Sorry Right Number and Wrong Impression
I picked up the phone on the second ring. I realized it was my mistake as the voice on the line launched into the typical sales prospecting script.
“Hello Kevin Wild, my name is Joe. You don’t know me but I was referred to you. You are the person in charge of learning, right? I’m a vendor in the learning space and I would like to spend time with you now to probe your company talent development needs and tell you about my company solutions.”
Well, I would like to slam the phone down right now and escape this dreaded cold call. Instead I will politely listen. After all, it was my fault for picking up the phone.
A friend handles these calls in a business-like manner by responding, “I am not sourcing these services right now. If you’d like to send me material on your firm, I would be happy to keep it on file. That way, when I am ready to talk, I have your information as a reference. In the meantime, I’m sure you agree that your time is valuable and so is mine. Continuing the conversation right now isn’t a good use of our time. Thank you. Good bye!”
The Wrong Introduction
I wish I had that sense of efficiency. I know the cold-callers are just doing their job. On one hand, I value consultants and vendors in the development field as I’ve had many important external partnerships over the years. On the other hand, the cold call is a terrible way to make a positive introduction.
Going direct to the CEO first isn’t much better. The big boss is busy as well. He will route the solicitor to me. When I make the follow-up call, I admit feeling a bit resentful. I’ll listen but inside stew on their unspoken assumption that I’ll be more motivated to buy because the vendor went over my head. Whether true or not, that’s not the right way to forge a new partnership with the head of learning.
It’s also discouraging when the caller hasn’t done his homework. Sometimes I know this when playfully asking what he had for breakfast. (hint: I work for a branded food company, so a bowl of Cheerios with Yoplait Yogurt is a good answer.) In a highly networked, Google era, it’s not that hard to learn a company’s strategy and something about the person charged with talent management. Company websites are useful – particularly business updates from the investor relations section. There is also enough material online and in professional journals – like this publication – to inform an outsider about the company’s current talent management practices.
Finally, knowing the other person’s interest is the way I was taught to act when speaking to executives. Whether it’s a formal pitch or an elevator-speech encounter, I try to mention something about their business or interest first and then succinctly bridge into my topic. Vendors who do the same are off to a good start to getting a sale.
Find the Right Number: How I Buy
So what’s the right number? I buy based on trust.
Trust in a potential partner starts with visibility. I am more apt to buy when I see someone involved and supporting the learning profession. Sponsoring conferences, communities of practice or trade publications are all examples of how I found new suppliers. I also like firms that connect me with thought leaders and innovative practices. By the way, spending time with their firm’s client representative doesn’t count as a thought-leader encounter.
Credibility is enhanced when a vendor can describe success with my peer from other companies. Stories about how a firm helped a CLO with a business challenge, as told through co-presenting at a conference or co-written in a respected publication, peak my interest.
Moreover, I am impressed when a CLO-colleague is so satisfied with a vendor that she is willing to put in a positive referral. Recently, I experienced while catching-up with a friend. Knowing my current challenges, he recommended a firm that he found to be extremely valuable in similar circumstances.
Also notable is having a good reputation with other vendors. I will find new firms by asking my current circle of trusted providers. I saw the opposite of this recently when a nationally-known training firm publicly sued another firm in a very aggressive and unproductive manner. That company now has zero chance of teaching my leaders about collaboration and skillful conflict resolution.
The Right Number
As I look at my ‘to-do’ list, it is apparent I need collaborative help from someone new right now. I am ready to buy, but hate being sold. So to all my undiscovered vendor friends, please consider this before calling or emailing: I’ll be reaching out to my network of CLO friends and inner-circle consultants for leads. So rather than cold calling, do great work for my friends and support the learning community. Rest assured, I’ll be calling you.
© Kevin D. Wilde