Anyone can make sales calls, but as you’ll know if you’ve done it, being good at it is another matter.
Sales is a learned skill, and experience counts. Over time you’ll get better at knowing who to talk to and how to make a good impression, but at the beginning it may be a little disheartening at times. Mistakes happen, strategies don’t work out. Or perhaps the most frequent complaint – you just can’t get through to the right people.
Especially on a first call, it can often be difficult to talk to the key decision makers. If you don’t have an existing relationship with a firm, you may find yourself getting no further than a secretary or a receptionist.
We call these people the gate-keepers. They won’t be involved in the decision over whether or not to include you on a tendering list, let alone awarding the tender itself. But they do have say in whether you get a foot in the door at all. They control the access to the decision makers, and that makes them surprisingly influential from a sales point of view. How you treat secretaries and receptionists is therefore very important.
Always treat these gate keepers with the same respect you would extend to any client. Turning away nuisance sales calls is a part of their job, so they are wise to sales talk. Be honest and up front about who you are and what you’re calling about. Treat them like the full human being they are, rather than an obstacle to be overcome. Courtesy works.
Secondly, do your homework before making the call. Ask for the key decision maker by name, and say which project you’re calling about. If you’re well informed, the receptionist will know you aren’t a time waster and will put you through.
If they decline, then be prepared to take no for an answer – don’t push it, or try to persuade and cajole. But accepting a ‘no’ doesn’t mean giving up. Perhaps now is not a good time, so say that you will call back and ask them for a suitable time to do that. If you get the impression that you shouldn’t call back at all, check that there’s not somebody else you should be talking to.
When you have an agreed time to call back, make sure you do. You’ll have an reason to call, because the potential client asked you to. You’ll also have shown yourself to be persistent and reliable, doing what you said you’d do, and that helps to build trust. So something as simple as calling back when you said you would can be enough to tip the scales in your favour, and this time you’ll be put through to the person you’re after.
These are small things, but they all matter. It’s the beginning of a dialogue, first steps towards building a relationship with that company, which is of course the end goal of good sales.