There’s no question that cold calling can be one of the most challenging aspects of sales. When I began my career as an Inside Sales Rep for the Atlanta Hawks, the idea of calling someone I didn’t know, with the intention of developing a relationship and creating value out of thin air, seemed awkward, clunky and near impossible. The bottom line however, is one that should lend comfort to any creeping intimidation of the cold call. IBM Founder Tom Watson, perhaps said it best when he remarked that even with all of their unprecedented innovation and technology, “nothing happens until a sale is made”.
You see, our job as sales professionals isn’t to sell, it’s to tell a story, create memories and experiences for people that they will never forget, and above all, be problem solvers. In the sports industry we have the luxury of selling one of the most exciting and engaging products on the market. Knowing WHAT to say is the easy part as there are daily articles and developmental sessions that can serve as great training tools. But I believe the sale begins long before the call is made and starts with how you approach the cold call. Below are three overarching concepts that can offer some new perspectives, whether you are reaching out to casual fans of your team or a Fortune 500 company:
1. Have a plan. Follow a roadmap.
When a new chef is learning to cook, it’s crucial they start by understanding what foods pair well and what foods don’t. Great chefs don’t simply throw random foods in a pot together and hope it tastes good. They explore and follow recipes, where every ingredient has a purpose and plays a role in the dish. These recipes help them learn what to put where, and when, along with why the ingredients work together. Recipes help ensure they can replicate their success and continue to create excellent cuisine. As a chef gets more advanced, they may leave their formal written recipes behind, and experiment with new ingredients. However, they are still following the fundamental principles that they have learned, they just have cooked long enough to have these principles memorized. Similarly, when you learn to play an instrument you don’t just combine random notes in hopes they make a song. You have to learn music theory, scales, chords and why certain notes work in certain situations. Even the greatest musicians of all time follow fundamental theory, they have just mastered it to the point of improvisation.
You could make this illustration with almost any profession, hobby or activity. Sales is no different. To go into a call and “wing it” without a plan or a proverbial recipe would be like strumming random strings on a guitar in hopes it creates a hit single, or grabbing a handful of things from our fridge, blindly combining them and hoping it makes a gourmet meal. Chances are high it won’t turn out well. So why would we do this in our professional lives, 80-100 times a day? This is a concept we deeply believe in and preach relentlessly at Taymar Sales U. As we begin the process of learning sales and how to cold call, we are doing just that – learning. Write an outline for your call highlighting the main points and questions you want to drive home. By doing this, you force yourself to follow a roadmap and recipe you know will help you achieve a consistent result and which allows you to truly listen to your prospect without having to worry what to say next. There’s a big difference between active listening and waiting for your turn to speak!
While no two calls are alike, there are fundamental principles that exist in every call we must touch on. And that’s why we are intentional about calling this a roadmap and not a script. Just like how in cooking you can pretty much always trust a recipe that pairs sweet and salty, in sales you can trust a process that includes an introduction, benefit statement, powerful questions to drive interest and a strong product recommendation. The prospect will provide enough obstacles for you to overcome, don’t add more by trying go Maverick on your process. Take the guess work out of the fundamentals and follow a sales recipe to give yourself the highest chance of replicating your sales success.
2. Rethink your approach
Jack Nicklaus once said that in golf, how the golfer sets up to the ball accounts for 99% of the golf swing. Meaning that 99% of your shot is determined before you ever even swing the club. Far too often sales professionals go into sales calls with a mindset that sets them up at a disadvantage before any words are spoken. In sales, our job is not to find the needle in the haystack, ready to buy prospect. The challenge we are tasked with, is to find those who are engaging with our product or team, and create incentive for them to engage more.
I remember early in my career at the Atlanta Hawks, complaining to my boss and mentor, Eric Platte, that no one I was calling seemed to be interested and I couldn’t figure out why. “Of course they aren’t already interested in buying season tickets or bringing a group out” he told me. “That’s why you’re calling. If they were already interested they would’ve called you directly. It’s your job to learn about why they haven’t bought and explain to them why they should. Solve their problems, be selfless NOT selfish. Find the right fit for them, not the right fit for what you want to sell them and then, get a definitive decision.”
That was my light bulb moment. It allowed me to go into calls on the offensive, not defensive. It ingrained in me the idea of “Loving Yes, Liking No, and Hating Maybe.” I was no longer bracing for the impact of a “NO” and hoping they would be open to considering what I had to say. Rather, I was now expecting to hear no and celebrating it. I had come to understand that “No” was a normal and natural part of the process, the real enemy was getting stuck in “Maybe Land” as we called it in Atlanta. Instead of being scared of “No”, it allowed me to solve the prospects concerns and deeply engage our fan base in discussions. If you were an NFL running back it wouldn’t make much sense to go into a game hoping to not make any contact. Once you embrace the idea that you’re going to get hit and knocked down a couple times you can begin to focus on how to respond to the contact and score more sales touchdowns.
3. Fight your instincts.
As we start out in sales, we all set our sights on becoming the best sales professional we can be. Because of how we are wired as human beings, we put stock in things that transcend sales and are imbedded into our DNA over millions of years of evolution. As tribal beings, we tend to strive for acceptance by showcasing that we are non-threatening and accommodating, thereby avoiding conflict and conversational friction, so as to not challenge the status quo and become an outlier. The trouble, is that in doing these things we can negate our end goal of helping our prospects get across the finish line. The same flight/fight system that alerted our distant ancestors to imminent danger sounds equally loud alarm bells in our brain when we sense sales rejection is on its way, and our physiological responses don’t often see the difference. We are beings that love comfort in a profession that is allergic to it. Because of that, we must be mindful and intentional about pushing ourselves towards discomfort. There’s a famous sales mantra that goes “People love to buy, but hate to be sold”. There is no question that people love to buy. It’s why Amazon has become the behemoth it is. People resist, however, when they feel they are being sold something. We as humans want to feel we are making the best decision for us. So instead of trying to rush to a yes and run for cover when you hear a “No”, embrace the discomfort, listen with the intent to solve and be confident in how you can help.
Sales is a lot like baseball, if you fail 7 out of 10 times they give you plaque in Cooperstown and you’re a hall of famer. If you sell 3 of every 10 people you call, you’ll be the next Zig Ziglar sales guru of your time. That means that even the best in the world are failing 70% of the time. That’s a lot of opportunities to get in your own head and go down a dangerous path of negativity. Open yourself up to learning, and allow yourself to scrape your knees along the way. It’s the only silver bullet to sales success.
There is no doubt that sales is both an art and a science. The art doesn’t work without the science, and vice versa. The science piece is your formula to success, your recipe that you follow and how many calls you make. The science is showing up and working your tail off. The other half of sales and cold calling is the art piece. The human element of selling. Making connections, asking powerful questions, listening with intent to solve, and hearing, discussing and overcoming objections. When you put the two together, it helps you understand that when you follow a good sales recipe, “NO” really is just a stepping stone to yes. Change your mindset and approach to the cold call and I promise you will change your spot on the revenue board and sell more tickets.
Joe Rickert is the Senior Vice President at Taymar Sales U and currently leads their sales and service initiatives at the University of Kentucky. Prior to this role he spent more than 5 years working at the Atlanta Hawks. He started in their sales training and development program and rose to become a top seller and leader. He's one of the most respected sales leaders out there and has a desire to give back and help others. He's also a Clubhouse mentor, you can reach out and schedule a call with Joe here.