What you just read was the tail end of the message left to me by a salesperson for a cycling accessories company eager to work with our event. The word he was looking for was psoriasis or suh-rahy-uh-sis as in the National Psoriasis Foundation. He could have easily found the information right on this website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/psoriasis. He also could have heard the word pronounced on any number of YouTube videos on the topic.
Up until his bungled close, I was intrigued and intended to call him back. I didn't. I'm not the most sensitive guy in the world but hey, I wanted to feel a little special. The fact that he probably didn't look at the name of my organization until it was time to tell me how eager he was to partner with us told me I wasn't as special as I thought. It did tell me that I was clearly the 5th, 15th or 50th call in his rotation that day. Let me be clear - I get it. I have my call list every day too. But take the time to look down, see who you're calling and know HOW TO PRONOUNCE THE NAME!
So, in the spirit of turning this negative experience into a positive one, I wanted to share 5 basic suggestions for starting off on the right foot when prospecting for new business relationships. WARNING: Several of these are going to be no-brainers (think Captain Obvious in those clever hotels.com commercials). But as I saw with this recent phone call, the obvious isn't always obvious to everyone.
- Establish a criteria for your prospects: What are the bare bones requirements of businesses, organizations or people (a.k.a potential clients/partners) you're looking for? As an example, I'm looking for businesses that could have their employees participate in a charity cycling event in Ringoes, New Jersey. I call on fast growing companies that have at least 10 employees and are within a one hour drive of the Ride site. There are other elements worth looking for but this is my starting point. What's yours?
- Call on prospects that possess your criteria: I warned you that some of these were total no-brainers! I'm not suggesting doing extensive research on every company you're calling. But do enough checking to know that you're not wasting your time or theirs. A key source for me is Inc. Magazine's 5,000 fastest growing companies in NJ and PA (they have all states by the way) and it includes the City and State and number of employees. It doesn't include the direct contact information. My bare bones research includes going to the company's website for the phone number and address. I use google maps to be sure the organization is no more than an hour away by car.
- Know Who You're Asking For (and Why): Who is the person that can help you get your foot in the door? I don't mean who ultimately makes the decision. I mean who can give you the OK to get in there and show your stuff. I always ask for the Person Who Manages the Employee Volunteer Program. I do this because I've found that it's enough of a conversation starter that I get transferred to someone who has their hand in this. I'm not saying this is the only way to do it - find what works for you and stick with it.
- Craft A Great Script and A Great Voicemail Message: I wish I could tell you that I get through to the person I want to reach, 40, 50 or 60% of the time. I don't. My success rate of getting through is 25% to 35% and that's on the good days. I'm always working on getting better and delivering a more compelling message that gets me through. In the meantime, I do spend plenty of time leaving voicemail. I'm happy to say that my call back rate is improving all the time. If you're going to take the time to leave a message, make it stand out. Give them a reason to call you back and they will (really....it's true).
- Be Able to Pronounce the name of the Company and Person You're Calling On: Did you really think I could leave this out after that dramatic opening story? DO NOT do more calls than the number that allows you to deliver a knowledgable, properly pronounced and respectful call - one that earns you the right to have the conversation you want to have with a prospect.
In my Toastmaster's meeting yesterday, one of the members reminded us of the value of stepping back, taking a breath and considering what you're trying to accomplish before moving forward. That was in reference to extemporaneous speaking. It may be an equally valuable use of your time to do the same with your prospecting and business development approach.