Monday, May 26, 2008

Fighting The Irrational Ghosts Of New Account Development

Writen by Rick Johnson

Ghosts can seem very real to someone that is charged with making cold calls over the telephone to companies they have never talked to before in an effort to qualify them as potential customers. A common scenario could look like the following little story.

Half asleep but with a look of fear still present in her eyes, Julie stared into the bathroom mirror. Her right cheek displayed the remnants of pillow wrinkles and still revealed a telltale sign of the drool that escaped her mouth during the night as she slept. Sleep hadn't come easy for Julie that entire weekend. In fact, this was the worst weekend she could remember having since her Grandmother passed away. Julie looked into the mirror only to see an unsympathetic face filled with anxiety staring back at her.

"Just call in sick," she commanded to her own image in the mirror. "Better yet, why don't you just quit, that'll fix that Bozo of a boss. I'm the best Inside Sales person our company has. They'll miss me when I'm gone."

The coldness of the water on her hands coming from the faucet she had turned on brought Julie's thoughts back to reality. She knew she couldn't "Just Quit." She was a single Mom and they paid her a good salary.

"Besides," she thought, "I've got ten years with this company. They shouldn't treat me this way. What am I going to do?"

What caused Julie to be so upset? What caused her to lose so much sleep over the weekend? What filled her with anxiety and fear? What made her consider giving up a ten-year career as an Inside Sales person?


As an observer or reader and to our more aggressive "A" personality types it may seem like Julie is "Fighting an Irrational Ghost". But, let's be honest, even the most experienced field sales people and the most experienced inside sales people don't like making cold calls. There is always some level of anxiety that exists in the callers mind. It is called the "FEAR OF MAKING PERSONAL CONTACT WITH THE UNKNOWN"

So is that fear an Irrational Ghost or is it a legitimate concern, challenge or roadblock to prospecting and new account development? The answer is….. it is both.

Being that it is "a given" that every distributor has to be concerned about new account development to some degree, just who should be responsible for cold calling and lead qualification?

Using field sales reps for cold calling is the most costly of all sales strategies used in the distribution industry. Field sales reps and their managers value face-to-face time with customers and prospects. Their goal is to increase in-person contacts. Cold calling and lead qualification by the field sales force is a costly, low return on investment exercise.

In the past several months, Sales Managers and field sales people have asked the question --- "who should really be responsible for cold calls (prospecting) and for qualifying leads?" One sales manager asked if we could train their field sales force on making cold calls over the telephone. I suggested that this may not be the best use of the field sales person's time?

Making phone calls to set appointments, follow-up personal calls and building relationship equity with existing accounts is a routine part of the field sales person's duties, but, making cold calls by telephone is not the answer to new account development.

Voice Mail is a reality in today's marketplace. That means telephone calls to contact ratios may be 10 calls to 1 contact versus 5 to 1 in the past. These tasks eat up an inordinate amount of time and are not perceived to be within field sales area of expertise. Additionally, field sales DNA just seems to lead to, inconsistencies in implementation and proficiency when telephone prospecting is done by many field sales reps. There may also be a lost opportunity to build a consistent data base of market intelligence for the company.

Prospecting is the most expensive of all sales tasks, closely followed by lead qualification tasks. Using field sales people compounds these costs.

Getting field sales in front of customers should be the primary objective in most industries. If in-person calls are important to achieve sales and profit goals of the business, then you should consider a different perspective for new account development. Other more efficient and cost-effective methods exist that offer additional benefits to your company. But, how do you fight the Irrational Ghosts?

The answer to that question is training, education and preparation. Outcall is an exceptionally good Marketing/Sales tool if it is done right. There are a lucky few that can just pick up the phone, make a cold call and it comes naturally to them. But for most of your employees, making that call is the most unpleasant and difficult task you could possibly ask them to do. They fight the "Irrational Ghost of Fear of the Unknown". It's actually unfair to send them onto the "Outcall Battlefield" without arming them with the proper weapons. Those weapons are generated through training. It's true that for some people making that cold call is no big deal. It's also true that for some people no matter what you do, or how much training you provide, they just wont be able to do it successfully.

However, for the vast majority of Inside Sales people and Call Center Agents employed in this country today, outcall training can be extremely beneficial. A solid outcall program with trained personnel can provide a major impact to revenue and bottom line profits. Think about it. If you have only five inside sales people making ten outcalls per day, that totals 250 calls per week which equates to 1000 new proactive customer contacts per month. Consider a Different Perspective: When a business needs considerable prospecting and lead qualification, a two-step process is recommended:

1. Marketing Coordinator: an inside sales lead person (or Outcall Supervisor) could be dedicated to manage all responses to qualify needs and interests, gather and record prospect information, and to coordinate a proactive outcall program. Qualified prospect information in the form of a Prospect Profile should be provided to the field. A profile might include a business description, products and value-added services of interest, company name, address, phone and FAX numbers, contact name and title, products and services used by 'like' accounts of the same SIC code, best time to call, or, specific appointment date requested, identification of literature sent, and name of the field sales person to whom the lead is directed (determined by prospect ZIP code). A Marketing Coordinator's tasks include using a 'contact management' software program to build a consistent data base. The job may include sending appropriate company literature, i.e., catalog, line card, and a thank you note with a confirming sales call date and field sales rep's name.

2. Outcall: Inside sales is one of the most critical and important positions in the company. It is the face seen most often by our customers. It is a combination of order taking, selling and customer service. The strength of the sales team will determine the future of the company. Field sales and inside sales must work as a team on new account development. Inside sales can do the initial contact work but field sales must work in tandem to call on high potential accounts face to face. Of course, it's likely that inside sales may actually start generating business before the field sales rep ever makes an in person call. In some cases an in person call may not be necessary. However, it is extremely important that inside sales and field sales work together as a team on new account development.

Today's sophisticated sales environment is based on this century's demand from customers that their suppliers become total solution providers. Inside sales people play a key role not only in support of field sales but, I repeat, Inside sales is one of the most critical and important positions in the company.

A positive mental attitude or a constructive and optimistic way of looking at ourselves, our work, our people and our management goes hand-an-hand with being successful at inside sales no matter what company we work for, no matter what industry we are in. A positive mental attitude is the key ingredient necessary to fight off the "Irrational Ghosts" of cold calling and lead qualification.

Developing this attitude of unshakable self-confidence and enthusiasm, no matter what is going on around us is our passport to becoming successful in the development of a successful outcall program. Essentially, the development of a proactive outcall program with the proper training and education backed up by a well designed incentive program specific to new account development for inside sales will chase those ghosts away forever and increase sales while maximizing profits. E-mail to request additional information on "Outcall Development". – Sign up to receive "The Howl" a free monthly newsletter that addresses real world industry issues. – Straight talk about today's issues. Rick Johnson, expert speaker, wholesale distribution's "Leadership Strategist", founder of CEO Strategist, LLC a firm that helps clients create and maintain competitive advantage. Need a speaker for your next event, E-mail

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