What is an appointment?
Noun – an arrangement to meet someone at a particular time and place.
We make and keep appointments all of our lives. During school, children have set times to play, have lunch, study certain subjects, bed times, home times, nap times and quiet times. You arrive for work at a specific time and a specific place every day, have set breaks, lunch hours (minutes), meetings and conference calls before meeting friends at an agreed time in an agreed bar.
Think about how casually you make personal arrangements. For how long do you discuss the details of meeting friends in a bar? Do you arrange what you will discuss? Drink? Wear? Do you describe a run through of an entire night out before you meet? We are comfortable with agreeing to appointments with little information and persuasion. We all have one friend who will drop everything at the mere suggestion of a night out! Setting appointments to meet prospective new clients should follow the same path; keep it simple, short and believe that they are more than willing to drop everything to meet with you.
I hate cold calling!
Sitting in the corner of your desk or cradled in your pocket is a telephone. It’s filled with businesses that need your goods and services and want to spend money with you, they just don’t know you or have forgotten that you exist. To generate this potential new revenue and meet with these new clients you have to play the game, dial the numbers and say the right things. To put the odds of the game in your favour, boost your confidence and create productive and engaging phone calls you must prepare in advance who you will call, what you will say and when you will contact them. Even a small amount of preparation will make a massive difference to your results. Like great actors, TV presenters and public speakers, great sales people make cold calling look natural, stress-free and easy; and like all great performances it is the result of preparation, practise and experience. Critical to your cold calling success is all the work you do before picking up the phone, just as an actor learns his lines, the more prepared you are the more confident you will feel and the better your delivery will be. After a time you may even start to enjoy it!
The most important appointment in your week is the appointment you set with yourself to make appointments
We can always find time for the things we want to do, equally we can always find an excuse for not doing everything else. When I first started in sales I spent many days sorting paper clips, colour co-ordinating my pen holder and making a million cups of coffee. I’d often ask myself “how can I possibly pick up the phone and make sales calls when I’ve not cleaned the car!?” – Sound familiar? The fact is – you are an appointment making machine. You just need to work out how long that machine needs to be turned on in order to create the desired result. Monitor every call you make and how many calls on average it takes for you to get a firm meeting with a prospective new client. How much time does it take to make that many calls? If you can get one appointment for every half hour of calling and you need three appointments to get a sale, then work from your equation that for every hour and a half on the phone you get one new piece of business. How many call sessions of that length can you do in a week? A month? A year? How much new business could this bring in? Diarise this time every week and keep that appointment with yourself to make the calls and fill your diary with meetings. This is the most important appointment of your week as it will ensure your sales funnel stays full. As you move forward and spend more time making calls, getting more comfortable with the objections you will undoubtedly receive, you will develop your sales skills further. Your equation will change and your results will increase (or the necessary time on the phone will decrease).
What times and days are best to call businesses?
There are many different theories on when it is best to contact people in order to stand the greatest chance of gaining a result, a favourable welcome or access to the decision maker. The best policy is to start with a common sense approach. Last thing on a Friday, bank holidays and the whole of August in general are going to present challenges to you. However, depending on your target sector you may want to start with trial and error. From experience and research I use the following rule of thumb when planning when in the week to call prospective new clients.
The best times to call decision makers are between 8am – 10am and 4pm – 7pm.
The worst time to call decision makers is between 11am – 2pm.
The best days to go about appointment setting are Thursdays followed by Wednesdays.
The worst day to do appointment setting is Tuesday.
The average sales person only makes two attempts to contact a prospect – on average it takes eight.
Diarise a section of your week, every week, to set appointments and keep that appointment.
Should all calls be approached in the same way?
Before you pick up the phone decide what sort of call you are making (or receiving). Your approach should differ depending on where in the relationship you are. Many appointment setting calls aren’t cold calls and shouldn’t be treated the same.
Cold – The initial contact sets a lasting impression of your business and the future relationship you will have with the client. ‘Make a friend’. Always ensure next steps are agreed at end of the interaction.
Warm – An initial relationship has been formed. Relax; time lock the meeting and set out what you would like to achieve. Confirm you have the decision maker and keep control of the sales process.
Referral – Take it slowly. Discuss how you have helped the referee and how they thought you might be able to help. Have a conversation and build rapport. A referral is not a guarantee of being welcomed with open arms.
Existing – Strengthen your existing relationship. Show you have a genuine interest in their business, concern for their problems and educate them about any benefits they maybe are unaware of. Uncover and chunk down on their objections.
Inbound – For the customer to call in and request services – then something in their world has changed. Explore these changes before taking an order and cover all their needs of which they are aware and unaware. There may be possibilities of cross and up-selling and gaining a larger order.
What should I look for when finding data to call from?
“It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data” – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Data to call from is a critical part of appointment setting. You must make sure your data is as good as it can possibly be on a weekly basis, overlooking the relevance of strong data is a huge error to make. Data can always be linked to consistent results whether a positive or negative outcome. You should always assess the quality of your data in the following ways.
Do I have the names of decision makers?
Do I have direct line phone numbers? Mobile numbers? Head office numbers?
Do I have access to their business’s website?
Do I have prior knowledge of the business I am calling? What they do? Their GSP’s?
Does this information provide me with a relevant and engaging reason for calling?
Do I have prior knowledge of what sectors they attract business from?
Is the data I have, printed on a competitor’s product?
Have they been in discussions with me before?
Are they currently dealing with someone else within my organisation?
If you already have this information before phoning the customer it will give you an advantage and your success rate is going to improve as your calls are more relevantly geared towards what the customer may want. In terms of going out there and looking for data it’s important to spend time looking for quality information from as many different media as possible. Print, social media, business cards collected at networking events, flyers, search engines, Companies House. All data is valuable, the more information the data gives you the greater it’s use. Always collect a higher number of businesses to call than you think you will need. It is better to have too much than to run out.
If you have teams making calls for you, encourage them to source their own data. Self-sourced data will produce a superior result. When you source your own data to call from it heightens your belief in the quality of the information you have gathered. You believe in the accuracy of the material, you make the most out of each contact as you have taken time out of your day to gather the information and all this translates into confidence, drive and boldness down the phone.
Is there a way to get past ‘gatekeepers’?
As business owners and busy sales people having your day interrupted by someone trying to make an appointment to see you, or directly sell to you, is a situation you are heavily protected against. Remember, the ‘gatekeeper’ is just as skilled at getting rid of you as you are at getting passed them. There is no magical solution to getting passed gatekeepers, there is simply a number of rules to follow.
Firstly, and most obviously, try calling at times when the reception desk is unmanned, the PA has left for the day (or not started yet) or even at weekends. Many times I’ve called an office after 6pm and the phone has actually been answered by a company director and I’ve managed to have a great conversation and won business. Similarly, calling at 8am can bypass the gate keeper and get you through to the business owner who is most likely to be the early bird in the company.
If the call is answered by the none-decision maker do not get into a sales conversation, as friendly and welcoming as they may appear to be towards you with promises of passing all the information over to the boss. Your carefully crafted ten minute sales presentation will be paraphrased to the boss as “someone called trying to sell something” which will be given short shrift.
Never upset the gatekeeper. Old school, hard sell tactics of intimidating, patronising or even yelling at receptionists will destroy any chance of short or long term business. Remember, the gatekeeper doesn’t hold the power to make a decision but they often hold the keys to all the doors you need to get through to make a sale.
The human psyche is programmed to be attracted towards compliments as a survival mechanism. To feel good about yourself enhances your physical capability as well as your mental agility. When talking to gatekeepers remember names, personal interests, children and holidays. Being remembered, being called by your name and being ‘thought of’ are all forms of subtle compliments.
To speak in general terms, your initial contact may be with someone who has limited decision making powers within their organisation. A secretary, receptionist or machine operator is rarely asked for their input on anything. To be asked what they think about something is a compliment in itself. This gives us a great opportunity to gather valuable information by asking for their advice or their opinion. In their opinion who are you best speaking to about x, y, or z? You may find your data is wrong or out of date or that they know who really makes the decisions.
Remember your voice tone, body language (even though you are on the phone) and the holistic message you are giving. It only takes seconds for people to make a first impression yet years to change it. Gatekeepers are the most important stake holder in the sales process, they know all the people, hold all the keys and have a lot to lose if they make a mistake. You can’t make them buy from you and you can’t make them give you a meeting but you can make them your friend!