Friday, January 8, 2010

Frigid Cold Calling

We can’t but admire Mother Nature and this Great Canadian Weather. As the weather turns cold – many of us are stopped in our tracks. The same” stopped cold” phenomena exists for early stage companies who are faced with making those dreaded first time calls to prospects and potential partners.
The Frigid Cold Call is the most dreaded part of any sales or business development process. Understanding the dynamics and tuning your approach can be one of the more satisfying experiences for a Senior Executive. With a number of start-up and turn-around companies to my credit, I thought it was timely to provide some “snowshoe tracks” to guide you through the snow this winter. I break the process down into three Blocks of Ice.

“It’s Cold Outside”
In this block, you know that making these calls will be paramount to the long term success of your company. You have been sitting on the sofa by the warmth of the fire thinking about going outside and physically exerting yourself on the trail. Like many examples in life you know it will feel good after you have completed the task. Overcome the resistance and get on with it! Your first steps include:
Build your Lists – Whether you are at the Prospect or Suspect stage you will want to create a list for you potential clients and one for your strategic partners.
Research your Targets – It’s a good idea to know as much as you can about your Prospects. Warm introductions, web research and industry publications can contribute key content.
Set your Call Objective – It will not be feasible to close a sale or partnership on the first call. There is some industry data that suggests that it takes up to 5 calls / visits to actually close a new sale. Think about your situation and set your objective bar at a high and realistic level ("The objective of this call will be to fully qualify a Suspect into a Prospect and / or obtain a Face to Face meeting.")
Story Board your Pitch – Prepare a crisp 30 second story that describes who you are, what you have and why you would be compelling to meet with. The Pitch should not be completely scripted or read verbatim on the call. I suggest having a block diagram with a couple bullet phrases in each block. Anticipate some key questions about your company and what makes you different. Think about some open ended questions that you would like to deliver to enable an ongoing engagement throughout the call.

"It's Snowing Really Hard"
In this block you have completed all the necessary preparation and you are ready to start making the calls. You have moved off the sofa and have your hat, scarf and mitts adjusted appropriately. With snowshoes in hand you venture into the cold crisp air. Tips to avoid "frostbite" include:
Block your Calendar – Think about the time of day to make your calls. I am a morning person and I like to do them when I am fresh. Many executives arrive early to get some work done before the staff arrives. Your hit ratio may be enhanced at this time.
Polish your Manners / Adjust your Attitude– Dave Kurlan -author of Baseline Selling suggests that the formula for a successful call is 50% phone manner (Warmth, Sincerity, Pitch, Speed, Pace and Volume), 32% Attitude (I know I can do this) and 16% Script (Message content and call to action). Remember that many executive assistants are there to manage the executive’s time – ensure that you are treating all live interactions with the highest level of respect if your call is intercepted. One UK based blog suggests that if you "smile while you dial" you reduce the tension in your voice. Try it for yourself - it really works.
Check Your GPS Positioning – In real time, assess where you are in the process of achieving your end objective. Make necessary course corrections and utilize your know how about your prospect and your value proposition to converge on the close. "If not you, can you suggestion a more appropriate contact? Can I use your name in my next conversation?"

“Pushing Through the Snow Drifts”
The hard work doesn’t stop after you have completed the call. You need to clean off the ice from your snowshoes and place you mitts in a place where they can dry out.
Follow Through / Follow Through – As the conversation unfolds, highlight the appropriate next steps. Be sure to summarize the actions before you hang up. If you make commitments to deliver something by a certain time frame – ensure you do.
You Can’t Remember It All – Invest in some tracking software that helps you remember the call, its associated action items and any other relevant facts about the Prospect that may be relevant down the road (plays golf, has 2 kids, hates pushy sales executives etc.) Many companies start with Excel and graduate to Salesforce, Microsoft CRM, Goldmine and ACT! to name a few of the available options.
Bounce Back Quickly – All of your calls will not go as planned. The key will be to recognize that it is not personal and that you need to move on. When pushed into a pile of deep stuff, you need pop out quickly or suffer the cold wet consequences.

It's Time to take that Breath of Brisk Air and get into a serious Canadian Snowfall. See you in the lodge.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Sound Bites for Success

In a recent Blog, I wrote about the key principles of the Investor Pitch. Building a deck is one thing – Delivering the message is clearly another. At the end of last year I had the pleasure of reconnecting with an old colleague, David Doze of Pilot PMR. David’s company has helped shaped a number of key messages for my companies over the past decade. With a little liquid encouragement, I convinced him to help package a program for some my early stage clients – "Sound Bites for Success".

In our room of 12 CEO's, David lamented that “The world does not need More Information, More Fine Print or More Arguments – Leaders need to take the complex and make it digestible.”

His three guiding principles of messaging:
Relevance – Do you have the right message to “Cut Through the Clutter”?
Reputation – Do you have the credibility to pull it off with conviction?
Reach - How do you get the message out to the audience who has a different view of the world than you?

David suggests the following road map to building these key messages:

Understand Your Audience and their Orientation This seems obvious but you would be surprised how often it is overlooked. I recently observed a CEO present her story to a very sophisticated prospect in charge of a large corporate empire. Our CEO unfortunately had limited understanding of the organization that they were pitching to. It was too bad as the meeting could have had a more fruitful set of action items had our CEO been better prepared.

Frame your message – A Frame provides a context and helps to ensure that the message gets embedded into our memory for future recall. This lasting message helps you stand out in a crowd. I observed a Investor pitch last quarter where the CEO had a half hour before the decision maker needed to leave the meeting. The CEO and potential investor had some historical linkage to some common industry leaders. Unfortunately, the frame on the session was to introduce the company to the potential Investor - the digression into "who do you know" became a distraction and blurred the main purpose of the meeting. The event timed out without the key messages in the frame being delivered.

Be Authentic and make Credible Statements - One of the easiest ways to do this is to present claims that are defensible with Proof. We observed a company pitch their story to some angels last month. The claims about the product were all encompassing-it sliced, it diced and made coffee too! The CEO was labeled as a "promoter" who was blowing smoke-the claims were not reasonable. This clearly was not the lasting message our CEO wished to convey.

Make the Intangible Real – An Inventor is clearly proud of the complexity of their technology and its ability to serve many practical applications. I have observed too many presentations where the audiences' eyes glaze over with the level of detail and its applicability to this or that sector. Entrepreneurs need to focus on the highest margin opportunity and simplify what the product or service can actually do in plain and practical language.

Leave a Lasting Picture – You will want your audience to be talking about your company long after you have left the stage. At our Sound Bite competition we went around the room and asked the question: "What did you remember most?" It was surprising what key messages were clearly lost in the fog.

Make messaging part of your priority for your next presentation. Make sure that your Sound Bites truly leave a mark.