How Not To Sell

I thought I would use a few blog posts to discuss sales - in this case the sale of information security products and services. As someone with overall responsibility for security, I receive at least 5 calls per day from people that I do not know that are trying to sell me a product. I am sure that I am not alone in this endless string of unsolicited phone calls. Don't get me wrong - I'm not an unfriendly person and I definitely recognize the value of networking and relationships. I just don't find it very effective to cold call someone out of the blue with the intention to sell them a product or service.
Ask yourself this question: do you like to receive unsolicited calls at home during dinner time? I don't either because I have that time set aside for family. There is a reason that a national do-not-call list exists. Daytime product/service sales calls tend to fall in the same category. A typical cold call conversation with me goes like this:
Caller: "Hi, is this Robert?" <I also get a lot of calls asking for the previous person in my job - that's another big no-no. I'm not new to my position - update your phone list before calling.>
Me: "Yes. What is this in regards to?"
Caller: "I'm so-and-so with such-and-such company. We have x y z and here's why it is great." OR "How are you addressing X Y Z law that you must comply with?"
Me: "Thank you for your interest in our company, but we are not looking for additional vendors."
Caller: "Can I follow up with you with more information?"
Me: "No thank you."
That's it. Every conversation is the same and they happen all the time. The first thing to realize when calling someone out of the blue is that they receive many other calls from vendors offering similar services. If you employ the tactics described above, you are using the same conversation that every other rep or inside salesperson uses when calling. It's not that I don't want/need your product but I don't appreciate the distraction from the work I am focusing on for the same reasons you don't like to be called during dinnertime. Leaving a cold voicemail is even worse - you will not receive a reply.
How about a different approach?
Take a longer-term view focused on development of a relationship rather than trying to interest me in your product. Here are a few tips to start with:
1. Know who you are calling. People will generally tell you who is responsible for a certain area - start with the admin assistants and ask questions. Make sure you have the name and general area of responsibility correct.
2. Know the company you are calling. I have many people that call me asking for a different credit union that has a similar-sounding name.
3. Know the industry and regulations. I am not subject to Sarbanes-Oxley; a quick review of the law and my company will tell you that. Don't try to sell me a product that answers that regulation because it's not applicable. You will lose credibility with that approach and that is a killer when you are contacting someone that you do not know.
4. Find someone that knows me or something about me. You have other clients and vendor contacts - find a mutual relationship. This would be a much better way to introduce yourself. Either ask your contact for an introduction or mention that person directly. I'm also involved in ISACA and ISSA - perhaps you belong to the same chapter. I have a web site and blog - perhaps you have read it. I am an active member of LinkedIn - send an invitation to join your network. Find something that gives you a connection to the person you are calling beyond the product/service you are selling. Give it some thought and put Google to work and you will quickly find the right information.
5. Lead with technology - not telephone. Phone calls are very disruptive and e-mail is not. Send a personalized e-mail to introduce yourself and mention something from #4.
6. Offer value / ask opinions. Perhaps your CTO gave a recent presentation at a conference and you'd like to discuss. Perhaps you are encountered a problem at a different client that we may have solved and would like more information. These are all good ways to get a foot in the door. In my previous employment I was very successful with this - I read a CSO Magazine article about a CISO and called to talk to him about the article. I got the meeting and won the relationship because I didn't lead with an attempt to sell something.
7. Look long-term. People change jobs from time to time. Perhaps you can't help me today, but you might be at a different company tomorrow. If you have a relationship you can take that with you and have an easier time getting a return call or meeting. These are a few simple suggestions that you can use to improve your success rate - not just with me but with your other prospects and targets. Hopefully you will find them of value.