On any given day industrial buyers are tasked with project team meetings, negotiations with suppliers, resolving invoicing, and various problems related to their job. They also must meet or speak with current suppliers, bidders on projects, and deal with calls from potential suppliers.
In these tough economic times sales representatives responsible for finding business with new customers and reconnecting with past customers. In many instances this means placing a call to a buyer with the hope of having a face-to-face meeting, or at least to be put on a bid list for future projects. However, in many cases the sales rep’s efforts go for naught because of the approach or the manner in which the call was made.
For example, there is the “Shot in The Dark” call. In this situation a sales rep places calls to many potential customers hoping to drum up new business. The rep places the call and gets transferred to a buyer’s voicemail. She leaves the name of the company, her name and a phone number, and asks that the buyer return the call. In a down economy, this type of sales prospecting is very common. It is also one that is doomed to fail, because the rep did not provide any information about her company’s product or service, and there is almost no chance that a buyer would return such a call.
Another technique, the “Cold Call” or “Happen to Be” call, is used every day. In this case a sales rep goes to a potential customer and asks the receptionist to speak with a buyer. The receptionist may direct the sales rep to a phone in order to call the buyer. If the buyer answers, the rep may say something like this: “Hello, my name is Steve. I happen to be in your lobby and would like to take a few minutes of your time to introduce myself and my company and discuss any possible opportunities that we may help reduce your costs.” In spite of all of the modern communication tools, and the ageless advice to make an appointment, sales reps of all types still use the Cold Call approach. One of the problems with this is that the rep is taking a chance that the buyer has a problem that needs to be solved, and that it’s something his company can do. A bigger problem with this for the rep is that the buyer will refuse to meet with him, and that’s that.
Some buyers feel that if the sales rep just “happens to be” in the lobby or in the area and are hoping for an audience and also an order, then the rep is not managing his own schedule and should not expect to meet with a buyer in this situation.
Another sales technique that often leads to nothing is a variation on the Happen to Be approach, and that is the “Drive-By” approach. In many case a sales rep is driving through or is near a buyer’s company. There is a history of business between their companies, but nothing in the past six months or longer. The sales rep calls the buyer from the car and says: “Hello, this is Jason. I will be driving through your city today and was wondering if there are any new projects coming up, new opportunities for my company and for yours to solve a problem?” If the buyer actually speaks to the sales rep, the odds are high that he will tell the rep there are no new opportunities or requirements at the present time, and to call again at some time in the future. If the rep’s call goes to voicemail, unless there is an immediate situation that needs to be discussed, the call in most cases will not be returned.
So what should sales reps do to improve their chances for new opportunities? First, research the potential customer; learn about their company, its market, its product or service, and its competition. Second, make an appointment! This takes time—expect to be put off, and do not expect immediate success. Going in cold is a waste of time. Finally, be persistent. In some cases this may mean calling on a potential customer for weeks, months, or even years. But without it the rep will be doomed to failure and continued rejection.