Why I hate(d) making sales calls...

Lets take a step back and set the scene...

It's 2017 and we're evolving from a sales agency into a Business Growth agency that helps Automotive companies to grow by 15% in 18-months AND we want to attract new clients. Yes, we're all about sales BUT I personally don't like using the phone as I prefer speaking to people face to face; however, this presents an issue as the companies we can help aren't looking for us as they don't know we exist and they're not usually searching for solutions, which is typical for many decision makers in Automotive. So, we need to get in front of our Ideal customers to create new opportunities.


Learn how Sales Has Changed and how you can sell to the modern buyer in  Automotive...

I created great content that explains how B2B buyers have changed, how the buyer now has the power, and how the majority of research (57% based on a HubSpot study) is done before a buyer ever speaks to a sales person. I also spent time creating eBooks and webinars that walk through how Automotive companies can update their sales process to attract their Ideal customers, and even the tools they can use to make it easier to sell.

I start with a campaign to around 20 of my Ideal customers to test the content. I do my research, I personalise every outreach, and spend time creating a nice report for each person. I create a campaign with a number of different steps to educate and nurture the people I'm approaching and include activity across email, social media, and the phone.

I get some nice results on LinkedIn with responses saying they'd be happy to receive the research I did on their company and so I follow up on email. Then it comes to the call and this is where the results drop and fear sets in. This is also the reason why many people avoid picking up the phone, especially in prospecting activity where the person you're calling might not be expecting the call.


My calls go something like this (how not to do it and why I hated the phone):


Me: "Hi, this is James from The Tree Group. How are you doing today?"

My Ideal customer: "I'm ok, what's this regarding?"

Me: "I'm following up from the email I sent with a report about your website."

My Ideal customer: "I've not seen that email."

At that point I'm straight on the back foot and the call isn't going well. The alternative response I get is:

My Ideal customer: "What are you selling."

And the natural response is:

Me: "We're a business growth agency that helps Automotive companies etc etc etc."

My Ideal customer: "We're not looking for any support but thanks for the call..."

And so it goes on.

HOWEVER, this is because I wasn't approaching this as a science and also because I was trying to sell on the first call. Why? Because that's what all sales people do and that's why we all switch off when we get an unexpected sales call.


It's 2018. You need a different approach


Wouldn't it be better to be a different type of salesperson? A sales person that doesn't try to sell but one that helps first. Enter Dan Tyre, HubSpot, the Project LION sales training boot camp, and the Inbound movement that has Always Be Helping at its core...

Who is Dan Tyre and who is HubSpot? Well, HubSpot started about 10 years ago, Dan was their first sales person AND he helped them grow to 41,000+ customers, servicing 90+ countries, with offices in 7 worldwide locations and $375.6m annual revenue (based on Q4 2017 results). It's also worth considering that HubSpot completely changed the market and Dan was part of selling a 'first to market' product that nobody was looking for, much like our Business Growth approach in Automotive.


Calling is NOT dead - It's essential - and needs to be done right!


Based on a research study by HubSpot on how salespeople learn, it's interesting to see that salespeople probably unintentionally ended up in the sales profession and are unlikely to change their habits after they've figured out what works for them.

To me, this screams COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE! Be the sales person that wants to learn, change, and improve, and you'll be the one getting all the opportunities. Enter Dan Tyre and the science of sales pipeline generation...

So, my approach tried email and to be honest the results were very low. Why? Because email is easy to ignore. Lets consider that everybody is busy and research shows that the average office worker receives 121 emails every day!

Email is easy to ignore and when you're trying to make connections with your Ideal customers it's important to be undeletable. To do this means picking up the phone. It also means helping first. And this is the Inbound approach. Help first, offer value, make it contextual, and this WILL create opportunities.


The science that makes calling successful


I'll start by saying you should NEVER cold call. A cold call is a salesperson bashing through a list of contacts, with the same generic script, not caring about the people he or she is calling. Our approach starts with the science behind a successful first call:

  1. Always have a reason for calling
  2. You can help EVERYONE!
  3. NEVER qualify on the first call - Know what you’ll offer
  4. Have Your positioning statements lined up
  5. Know your Magic words and phrases
  6. Try a great opening line

At this point many business owners and sales leaders are screaming "Don't sell, you must be mad.". But, if your doing the same as everybody else then you're just that, the same as everybody else. A different approach is needed to stand out.

Then it's about following the right process:

  1. Identify good fit leads
  2. Research (LinkedIn company and person, company website, and Google search)
  3. Open the Call
  4. Address resistance
  5. Gather business information
  6. Close the call

And have a back up plan if you:

  1. Get a gatekeeper
  2. Go to voicemail
  3. If they don't pick up

And all of this can be done in just a 10-minute call, if you know the science and have a process.


4 tips for successful first calls...


If I gave the detail behind all the pipeline generation process, I'd be writing a book. After two days at HubSpot followed by 5 weeks of work afterwards, I'm still learning and only just getting started so lets look at a couple of areas I think you'll find useful and can apply to your day to day sales activity:


1. Have a reason to call

If you're doing Inbound marketing then you'll be publishing helpful content, attracting Ideal customers to your website, converting website visitors into leads by offering educational eBooks etc, then using marketing automation to nurture those leads so they understand why 'your company' as an efficient way to make leads sales ready. Those are GREAT leads to speak to because the conversation isn't about "do you want to buy X" it's "what were you looking for help with when you downloaded X". It's consultative, different from all your competitors, and gets you in front of your Ideal customers much earlier than waiting for a sales enquiry. However, this isn't the case for most Automotive companies as you're probably still selling the way you did 20 years ago, times have changed and so have buyers.

If you don't have a lot of inbound leads to call, here are some 'reasons':

  1. You noticed a press mention or a recent blog article they published
  2. You noticed a trigger event, which is an event that is likely to trigger a sales opportunity, such as a new product announcement or the hiring of additional sales people. Learn more about trigger events and different types at 30 Types of Sales Trigger Events and How to Track Them
  3. You connected on LinkedIn (I use this one a lot and it's successful)


2. Know when to 'shut up'!

Great sales people listen. Not just listen but actively listen. Knowing when to stop talking, or Dan would say <pause, pause, pause, pause> (because LIONS have 4 paws) is one way to differentiate you from other sales people. A great example is:

Most sales people start by saying "Hi, this is John Smith from Acme, how are you doing today?"

But, the best sales people say "Hi, this is James Walters, founder of The Tree Group" <pause, pause, pause, pause>

They know when to shut up and wait for recognition. It might seem like a small change but the science of being successful at sales is about making LOTS of small tweaks.


3. How to answer "What are you selling"

This is easy to answer, now I've spent time with Dan.

The answer was "I'm a business growth agency that blah blah blah."

Instead, the answer should be "I'm not, I just want to help." <pause, pause, pause, pause>

And this totally changes the call. Why? Because the first call isn't about selling, it's about connecting with your Ideal customers and about offering genuine help and advice because this is what you do, you did your research, and you're an expert in your field so it's easy for you to offer advice.


4. Ask questions and LISTEN

Once you're past the initial introduction, it's not about you, put your sales pitch away and ask questions. If you've done a good job at the start of the call, this will come easily and people will talk a lot. Some great questions to ask that will set you apart from 'normal' sales people:


  1. What are you finding is the biggest challenge to meeting your goals?
  2. OOO, Tell me more about that… (and stroke your chin, thanks Dan...)
  3. Why do you think that is?
  4. Interesting… can you elaborate?


And the last 'extra' tip is to put away your elevator pitch and use positioning statements. This is a great one for us:

"I regularly speak to business owners (like you) who can’t track the ROI of their sales and marketing activities and are generally unsure what activity generates the most revenue such as from their website and marketing content. They’d like to get more leads and sales but are unsure the best place to invest."

"IS THAT APPLICABLE TO YOUR SITUATION?" <pause, pause, pause, pause>


HMM…CAN YOU TELL ME MORE ABOUT THAT? <pause, pause, pause, pause>

Then have another 2 positioning statements lined up if the answer is no. There's also the Give and Get approach but lets save that for another day...


And, the result of this approach


I've gone from hating the 'cold' call to enjoying picking up the phone. Why? Because I don't have the pressure of it being a call that needs to make a sale. Our agency is all about being efficient and now I have a great process for the first call. It's a call to help, to make a connection, and to learn about our Ideal customers. I get to hear their challenges and, to be honest, almost all of them say the same things so it makes me an expert because I know I can genuinely help.

In the last week I've had:

  1. 18 first calls
  2. Pre-booked another 2 first calls
  3. Progressed 5 connect calls into Exploratory meetings (our next step to learn more...)

And, all those calls were to LinkedIn connections or contacts where deals were previously lost. Pretty good for somebody who didn't like making the first call. Just think the conversion rates you can expect from Inbound leads that are coming to your website to get content that answers their questions...


Learn how to Sell to the Modern Buyer...

About the author

Picture of James Walters

James Walters is the Commercial director at The Tree Group, a Business Growth agency that helps Automotive companies with at least 10 staff and a desire to grow by 15% in the next 18-months.