Putting the heat into cold calls
Salesmen often hate initiating contact, but it's a key part of business

Steve Naymark has been pounding the pavement. After a long career in radio advertising, six weeks ago Naymark decided to switch product lines and began selling polyethylene bags for Ville Saint-Laurent-based Interpac Corp.

His old radio contacts don't use plastic bags, so that means Naymark has been making dreaded cold calls. Cold calls are the initial contact a salesman makes with his prospect. Because they are often met with a "cold" reception, cold calls are considered one of the hardest marketing tasks.

"I don't think you ever get used to them," said Naymark, who has been in sales for more than two decades. "Most salesmen will tell you the same thing: the fear of the unknown and the fear of rejection make cold calling tough, even for the pros."

"When I contact a prospect, I don't always know in advance whether they use the products I sell," said Naymark. "If they don't, the call can be a hassle for the person responding."

The "hassle" factor is one of the main reasons that cold calls have gotten a bad rap. In recent years, with the establishment of call-centers filled with assembly line solicitors, this reputation has worsened. These often-untrained salesmen plow through the phone book methodically calling each listed number.

Calls are often made during suppertime, when prospects are most likely to be home. Whoever answers gets a generic sales pitch for anything from duct-cleaning services to cheaper long-distance calls. Pitches are often read directly from cue cards in a monotone voice. With this abuse, it's no wonder people hate getting cold calls.

But for most salesmen cold calls are crucial. That's because the initial contact -especially when made by pros like Naymark --rarely involves hard selling, but is made to qualify the lead. Once a good lead is generated, the chances of eventually "closing" the sale skyrocket.

"You have to be respectful of their time," said Naymark. "That means determining whether the company uses the products you are selling, or can potentially use it, and finding out who the decision-maker is."

For example one of Interpac's specialties is custom printed gift bags that retailers such as Reitmans give clients to put purchases in. So when Naymark contacts retailers, he can be pretty sure that either they are potential plastic bags users.

But other Interpac clients have found specialty applications for plastic bags. Royal Bank gives them to customers to put night deposits in. And several hotel chains give clients plastic bags to put their shoes in during the winter.
So how does Naymark know whether a prospect is a potential candidate? "It all comes down to proper preparation," said Naymark. "That means learning as much about the client before the initial call is made. Receptionists can be very helpful in this respect."

But no matter how well prepared the salesman is, or how long he has been in business, many are still reluctant to make cold calls. According to one sales trainer, that reluctance can signal a deeper problem.

"A lot of people are not convinced of the benefits of the products they are selling," said Michel Huet, president of Ventes Piranha. "If a salesman is selling a product that is superior or at a better price than the competition, he is doing his prospect a favor by calling him."

But what should salesmen do, if they are not comfortable with the products they are selling? "If you don't feel comfortable about the product you are, then change jobs," said Huet. "You are not doing anyone any favors by sticking around."

"You can't fake enthusiasm," said Huet. "Even over the phone, people can sense it if you lack of confidence."

According to Huet, in any sales transaction it's the client and his needs that come first.

"I call a cold call a 'friend to be call,'" said Huet. "If you are confident about your product, you have nothing to be shy about. You are doing something for your client by explaining its benefits."

"By helping people, you stand a good chance of making a friend."

E-mail can be sent to Diekmeyer at: peter@peterdiekmeyer.com

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