The art of cold calling: Get that meeting with whoever, whenever you want it

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You’ve identified who in government you wish to engage with. You have sent them an email outlining your products and services and have even aligned these with the agency’s services and their objectives. Now it is time for that follow up call to secure a meeting and truly begin an engagement.

Cold calling. You pick up the phone and punch in the number. You hear them pick up and suddenly your throat is dry and you find it hard to breathe. The greeting you squeeze out sounds like a space alien from another universe — or, worse, like that telemarketer you hung up on last night at dinner time.

Cold calling to get a meeting with our prospects is difficult for most of us. The good news is that it is a skill and a mindset that can be learned.

Here’s one script that works more times than it doesn’t. It begins with a series of simple yet effective steps to establish rapport, before moving into the actual point of the call (demonstrating you can solve a problem and gaining a meeting).

Establishing rapport when cold calling

Everyone is busy

You’re busy. I am busy. Everyone is busy. Take it as read and don’t worry that you are interrupting someone’s busy day. Have it in your mindset that while they may be busy, you have some information to provide that will add value to their workday and could even make it less busy. So, good; there is a purpose to you calling them.

How are you today?

After you say “g’day” and tell them your name and where you are from, simply ask “How are you today?” Make sure you refer to ‘today’. It sends the message you are pointedly interested in them and specifically how they are today.

Then stop and listen to what they have to say. It is important that you give them time to speak and respond. The next words they speak are going to inform you how you are going to connect with them.

Connect to engage

Before you can engage in a meaningful conversation, you need to have some sort of connection with that person. True engagement comes with connection. Without connection someone can quickly justify to themselves that they are not being rude when they simply hang up. (Think about that telemarketer last night. It was that easy.)

If you haven’t built rapport and made a connection with someone, then explaining why you called and asking for a meeting will be an easy request to deny. So at this point don’t be tempted to explain the reason for your call, just yet.

Assess their response to “How are you today?”

“Fine! What’s this about?”

Yes, they may simply respond with some minimalist courtesy. Maybe even no courtesy at all. Their busy day is pressing in on them. It takes a lot of discipline to not react. Hold firm, your call has a purpose, you are here to help them.

To build rapport, you need to listen very carefully to all of their response. Not just the words, but all of the non-verbal aspects of their response as well, even down a phone line.

Was there a sigh that went with the words? Were they clipped and unemotional? Was there some warmth? Wistfulness? Did they seem distracted? What noise is going on in the background? Were they laughing as they picked up the phone? Do they sound like they have a cold?

Make a quick assessment – is their day going well or is it going pear-shaped?

From any one of these clues about their situation, you can ask a concerned question or make a humorous comment to break through to the human that they are being right now. When you do this it shows you acknowledge (‘care’ is too strong a word right now) their situation and this begins the process of building rapport with them.

Authenticity cannot be faked

As you listen to all of their response, be openly curious about their situation. Put aside any prejudice you have about them and be open to whatever they say.

Be you. From your genuine self you will be able to receive their response, able to be really curious about what is going on for them and who they are being right now, and as a result, know the right thing to say next to build rapport.

Disclosure is the key to rapport

Your response — the question you ask or the humorous comment you make — should disclose something about yourself.

  • If they have a cold, tell them how you had to take your son to the doctor over the weekend. Or a similarly related anecdote about you. Ask them if they have seen a doctor yet?
  • If they are laughing, ask them if they can tell you the joke too, you like a good laugh. Then tell them a joke or something funny that just popped into your head as they spoke.
  • If they are sighing, ask them what’s up, can I help? Then relate how you had a blah day last week and what you did to get over it.
  • If they are angry, state you are simply calling to get some information from them to get your boss off your back. When you mention the ‘boss’ use the same angry tone they used. You’ll be surprised how quickly mirroring their tone helps them to empathise with you and want to help you with that information you need.
  • If they are not really listening, ask what could you possibly say that would make their day? Yes, they may say the best thing you can say is ‘goodbye’. If they do, just laugh and say you are being sincere because they sounded like they were distracted, or that they needed cheering up. Then see what they say and repeat the process of authentic listening.

The best question or humorous quip for this call will come from your authentic self. Because you are genuine and openly curious, the right response will naturally pop into your head. Even if you think your response sounds daft, it will be received well because it was genuine.

Your homework for this part of the script is for you to practise authentic listening. Next time you are gathering for a meeting, ask someone “How are you today?” and practise listening to all of their response. Then blurt out the very next thing you think of, a question or a humorous quip. Don’t worry, it’s just practice. You can’t possibly fail. And just watch for the positive impact it has.

Reciprocity makes the connection stick

When you disclose something about yourself, you set up reciprocity that is difficult for a reasonable human to resist. They will subconsciously be open to continuing the conversation. Looking for the opportunity to reciprocate for your disclosure.

Getting down to business

You have rapport, now connect

Now (finally) you can engage around the reason for your call. You can now connect with them and explain how you are going to solve a problem they may or may not know they have. Get to the point quickly and paraphrase the email you sent. Use results based language — here is what I can do for you.

Don’t mention the original email, as they most probably have not read it. If they do bring it up in the conversation, then use it to explain why you have called. The purpose of the email, should they have read it, is simply to prime them for this conversation and the request for a meeting.

Give them an opportunity to be generous

They are not exactly busting to reciprocate. However, they are primed to hear a request and respond with an offer. So now ask for the meeting you want: “I’m going to be in your area on Thursday at 3pm, is that a good time for you and me to meet and talk about this in more detail?”

Whatever you ask for, they may hedge (their defence mechanisms will kick in about now) and you may have to negotiate to obtain it from them. After all, their generosity may not be that great. But be persistent.

Disengage politely

Once you obtain the meeting, thank them, wish them well and disengage politely. Now send them the calendar invitation straightaway. For them, buyer’s remorse will set in almost immediately as they wonder why the hell they said yes to your request. Send the invitation now, while they are still committed.

That’s it. Well done. Chalk up another successful cold call. Don’t stop there though; go to the next recipient of your email campaign. Pick up the phone now, you are on a roll!

With practice — don’t worry, you will cock it up from time to time — you will master the art of cold calling and get the meeting you want whenever you want it. Good luck.

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Alan Roe is a Senior Consultant at Mia. With over three decades’ experience engaging with government, he supports Mia’s clients in the execution of government engagement strategies and development of tender responses, as well as  a range of other consulting, facilitation and educational activities.

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