“I couldn’t believe it,” Marc said, staring into his piccolo latte.
Marc is a friend and one of the most successful salespeople I know. However, it was clear he was having a minor crisis of confidence.
We were catching up at a café in the city, and Marc was telling me about a recent call.
“I was on the phone with Linda, a purchasing manager from a XYZ Ltd,” he told me.
“I was in the zone. I felt we shared just the right amount of small talk. We had good rapport – at least I thought so. I asked her about her business needs. I explained a bit about my company and the offer, which was compelling. Then I paused and waited for her to comment, ask a question, or even offer an objection that might move the conversation forward before setting a time to visit in person.”
“Instead, Linda just sighed and said, ‘I’m sorry Marc. We’re not in the market for something like this at the moment. Thanks anyway. I have to go. Bye.’
“With that she was gone. I was left hanging.
“If it was just that one call, it might have been OK. But this was, like, the tenth call in a row like that.”
How to persuade the unpersuadable
No matter how sophisticated your interpersonal communication skills might be, or how good your company, product, service or offer are, some people simply won’t respond positively when you call.
Even more frustrating, you won’t always know why. And there are many possible reasons. For example, they may be raving fans of their current solution and supplier. They may even have an irrational bias against your company or product that no amount of persuasive rhetoric will affect.
Your timing may not be the best. The prospect company’s CFO may have placed a temporary freeze on major purchases. The company might not have a technical expert currently available to evaluate your solution.
How do you engage with and convince all these intransigents to progress further in the sales cycle?
The short answer – you don’t.
Many target prospects are just not ready for you, your product or your service.
Accept that you cannot always reach the right person in the right company at the right time with the right offer.
Some people will never be ‘sold’ to. Others may just not be ready to engage with you at the time you call.
Your task is to identify the people who are prepared to explain their needs to you and who may eventually consider your pitch. Look for them, find them, talk with them and sell to them.
You do that by focusing more on the quality of the prospect than the mechanics of your approach.
Refining your target prospect list
In most cases, when you’re selling, you rely on a qualified prospect list that aligns with specific criteria (e.g. industry, company size, location, demographics).
However, in most cases, you can do even more to refine the list and identify your ideal customers.
To begin, I suggest cross-referencing your list with your existing customer database.
Who, on your prospect list, resembles your happiest, most satisfied customers? What are their distinctive attributes? Their primary business needs? Their personal motivations?
Once you’ve whittled your list to the prospects who are most like your happiest existing customers, how much more information can you find out about them? Build a three-dimensional profile for each – including personal histories, the network of influencers within each organisation, and the typical buying behaviours of both organisations and the individuals within those organisations.
You can even take it a step further by locating potential referrers. These are the people who can vouch for you, for your company and for the prospect. They are the connectors who will potentially provide an introduction, or at least permission to use their names in a sales conversation.
Reclaiming your selling mojo
Marc’s experience with Linda had left him deflated. His selling mojo had dissolved and he was reluctant to pick up the phone again.
I thought I might share something that had worked for me in the past.
“You did the best you could,” I said. “Some people, and some companies, are just not in your market. There are others who are not interested now, but may be in the future and are worth keeping in the pipeline. In both cases, however, don’t worry too much about them at this time.”
“I suggest you take a break from the phone for a day or two. Spend that time reviewing your list and identifying the best prospects. Then, when you get back on the phone, you can make it a lot easier on yourself.”
To his credit, Marc took note and spent the next day studying the organisations and buyers on his list. He examined his company’s existing customer database. He also looked at the similarities and differences between the contacts on each list.
Then he began culling. He undertook some research on LinkedIn and visited company websites. He called potential referrers.
By the end of that day, Marc had deleted more than half of the contacts on his prospect list. He had also more than doubled the amount of key information in each remaining contact record.
By the beginning of the following afternoon, still with trepidation, he was ready to call the first contact – Jessica.
He later described the experience to me.
“The call with Linda was still fresh in my memory,” Marc said, “so I wasn’t enthusiastic. But I did my best to introduce myself, build rapport, ask relevant questions and mention a few key elements of my offer to spark her interest.”
“I then braced myself for the expected rejection.”
“For a moment there was silence, then Jessica eventually spoke. ‘Sounds interesting,’ she said. ‘Are you available next week to visit my office, look at our operation and take me through your product specs in more detail.’
“In that moment,” said Marc, “I knew my selling mojo had returned. I was back in the zone.”