealing with is willing to back up their positive speech with positive action. Some just say “Yes” because they don’t know how to say “No”, they might be scared of offending you, or they might be playing a game with you. You have that as well, you know.
So basically go for the “No”, until your system allows there to be a “Yes”. And by that, I mean another thing, which is that you have to work to a system. If you’re going to be able to safely measure the success of what you’re doing – then you’re going to have to use a system. So it should be evident in your approach.
Michael : What would you say are the elements of a good system?
Shaun : Well, for a start, if you’re working by telephone, invariably you’re also going to be coming across voice mail or maybe email communications as well, so I’d say being congruent, being consistent in those forms of communication.
Being recognisable for that consistency, for that congruency is paramount.
Stick to it, make sure that the communication you put out by telephone, voicemail and email has a pattern to it – particularly with regards to the opening statement. You want to establish permission, you know, permission with them so that they can say “Yes” to you and that they can say “No” to you to begin with. And develop the conversation from there.
If the system you use doesn’t work well for you then you’re either going to have to commit to mastering it, or you’re really going to have to find one that does work better for you. It’s as simple as that really.
Michael : If you were going to teach somebody new to cold call, what are the key things that you would get over to them?
Shaun : Oh their attitude, always. Always.
By all means, treat cold calling as an important activity, there’s nothing more important than opening up sales cycles – I know I would say that because it’s my core profession, but you ask a lot of people in a lot of different functions of business if they like the idea of opening up the sales cycle for their firm and trust me, 80% of them are going to run a mile!
So your attitude has to be right. You’ve got to have a bit of fun with it as well. One thing you should never do is attach emotional concern to cold calling. I know this sounds easier said than done, but on a communication level, you have to remain personal, of course, but on an emotional level you’ve got to remain detached.
I can’t state that any stronger.
The most successful living entrepreneur in my family, my grandfather, he tells me that there’s no room for emotion in business and I think he’s absolutely right. You’re making first impressions, and those first impressions have got to be good, but your goal is not to appear perfect.
The problem with trying to be perfect is that it has the reverse effect with people. People want to know that what they’re dealing with is a human being. Not a robot. So if you come across as a little hesitant, that’s actually OK. Your humility is more likely to be welcomed than to be frowned upon.
If you come across some very sharp people, that maybe want you to step up the pace, be a bit more like them, then by all means they’re going to bond more quickly with you if you do step up and speak at a more rapid pace, as they do. But it’s important not to take the mirroring, and trying to get that mirroring to absolute perfection.
I’ll give you an example of what I mean here. It can appear insulting, and plus some peoples’ vocal characteristics are just not easy to model: Take us, were men, so a very high-pitched female voice would be practically impossible to mirror, and also, if somebody has a speech impediment, you just don’t go there do you?
Michael : OK, you’ve got somebody new, is there anything else that you would get them to focus on?
Shaun : I’d get them to focus on the other person, as much as possible… what that other person says,…writing it down, actively listening.
By actively listening, what I mean by that is having the other persons’ answers prompt your next questions. So, if, let’s say, you give me an answer and I think to myself that “I’ve got to ask this question because it’s on my script” or “I’ve got to find out this bit of information”.
Given your response to the first question, Michael, it may not even be appropriate for me to ask you that question that is on my script. What would be more appropriate would be to listen to you, and actually find out from you – “OK you’ve just said this, Michael, why is that?” “What experience has led you to this conclusion?”
or “What impact do you think its having in your business?”, you know, develop your original statement, because that’s the basis for a more natural conversation.
Michael : OK, you brought up the subject of scripts. Do you think they have a place? How would you suggest that people should use them?
Shaun : Scripts, this is a very emotive issue in our business! I would say that scripts, to a point, yes.
I suppose the classic example would be if you’re doing a market research exercise and you want to establish specific facts from every single contact, and you’ve got some very strong data to draw upon, and you’re trying to establish some trends perhaps, some business intelligence, then that would be a good time to use a script. At every other pretext I can’t see the use for one..
Again, the concentration and the effort should go into the opening statement. It should be to present the reason for your call. Find out if they are open – not interested – open to having a conversation on this particular topic.
So if I, let’s say, work with companies that have ‘X’ situation with ‘Y’ consequence, or ‘A’ situation with ‘B’ consequence. I’d then ask you, “Michael, these are the sorts of the companies that we work with, I don’t suppose you’d be open to talking about those topics would you, or “I don’t suppose these are issues that you’re familiar with are they?”
Those are the types of things that I would do to determine at the beginning whether we’ve even got a basis to converse.
Michael : What skills do you have that enable you to be good at cold calling yourself?
Shaun : Well, I try to think that my ears are my best detectives, because on the phone, one thing that you are, is blind. You can’t see visual cues, your auditory acuity I suppose, your hearing basically, has to be very sharp, and it’s all you have.
It an overlooked observation: You’ve got two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion. Everybody says it, but it’s very often not practiced. Getting people to become comfortable by letting them know they can say “No” to you as well as “Yes” to you, is a good way of creating a non-threatening environment. It sets the agenda for the call.
You both have to feel OK on the call, because if not then you’re going to feel pressure, and when that happens, I’ll say something to you like this: “Michael, I feel pressure here, have I done something wrong?” or “Have I done something to offend you?” Say if you sense that the person that you’re talking with seems anxious or maybe not able to give you their full attention.
Invite them to speak more by using questions at the end of everything that you say. “why is that Michael?” or “Anything else?” or “I sense that you’ve got a lot of noise in the background, would it be better if I spoke to you later?”
Michael : And still on the theme of your own skills – How did you learn to do this?
Shaun : I don’t think anybody leaves school and goes “I want to be a telemarketer” or cold caller or whatever, I don’t think that happens.
In my case it was certainly trial and error for the first few years. I didn’t go on any training of any sort until I’d been cold calling for about three years, and I can’t even recall the content of the first training I went on.
I suppose one of the most beneficial things that I’ve ever done which has helped my skills set, it to put my skills to the test in another language, in this case French. Now I understand not everybody is not going to have that possibility, but I lived in Belgium for seven years and you soon learn when you’re at a disadvantage, when you’re less fluent in a language than the person that you’re calling. You kind of learn to learn again.
You listen a great deal more, you become more like a sponge. You don’t really have a choice if you’re going to respond well.
Michael : Now looking at yourself again, what do you believe about yourself when you’re making a call?
Shaun : Well the way I see it is that essentially I’m kind of like a travelling doctor. I’m there to perform check ups, to treat issues illness, if it exists. The only difference is that my surgery operates by phone, I can literally cover the whole country or beyond.
I basically believe that my mission is to establish a common understanding, to be clear about what we can and can’t do together, just in line with some basic objectives. My overriding belief, if any, is that I’m in a position to help these people, these companies, but only if they really want help or need help – because the person that I’m talking to, they’re the only person really capable of solving their own problems.
My job is to help them realise what problems can exist in their business and then to facilitate the solving of those problems, that they identify as being important enough to solve.
Michael : What do you believe – or do you have any image of the people that you haven’t yet spoken to? You’re about to call somebody – do you have any image or beliefs or whatever, about the person you’re about to call?
Shaun : Well first and foremost, I suppose the belief system that I have is that, yes, I am calling another human being. They’re another human being that also has problems. Just like you and I would have Michael. Regardless of their position in life, and I don’t really care what title they have either, I’m more concerned that they understand me, that I understand them – taking into account things like their accent or language that they use as I’ve touched on earlier.
I recognise that on one day the person that I’m speaking to may be more open than on others, depending on the situations and the pressure that they’re facing. And that is the key, whether or not someone is open.
I think I would probably have to credit Ari Galper with this, being open to discussing something, rather than being interested in it is fundamental – the reason that I stress this is because people would much rather let you know that they’re open or not, than to have to answer questions on their level of interest in your product or service, or even in you.
Open is about them, interested is about you. Interested is about you, your product, your service, its features, its benefit etc. Where as open is looking at the conversation from a different perspective, namely, their perspective.
Michael : Moving on from that – if you had to recruit a cold calling person, how would you know who to choose?
Shaun : Well, how would I know who to choose? That’s a really good one.
Of course, I look for track record in terms of results. People that I’m working with in phoneforbusiness now, these are people with a track record of results. I’m not looking for rookies, if that makes any sense.
I’m looking for experienced people that have chosen telemarketing as a career option, people that are open for learning, that don’t believe that they are the finished article. Because I think one of the big issues in cold calling today and the reason that it has a bad image, if at all, is to do with training and coaching. Pure and simple.
People are just not being trained adequately to meet professional expectations of the people that they’re calling! If they were, then cold calling obviously wouldn’t have any negative press, the like of which it can attract. Now that’s been building up for decades, but we still don’t seem to learn that investing and developing in peoples’ skills at this level is critical.
You only get one chance to make a good first impression, you rarely get the luxury to make a second go at it, so I suppose in having the right person, it’s their willingness to be teachable, to be trainable, and to be creative in their thinking and willing to hone their craft and their approach.
Michael : Different sort of question. If you were to describe cold calling as a fairytale, with fairytale characters or animals, or cartoons – how would you describe the relationship between somebody cold calling and their potential customers?
Shaun : A fairytale? I could probably cite several examples here, depending, I suppose on how you’d want to represent it.
I’m not sure if I can think of a fairytale that’s apt here Michael, but I suppose the one that might come to peoples’ minds might be the one about kissing frogs before finding the one that turns into a prince.
I tend to prefer to draw my inspiration from real life, I’m a fact-book reader, I tend to read business books – I’m really not that interesting as a person.
I think a guy like Colonel Saunders, a retired guy in his mid-sixties living in his car, driving out to a thousand different outlets before his recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken was bought and then marketed to the global success that we know about. I think these days people lack that patience and determination; they look for the quick fix all of the time.
Edison with the light bulb, the ten-thousand experiments that he conducted to get the modern light bulb into being comes to mind. I think today we’ve got things like Big Brother, TV programs that promote instant success. It’s very fleeting, very misleading – I think it sends a message out that you don’t have to work that hard at anything to make it.
Real success is in the people that create and market these sorts of programs, not the contestants.
Michael : Before I ask for if there’s anything that you’d like to plug, or if there’s anything that you’d like to let our listeners know that you’re doing – is there anything that you’d like to emphasise because you think it’s important or anything that you think is important in cold calling?
Shaun : I think a lot of people that would listen to this may be people that have gotten fed up of cold calling. They might have gotten fed up with it quite early on, through their own efforts.
Perhaps it didn’t produce the results that they wanted, or the results that they wanted quickly enough. Maybe they expected it to produce more “Yes” responses than it had.
I’m going to speak directly to those people for a minute Michael, if I may. I’d say stop waiting for, stop looking for the “Yes” to happen. Life isn’t going to revolve around this and it shouldn’t. You’re thinking way, way too much about yourself – not enough about the person that you’re speaking with.
As I’ve said before, whatever system you decide to use or adopt, work that system well. Other than that, just take the focus off of yourself. People you call, they don’t actually care a jot about you and your hang-ups. They’re not half as concerned with you as you think they are.
This is, I think, the attitude that produces more cold callers than any other. It’s at least partly responsible the sheer numbers, the sheer turnover, of people that go through places like call-centres. It’s like any other skill really, calling is going to take time to develop. It’s going to take time to get competent.
I’d emphasise that more than anything else. It’s not something whereby you can just pick up a phone and suddenly stuff happens.
Michael : Now, you’ve been considerate enough to talk about your experience for the last half hour or so – is there anything that you would like to let us and our listeners know about what you do?
Shaun : What I try to do, and what all of my associates do as well is that whenever we engage with somebody that is thinking about using any kind of outsource, be it cold calling, or any other form of calling, on the back of maybe another marketing action – that marketing action could be in lieu of an event, it could be on the back of some direct mail or email campaign, you name it – before they go into making any decisions, I ask them a host of questions about what they’ve done before in the cold calling or telemarketing arena. I want to be sure that I know where they’re coming from first: What kinds of results they may have generated from previous activities; what other marketing they’ve got already ongoing; what kind of responses they’re getting from that marketing; I want to know about their typical length of sales cycle. I’d like to know what their biggest victory to date has been and what they attribute that to. The kinds of people that they sell to most successfully and why. And most of all, I want to create with them a message, that’s based around the key issues that their product or service literally kicks butt at resolving. So that they, and the people that they’re trying to communicate with, are both really aware and in no doubts about what this company does and how it does it and who it does it for.
We need people to get to that point. That’s that main thing. Before any calling takes place, I want to make sure that were all reading off of the same hymn sheet and that we can work together successfully and effectively.
Michael : And your contact details?
Shaun : Contact details, you can reach me on [email protected]. You can, if you’re feeling brave, use the phone – the best number to reach me is 0208 133 0702. And, if you’re on the ecademy business network, or Linked In, you can see me there as well and send me a message.
Michael : Excellent. Thank you very much for your time.
Shaun : Not at all, it’s been a pleasure Michael, thank you.
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