Early in my sales training career, I used to do about an hour on how to work with gatekeepers. Today, you no longer talk to live gatekeepers. Instead, you go straight into the prospect's voice-mail system.
Polite, patient executives who would never think of hanging up on you feel nothing when they delete your voice mail after one sentence. The typical businessperson has 170 interactions (or interruptions) per day. And, according to time-management guru David Allen, has a backlog of 300 to 400 hours of unfinished work. Email, voice mail, faxes, scheduled meetings and unscheduled ("got-a-minute?") meetings mean that your sales prospect is constantly barraged by anyone and everyone.
Here are three ideas that can help you get in to see anyone.
Approach 1: Cartoons to Break the Ice
One of my colleagues uses a cartoon seeding system. Bud clips cartoons with people's names in them. For example, he is constantly on the look out for a cartoon with "Chris" in it. Whenever he finds a cartoon with a name in it, he files it. On Saturday morning, he gets out his Rolodex and his file folder full of cartoons and sends off 10 personal notes, a cartoon and a business card. The personal note is usually one or two sentences.
Thought of you when I saw this. Looking forward to catching up with you soon.
Get this. He sends these notes and cartoons by snail mail. The prospect or customer gets a cartoon, a chuckle and a business card. Sometimes, Bud clips articles and cartoons about a person's interests, hobbies or pets. If he finds out you own a dachshund, you will get a cartoon with a dachshund.
Here's the bottom line: Bud tells me that half the people he sends cards and cartoons to call and thank him for thinking of them. The other half take his phone call or return his phone message when he calls. Yes, it's an extra step. Yes, it takes time. Is it worth it to you to have customers and prospects initiating phone calls to you and having a higher percentage of them return your phone calls promptly? If it is, then give it a try.
Approach 2: The Article Clipper and Sender
Consultants have been advised for years by their consultants to publish articles in industry trade magazines. A consultant who publishes an article is seen as an expert, and some consultants publish their own newsletters. Consultative salespeople can take a page out the consultant's marketing kit.
Consider clipping and sending articles from industry trade publications. When an article pertains to a particular prospect or customer, send it to that prospect. The real article is better than a photocopy of it. Clipping something from a magazine or newspaper, attaching your business card to it and dropping it in the mail is commonly called account seeding. Try this approach instead of dialing someone out of the blue.
Approach 3: The Lottery Ticket Letter
Buy 10 lottery tickets and clip them to your introductory letter. Ask the customer to "take a chance" and meet with you. Unlike the lottery, you have a sure thing, a proven winner. Explain in a few sentences how you can help the customer reduce risk or increase profits. Mention that you will be following up in a few days.
A lottery ticket is what direct-mail experts call a grabber. It ensures that your letter will be seen and that it will be put in the A-pile instead of the circular file. One salesperson went seven-for-seven with the lottery ticket letter. He booked seven consecutive appointments with people he sent lottery tickets to.
If an appointment is worth a dollar to you, give it a try.
Cartoons, articles and lottery tickets are ways to set yourself apart from the smile-and-dial, boiler-room sales types who interrupt people with their pitches. Sending prospects information of value shows that you're willing to earn the right to gain the appointment.
Differentiating your approach will help set you apart from the salespeople who want to get face-time in front of the prospect. The gatekeeper is almost gone. So using snail mail and high-touch approaches will help you stand out. A real signature in ink on real note paper may take a couple of days to get to the prospect's office, but it will be more memorable than a fax or email. Your prospects just may slow down long enough to read it and take your call.