Don’t sweat the cold call….how to get your Consultants on the phone & winning business

In my recent blog “head in the sand vs action junkie ….what’s your mantra?” I wrote about a Consultant who worked for me who didn’t enjoy prospecting new business as she felt that she was annoying clients when she rang. This generated a range of comments and questions asking how I helped her overcome this.

The recruitment industry is notorious for its continuous flow of calls to clients asking for appointments.  This in itself gives us a bad name.  Now, I agree, don’t get me a wrong, a cold call with no purpose, interrupting my day for what seems like only their benefit, is completely annoying.  I tap my foot thinking yes? So what? What’s in it for me? I assume that many clients feel the same way when Recruiters ring.

One of the problems is that many Consultants start their week, look in their calendars and realise that they don’t have any appointments for the next 5 days. Their weekly meeting with their manager is that day and they will be asked, drilled, coached, questioned or in some consultancies have strips torn off them for not meeting their KPI’s.  I’ve heard of these experiences from many Recruiters over the years…including one boss who waves $20 in the air for the next consultant who jumps on the phone and wins a client visit.   There’s another manager who stands directly behind her Consultants until she is satisfied that they are actually doing their marketing.  Hmmmm and we wonder where our bad rep comes from?

Picking up the phone will the sole intention of winning a marketing visit is a recipe for disaster.  The client can hear the desperation in your voice, they will detect that you need to meet your quota and that you’re just another ‘sales person’ trying to fill the week with appointments.  I’m sure with this approach most consultants don’t have a very high hit rate nor a very high job satisfaction level.

Tip 1 – Mindset

Changing a Consultant’s mindset from “I’m annoying”, “they don’t want to hear from me”, “I’m the 100th recruiter who has called them today”, can be a challenge to overcome!  Especially when you have a Recruiter who is a top performer and is streets ahead of the competition in terms of knowledge, results and ability. The shift occurred when I could get them to move away from thinking ‘get the appointment’ to ‘what’s in it for them’.  This successfully moved the mindset from annoying sales person to helpful expert. Approaching the conversation in terms of offering, differentiator, benefits and helpfulness broke down a lot of barriers and stereotypes.

Tip 2 – Strategy

This is where a lot of Consultants go wrong – they simply don’t have a targeted approach as to whom they will call.  Yesterday I was in a client’s office who was using the yellow pages for a screen monitor boost and that’s about all it is good for these days.  You can’t build a profitable client base from random lists or with a scattergun approach.   When starting a desk from scratch, I would recommend Consultants start with something familiar – perhaps an industry they have worked in previously to give them the confidence to start.  With no strategy, there will be no success.

Tip 3 – Always have a real reason to call

Don’t pick up the phone without having thought about what you are going to say first and please don’t ever ring to ‘touch base’ (a pet hate of mine)! . When I coached Consultants on this particular issue we would brainstorm all the reasons why you could ring to speak to a client and then what were the benefits for them in taking your call.  It is amazing how many reasons there are to call a new potential client – to tell them about a star candidate you have recently interviewed, to ask for their help/advice, congratulate them on a recent piece of news in the media, to follow up a previous conversation, to invite them to a function, to ask for an introduction to another person in the business etc etc. The list is endless. Just make sure you have prepared your plan of attack before picking up that handset.

Tip 4 – Technique

Do your Consultants know how to prospect new business? Might sound like a silly and very basic question, but have they been taught and shown how to make these calls? A client of mine recently instructed her team to make 5 calls to existing clients to generate referral business.  The instruction was clear – make 5 calls by the end of the week.  By Friday morning, no one had even started their calls.  They were petrified! After a further conversation, I uncovered that there was no strategy, training or instructions about how to go about making the calls and what could be said.  As soon as she ran through some scenarios, techniques and quick role-plays, the team was off and running. Never assume people know how to make effective calls.

Tip 5 – Big picture outlook

The amount of procrastination, excuses and palaver that goes on in consultancies in order to avoid ringing clients is amazing.  Two techniques I would use to help overcome this with Consultants were to get them to focus on the bigger picture – what is the goal? What are the benefits they receive in achieving them (see staff mojo….planting the seeds of motivation)? In the scheme of things, picking up the phone and having a conversation is pretty insignificant right? The other technique is to do your hard tasks first – speak to 3 clients, make 2 appointments etc before doing anything else.  This focus on taking action and “do it until it’s done” was another successful strategy.

Tip 6 – Referrals & common links

To ensure you never make a cold call again, use your existing networks as well as common links to make new connections.  This can be as simple as “I’m in the area visiting client ABC”, through to industry associations to suppliers to direct referrals.  People are always going to feel more comfortable doing business with people they know and trust or if their connections are already working with you.  The power of connections is proven with Linkedin, Twitter and Facebook.  Every interaction is an opportunity to ask for new business or to ask for a new introduction or referral.  It takes discipline to form the habit of asking – but remember the benefit is no more cold calling.

Prospecting new business is a means to an end. It is a necessary ‘evil’ to get in front of new clients and to be given the opportunity to then develop relationships.  We all want the easy road to a full list of clients we love working with, but it takes discipline and action to achieve this end outcome. A shift in mindset is essential to move cold calling to a conversation and being clear on what’s in it for them to see you.

Get on the phone, get out of the office and remember being face to face is where relationships are built, opportunities are discovered and results are made.