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5 Tips for Making a Strong First Connection with a Lead/Prospect

by Doug Davidoff | Aug 10, 2018 3:00:00 PM

connect-calls-3More money than ever is spent on the technology, people and process to enable organizations to generate higher volumes of sales qualified leads at greater velocities. Research from Gartner CEB indicates that these investments aren’t working out too well. They found that, on average, companies are spending nearly $5,000 per rep more on technology alone, and they’re seeing their conversion rates drop almost 12 percent.

The growing tech stack, combined with maturing lead and demand generation tactics, have given sales reps an apparent playground. Gone are the days of not having enough people to talk with (or, at least, they should be). Despite all the investments being made to “reduce friction for buyers” and more activity, companies are still suffering from a dearth of qualified and engaged prospects willingly entering predictable sales processes.

Through our work over the last several years, I’ve identified two key causes for this problem.

  1. This first is likely not new to you, as it’s been highlighted, ad nauseam, over the last half-decade. Buyers have changed how they engage and sellers are not stepping up.
  2. The second doesn’t get anywhere near the attention, but may be just as big. The sales process has become, well, far too process stringent. This is not a slam on the relevancy and importance of defined and documented sales processes, but, rather, an indictment of how they’re being implemented and executed.

I’ve seen this from both sides of the table—advising and coaching sales reps and dealing with sales reps as a prospect and customer. The first call is painful. You would think that all of the attention and money that’s been spent on building sales development teams and designing prospecting processes, reps would have mastered the first call.

Unfortunately, the opposite is true. Organizations have over-designed their sales processes, built a tech stack to support and accelerate it, and forgotten that people—yes, PEOPLE—are involved. Reps seem to have forgotten to think.

There’s a lot of talk about sales jobs being at risk as technology takes over. Contributing to this threat is the fact that most first calls (and don’t even get me started on the emails) provide nothing more than a pre-programmed bot would do.

Make no mistake, mastering the first call, or what we call The Connect Call, is a crucial component for successful demand generation and sales efforts.

The Challenge of the First Connect

You Only Get One Chance to Make a First Impression - my Dad (and many others)

First contact is an awkward, anxiety-filled experience for both the buyer and the seller. I don’t care how much experience you have as a seller or how good you are, you never know quite what to expect when making first contact.

At first contact, buyer and seller are not in sync. For the buyer, they likely have their guard up and are reliving experiences of horrible demos, sales interactions and more (like worrying what their boss is going to think of how they handle the process and the decisions they make). The seller is likely excited about the potential that the conversation can hold and worried about how the customer fits and how they’ll respond. (Plus, they’re likely worried about where they are against their “number” and what their boss is going to think.)

Add to this the fact that many Connect Calls are not scheduled calls. Whenever you’re reaching out to someone who is not expecting it, you are creating an interruption. Interruptions negatively affect the biochemistry and emotions of the person being interrupted. Much of what people believe to be the negative associations of cold calls are caused by the fact that it’s an interruption, rather than the fact that it’s “cold.”

Therefore, a whole lot must be managed and aligned in a very short period of time. The Connect Call is critically important and is easily taken off track. For this reason, if no other, salespeople must have a strong plan and approach to be consistently successful.

3 Types of First Connects

There can be a variety of scenarios that lead to a connect call. Understanding the scenario and aligning your approach to the context of that situation will help ensure that you take the right action.

The three most common scenarios are:

  1. Inbound - Anyone who has reached out to you or your business falls into this category. A common mistake made on connect calls to inbound leads is overestimating the intent that exists.
  2. Outbound - These are the leads that we used to call cold calls. Outbound leads have not done anything that indicates awareness or interest in your company or solution. A key advantage of outbound leads over inbound is that your outbound leads should more clearly fit specific profiles, giving you an advantage to getting the conversation started.
  3. Follow Up from An Event (or Similar) - I’ve always had a third category for this group. These are people that may have talked to you at a trade show, networking event or even through a referral. It’s important to adjust to the context of the first interaction to increase the likelihood that your connect is successful.

5 Tips for Making Your Connect Call Better

1. Make it a (Best Friend) Conversation

If you remember nothing else, please remember this. The foundation of a good connect call—really any call—is that it’s a conversation. Too often, the first call with a salesperson feels like an interrogation or a boring interview.

Here are three tips we teach our salespeople:

  • Whether you talking to someone for the first time or leaving a voicemail, sound like you’ve talked to them before (in style and tone, not by lying).
  • Show some personality. A call with one of your reps shouldn’t sound or even feel just like another. They should follow the same process and have the same structure, but they should be
  • The best guide to use when figuring out how you should sound and what you would say is actually quite simple: what would you do or say and how would you act if you were talking with your best friend?

2. A Good Connect Call Begins Before You Make the Call

Make no mistake, a strong connect call begins before your intended prospect picks up the phone to say, “Hello.” It starts with your messaging, website and emails. It starts with the preparation you invest in the crucial first 30 - 60 seconds. That’s where you demonstrate the command, confidence and capability to gets through your prospect’s limbic system, to create that invisible click where your prospect subconsciously thinks, “This person understands me, I think I’d like to talk with them.”

3. Design the Call

I’ve been coaching salespeople and sales executives for more than 20 years, and the same habits that plagued them when I started, still persist today. Salespeople don’t think “systems” and “design.” Structure (and constraint) are powerful tools when used correctly.

Just as trial lawyers design the way they’ll try a case, or a baseball manager or football coach lays out the plan for the game they are about to play; a strong sales organization doesn’t leave something as important as the first connect call to chance or “winging it.” They design the strategy for their call to maximize the probability of a successful outcome. Here is an example of one of our first connect call designs:

Make Call

4. Be Prepared

There are two common, crucial mistakes that I see made repeatedly when making connect calls:

  • The most common mistake is “winging it.”
  • The other is going through the motions and treating the call like a task list that merely needs to get checked off.

Both of these mistakes have the same cause—the lack of preparation. I teach reps that, while it is hard, they should aim to treat each call as if it were their first, and last, call of the day. Be present on this call. Show energy and engage.

The main objective of an effective connect call is to create engagement.
If you’re not fully engaged, your likelihood of success is low.

Being present means you’re focused on the conversation you’re having, and to do that you can’t be thinking of what you’re going to say next. Great calls take great preparation. The term “muscle memory” gets used a lot when talking about high-performing athletes. Muscle memory comes from preparation and repetition.

In sales, it’s not different. When you’re making your call, be sure you’re ready with the following:

  • A strong, crisp greeting to get the conversation going.
  • A clear objective for where you want to take the call and how you want it to end. I also recommend you have a plan b (and probably a plan c as well).
  • Have 2 or 3 kickstarter soundbites to energize the conversation if it stalls.

5. Have Fun

The greatest attribute a sales rep can bring to a conversation—connect or otherwise—is joy. People like to deal with people who clearly enjoy what they’re doing. Bring fun to everything you’re doing.

I read in a lot of blog posts where people write things like “selling is hard“ or “sales development is the toughest job in business.” It’s sad really. Sales isn’t hard. Construction is hard. Police work is hard.

Remember, you don’t have to make that next call - you get to.

A Note on Dealing with Resistance

I get it, no one likes to be told “No!” As kids, we learned that if our parents were happy, then we were likely happy as well. We were told “Don’t upset the teacher,” and things like that.

As a result, we’ve become a generation that fears resistance and seeks to avoid it. We treat resistance as if it’s bad, and if we encounter it we did something wrong.

The truth is that resistance is just a part of growth. I used to work with someone who was exceptional at managing the first call. She told me once, “I know I’m going to face resistance when I start a call. I want them to do something that they likely haven’t thought about, so of course I’m going to get resistance. The best way to handle it is to face it right away. Get to the resistance early so that it’s predictable, and you know how to respond to it.”

The Flow of a Strong Connect Call

While every connect call is unique in its own right, we’ve identified a structure and flow for the vast majority of connect calls. (You can download our guide to the connect call here.)

  • The Open: Ready, set… The way you open the call is going to guide the outcome, so be sure your opener is clear, confident and, preferably, concise. Get to the point of your outreach.
  • Advance & Focus: The goal of the first conversation is to earn a second one. You do that by advancing the conversation to important points that position you as relevant and helpful.
  • Profile: You should be working to understand your prospect, not to “sell” them your solution. Make it a goal to gain the most information possible by asking the fewest number of questions. And keep it conversational!
  • The Homework Assignment: Selling is a participation sport. You want your prospect to commit to do something—anything. It can be small at first.
  • Wrap Up: Finish strong. Don’t run to the end and get off the call. Just as you opened the call crisply, end it the same way.

While it’s rare to hear the head of sales tell the team at the end of a great quarter that they blew the number away because “we’ve conducted exceptional connect calls,” the reality is that when you master the connect call, you’ll be more than halfway to blowing the number away.

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