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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

First Impressions Matter, Especially in Sales


The importance of first impressions is undisputed. Whether it’s a meeting with a potential client, a job interview, a new boss, a new acquaintance, a neighbor, a new colleague, the list goes on. And making the most of that first chance allows you to make a significant difference as to the final outcome of that interaction.  

When it comes to cold calling, the principle applies to an even higher degree because you only have your voice to make the impression.  You can't offset not saying the perfect thing with a professional demeanor, or you can't be somewhat soft-spoken but still exude confidence with a strong handshake and your overall presence--you are accomplishing all of those things with your voice and choice of words.  Your voice is creating a mental picture, and you are compensating for in-person gestures with your dialog.

The impression that a first call or a cold call makes will stick with the prospect and set the tone for building the relationship--or end it right there.  It could make the difference of a prospect even wanting to talk with your company again, or willing to break off some time and talk about what they are looking for.  

In 2012, we are well aware of the selling landscape.  Your prospects are constantly bombarded with calls, emails, inter-company distractions, pressures, and their own emergencies. They have 50 things going on at any given time and getting a vendor call in the middle of it would have to be pretty compelling for them to stop everything and have a discussion.

That being said, why would companies want to put the least skilled, lowest paid, least knowledgeable people on front lines making cold calls to new prospects?  It may be the budget that drove that decision, but the long-term revenue loss is much more significant in the lost opportunities.

Outbound calling today requires a very senior level skill set.  Since prospects are able to research you before they ever talk to you, today's prospecting teams need to add value above what your prospect's can find on their own. They need to be able to connect and converse on a peer-to-peer level and neutralize any sales resistance and create a discovery dynamic.  They need to have:

- Situational fluency
- Industry expertise to help your prospect visualize the solution you offer in their specific environment
- Ability to steer a discussion real-time based on the prospect's topics of interest
- Emotional intelligence to know when to speak, when to listen, and what questions to ask
- Complete understanding of corporate structure and an empathetic grasp of today's business and executive challenges

Companies invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into building their direct sales teams. Harvard Business Review published a study that revealed companies value presentation skill as one of the top 3 desired abilities for sales reps. But so many times those same companies will put the weakest link on the front lines to introduce the company. That same quality of presence the direct team needs, also needs to be on the initial call as well to even have access to executives. Choosing low cost resources that deliver volume or low cost services vs. quality can do damage in the long run.  SiriusDecisions reports that 40-70% of prospects that have interest do eventually buy, retaining presence in those accounts requires skill and persistence. And many "Did You Buy" studies companies conduct on leads that fell out of the pipeline reveled that they did in fact make a purchase, from another provider. Many times it is just mismanagement of the relationship and poor engagement that lost the deal just because another vendor did it better.

Using senior level resources to introduce your company and solution allows you to address real-time any misconceptions the prospect has, understand requirements, establish trust, and bridge and engagement effectively out to your direct team.  The buying and selling landscape is volatile, and it's important to be in the right place at the right time--and you can't do that reading a script or measuring how many dials are made as the main activity.
I have said this many times, it isn’t that prospects don’t want to take cold calls; they don’t want to take a bad call.  So make your calls the ones they take. 

Putting your best foot forward will pay off throughout the relationship you build with prospects and make a real impact on your pipeline and retention of opportunities.  Your increased revenue potential will confirm you need to take into account the selling environment of today.