As a sales professional, one of the things I thought when this financial crisis hit the fan was how it will change the responses prospects have to vendor calls. The answer depends on how you are looking at it. Companies did shelf some of the "nice to have" but non-critical projects, but are still moving forward with business critical initiatives. They are also getting a lot of sales calls because people need to close business, so it's imperative to make your call count in amongst all the noise.

I started The Vanella Group, Inc. in 2001 during a meltdown, my business grew during that time because my customers consistently see the return that makes the program clearly valuable. Cold calling is what we do, and we have to stay aligned with the marketplace in terms of buying behaviors to keep getting those results. A few of the core methods we are successful with are:

  1. Take a soft approach to access prospects. Prospects and their admins are people just like you. Ask yourself, would you appreciate a call from you? I saw a really good post on Trish Bertuzzi's blog that said "Times have changed and where we used to think we had to "get past" the gatekeeper, now we should figure out how to "work with" the gatekeeper. " The whole dynamic of cold calling is making personal connections, not talking AT people.
  2. Discovery based conversations work, pushy sales calls don't.Most people don't like getting "sales" calls, but they are perfectly willing to have a conversation to see if something would be a fit for them, especially if it is working for others in their industry. Use your first connection to have a discovery and find out where it even makes sense to have a more in-depth discussion.
  3. Know who you're calling. I was just having a conversation yesterday about calls I get myself from people that don't know anything about my business and who they are calling. Take a few minutes to check the company and prospect out on the web so you have some basic information going into it (back to the Sales 2.0 model). Anyone appreciates when you know enough about them to speak to specific areas they might be challenged with.

As a take away - if your solution/product has different industries you are selling into, if you haven't already, create a spreadsheet with columns where you can list the industry and the specific pain points for that industry. Then list some questions you can ask that speak to the specific pain in that segment. Speaking to that kind of specific pain they have will show your prospects you do understand their business, and also will give you a reference tool to make your call count by having the data points in front of you to make your conversation stay on topic and stand out.

I'll post a chapter from my book next time about asking good questions. Stay tuned…