When I talk to salespeople and look at data from structured sales campaigns, it’s clear that the number one bottleneck in the sales process is getting appointments. And it’s seemingly getting tougher, not easier, despite all the digital avenues available to most salespeople for pre-call research and preparation of a Valid Business Reason that should, in theory, evoke a response from the prospect. So, why is it so tough to get that appointment?
I see salespeople often know what they should do to break through the clutter to secure an appointment, but they short-circuit the process because they (and their managers) are in a hurry. As a result, their approach to the prospect sounds generic (as in a phone script they might use with many different prospects) and they default to pitching the value of their product as a means to secure an appointment. Neither approach works very well.
Here is a general rule of thumb about the language you use to approach a prospect:
Generic = bad
Specific = good
I’d suggest you put that next to your phone or on the wall of your cubicle as a reminder the next time you are doing your appointment-setting work. To help you actually live out the guidelines, here are five specific actions you can take to increase your appointment closing ratio:
- Put yourself in the shoes of the person you are attempting to reach. What function do they perform in their organization? Are they responsible for marketing, for sales, for production, for IT? For what are they held accountable? Efficiency? Conversion? Accuracy? What do they wake up thinking about as they get dressed to go work? The more you can put your own head where theirs is, the more effective you will be at demonstrating empathy for them and their job they are charged to do.
- Share a trend about their business. I was working with a salesperson in Miami who needed some help in securing an appointment with the marketing director in charge of selling franchises for dry cleaning stores. I Googled “trends in dry cleaning franchises” and found an article that confirmed what I expected: heretofore, dry cleaning has been a very local business, but the trend is now moving toward nationally-known names that are franchised in local markets. Now we have lots to talk about with our marketing director that will show some preparation and expertise in the industry.
- Be specific. How do you get specific? Spend some time on the company’s website. What are the headlines? What tabs do they have above that provide you with some insight on how they present themselves? What are they rotating in the panes on the home page? Those are typically priorities. Do they offer live chat? You can learn a lot in only three minutes about how they present themselves and what their priorities are. Their social media presence is another big cache of useful information. Do they have a LinkedIn page? How about Facebook? What are people saying about them?
- Stop dangling your product and instead dangle your process. I hate to break this to you, but everyone has a compelling product story these days, and to prospects, it’s white noise. No wonder appointment setting closing ratios are so bleak. Between the “I have the best product in the world” phone calls and emails, prospects have simply tuned out. Instead of showcasing your product, deliver a few sentences about how you work with your customers. Do you get involved and learn about their unique situation before recommending a solution? Have you been able to solve problems profitably for customers in the past? Do you have access to team that tailors solutions to each client? Do you have a long list of regular clients who depend on you? This will do much more to compel the prospect to grant you a meeting than your product pitch.
- Use multiple approaches in multiple media. Just because the prospect doesn’t respond to your first approach, don’t give up and don’t take that as a rejection. People are busy, and you are not yet at the top of their priority list. Our research indicates it often takes seven approaches before the prospect even realizes who you are and why you propose to meet. Most salespeople give up after two or three. When we say seven approaches, we don’t mean seven phone calls. That is borderline harassment. You might start with email that states your Valid Business Reason and then follow up with phone call. After that, perhaps another email with new information (about their business) and then another follow-up phone call. The best appointment setters then follow up with card or letter in the US Mail. Yes, snail mail. But, it stands out.
Every time you approach, ask yourself, “Am I specific enough?” If the answer is "no," you know what to do. By the way, remember the approach to the marketing director in charge of selling national franchises for a dry cleaning company? I Googled, “demographic profile of franchise owners” and got very strong information on who the target is. Try it. It’s not who you think, but it surely shows the prospect we are more in her world than ours.