Stop Talking About Yourself (and Start Selling More)

By Heather Baldwin

What if you could increase your sales by more than 40 percent by making one change to the way you sell? That’s what happened when the sales team at American Cutting Edge, industrial-blade and knife experts, ditched its “spew and hope something sticks” technique for engaging prospects and replaced it with real, solid research.

During prospecting calls, says Sam Jones, American Cutting Edge’s executive vice president and a 15-year sales veteran, “we used to spend the precious seconds potential buyers gave us babbling on about who we are, what we are all about, and what our marvelous product could do for them. Today, we demonstrate immediately that we know the prospect, who the prospect’s customers are, and what the prospect is trying to do.” Only then do sales reps mention how they think they can specifically help that person. Within a year of making that switch, sales increased 41 percent.

Jones says his four sales reps have found three sources to be invaluable when it comes to researching prospects: Connect. An online directory of businesses and business contacts, Connect enables users to research company information, business-contact details, and more. Prior to Jones’s emphasis on thorough research, Heather Vreeland, a sales representative at American Cutting Edge, relied on the names and numbers in the company’s old database for prospecting calls but was only moderately successful. After using Connect and key information on prospects’ Websites to conduct research ahead of each call, she was quickly able to quote half a million dollars in new business.

Google. Yes, it sounds basic, but a Google search will often reveal ancillary information about a prospect that can’t be found in business-networking and research sites such as Jigsaw, Hoover’s, and LinkedIn. For instance, Jones recently Googled a prospect and discovered that the person had just taken part in a big event for breast cancer research – a charity with which Jones’s wife long has been involved. “I was able to talk passionately and genuinely on that topic with the prospect, and we forged an instant connection,” Jones says.

Gatekeepers. For all the information available online, there are some things you can only learn by talking to a gatekeeper: what time the prospect arrives at the office, for instance, or how he or she prefers to be contacted. Several years ago, Jones remembers trying repeatedly to reach one prospect. A conversation with his gatekeeper revealed that the prospect checks his mail first thing every morning. “I sent him a postcard, and he called me back right away,” says Jones.

Jones credits Art Sobczak and his book Smart Calling: Eliminate the Fear, Failure, and Rejection from Cold Calling for changing the way he and his team approach prospecting calls. “Knowing your prospect ahead of a call is probably the simplest but most overlooked aspect of prospecting,” says Jones. “As a customer myself, when salespeople call me, I am always thinking, ‘What do you know about me, my business, what I sell, and why I sell it?’ If you can’t answer those questions ahead of every prospecting call, don’t pick up the phone.”