The term ‘cold calling’ strikes fear into the hearts of many a professional. Heaven’s knows it does to me.
Cold calling, though, has its place. Actually, it can be a very useful activity for both the caller and the receiver. It can save time and energy, create new connections and opportunity, and grow your network. These happy outcomes depend a fair bit on the preparation of the caller.
“Cold calling” is a bit of a misnomer; the person you are calling might be cold, but you as the caller are not. Before calling, research your targets and know why it is you want to do business with them, why the two of you are a good match, and how your services or products can benefit them in particular. Note: you must know how your officer is going to benefit that person. Not the business down the street or the office three floors up. You need to be specific and precise, tailoring each conversation and approach to the particular person on the other end of the line.
You also need to have your product/service description down pat. In one short sentence – 20 words or less – describe what you do so that the listener doesn’t have to wonder how your business is relevant to them. Follow up that brief sentence with another brief (BRIEF!) blurb on how you will either increase their profits or somehow make their life easier; understand how they specifically will benefit from you, and give them that info with absolute clarity. Finally, tell them why you are the ideal person to do this for them. Again, keep it short – this isn’t the time to trot out your resume or CV, or list the 37 influential people you do business with it. One or two sentences. You should be able to say it in a single breath without rushing or wheezing.
The above might sound straightforward, but it takes serious preparation work. Get as much info on the company as you are able and craft each call individually. This will take you from cold calling to smoking hot calling. You’ll be listened to with greater attention and received with greater interest, because the person on the other end of the line will know that you know your stuff and won’t waste their time. Don’t expect this call to land you a deal or get you new business. In the case of cold calling, I define success as genuine requests for more information and scheduling follow-up conversations. If you’ve gotten their attention and have made them willing to give you more time and attention, then you’ve done well.
One of the keys to being able to ramble out a good, solid off-the-cuff or spontaneous speech is introspection – and lots of it.
The purpose behind this introspection isn’t to indulge in endless navel-gazing. That’s what Facebook and Instagram are for. This self-reflection is to develop an acute awareness of your values, your personal drivers, and your thoughts on life, the universe, and everything.*
When making spontaneous speeches, we need to rely on tidbits of information that we hold in our head. There isn’t time to ponder and compose an answer, and we may be lacking data critical to making an informed argument. We can, however, always give our opinion on matters. This is where the introspection comes in: if we spend time thinking about how our own brain works, we can address subjects from a personal angle. This may not result in a speech with heavy hitting evidence and data to back up your opinion, but it will result in something (relatively) thoughtful. You can speak to how you think about the topic or situation, about what affects your views and opinions, about how it relates to your own context. And – prize of prize – you can do so with sincerity because you are ultimately revealing a part of yourself to your audience, and you take the time to think about yourself and your context.
Speaking is about sharing. We don’t always have the luxury of being able to share facts, but we can always share a piece of ourselves. But in order to share ourselves, we must understand ourselves first.
Lately, I have been brushing up my LinkedIn profile. If you don’t use LinkedIn, I strongly recommend that you create a profile. It really is a great way to keep in touch with professional and business contacts and build your professional network.
LinkedIn has a couple of different tools you can use to vet the work, skills, and abilities of your contacts: Endorse and Recommend. Endorsements allow you to either click on skills that already appear in your contact’s profile or enter in new skills. This “endorses” the skills that appear on your contact’s profile; other people will see your name and photo beside that skills. It effectively states that you agree that the contact possesses those particular abilities.
Recommend is an even stronger tool. It lets you write a few sentences describing the work and abilities of your contact; you can describe what it is like to work with this person, how having them as a colleague or business associate has affected you, and how they will benefit other employers or clients. It is like a mini-referral. Recommendations appear under the relevant work title of the contact, which puts the recommendation into context. You can send messages through LinkedIn requesting recommendations from other people and post recommendations to anyone in your contacts list.
As you can tell, I’m a fan. The only problem is that LinkedIn’s current interface makes it tricky to find the Recommend function. I’ve had several people ask me how to do this, so I’ve created the following tutorial to guide you through the process. Enjoy!
Note: For best viewing quality, watch the tutorial on YouTube using the ‘Large Player’ setting.
Are you a LinkedIn user? If so, what are your favourite features?
I interrupt your current series on Conference Terror to refer you to today’s blog post by Seth Godin:
Information – good information – is a precious thing. If it is ours to give, we shouldn’t be afraid of giving generously. Generosity tends to be reciprocated. It doesn’t mean that you should happily do all your work for free – generosity does not go hand-in-hand with self-imposed poverty. Actually, it means the opposite. When you give, people give back. It is unlikely someone is going to steal your material; it is much more probably that they’ll cite you, give you credit, and refer people back to your work.
Just like I’m doing here.*
So share your knowledge. It feels great, and the returns are very much worth your while.
*It isn’t like Seth Godin needs my approbation or referrals – even I’m not that egotistical. I like his work, and I like pointing people his way so that they can like his work too.
When we feel under threat, misunderstood, ill-used, or otherwise hard done by, we tend to put up walls. They are our mental defence mechanism, a way of deflecting conversations that might make us feel bad, or uncomfortable, or wrong.
When we say that someone “put a wall up between us,” we usually refer to someone becoming quiet and stony when the conversation gets heated. Silence is definitely a type of wall. But it isn’t the only type.
Some people build their walls out of words. They fill the space between them and the person they’re speaking to with noise. Maybe they don’t let the other person get a word in edgewise. Maybe they turn the conversation into a strange sort of two-way monologue, saying only what is racing through their head and not taking time to address or even listen to the other person’s input. Still others use words to re-direct and deflect uncomfortable conversations on a tangential topic. This is as much a communication wall as the silent treatment, only it is masked with a flood of unhelpful verbosity.
What kind of wall do you build? Do you choose to shut down or refuse to shut up? What can you do differently to break your wall down?
I started working on the next instalment on communicating intimately this weekend, and then got slammed with a nasty infection. Needless to say, it has completely derailed my writing efforts. Hopefully the antibiotics kick in soon (seriously – even the cartilage on my ears hurts).
In the meantime, I would like to leave you with the following blog post by Seth Godin. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a bit of a fan girl. This recent post is very much related to intimate communication, in that the skill of listening plays a major role. I hope you enjoy his post as much as I did.
The funny thing about establishing intimacy with an audience is that it doesn’t necessarily matter whether you, the speaker, feel that an intimate moment has been shared. Like just about any desired emotion, what really matters is that your audience feels it. They, quite frankly, don’t give a damn about what’s going on in your own head, and neither should you. The audience’s focus is on their own personal feelings and experience. Your focus also needs to be on your audience’s experience.
What constitutes an intimate experience for your audience, be it an audience of 1 or 1000? It’s when they feel that you, the speaker (or manager, or persuader, or whatever you may be) gets them. They feel that you understand them, their context, their desires, their needs, their wishes. They feel that you care about their problems and are helping them improve their own lives on an individual level. Because they believe that you do (or would) understand them, they feel that you can also relate to them, that the two of you have something in common. That feeling of connection can happen whether you are sharing a one-on-one conversation or you are speaking to an anonymous group of people comprised of individuals you will never actually meet. It doesn’t matter that you, the speaker, feels this connection. Your audience feels it. Because they feel it, they will most likely accept what you have to say as right and/or reasonable.
Your job is to create that feeling of connection and intimacy. The difficulty is that you as the speaker become wholly responsible for generating that feeling. The speaker must be willing to forgo every consideration of their own comfort and constantly, constantly, constantly strive to establish an intimate connection with the audience. The audience doesn’t – and shouldn’t – give a crap about your own state. Your job is to project whatever it is you need to project to create intimacy.
Are you physically, mentally, or emotionally tired? That doesn’t matter. You need to appear energised and alert; the audience must see that you are energized about speaking to them. Energy means you care.
Are you completely bored about the topic at hand? That doesn’t matter. The audience needs to believe that you think that topic is the most important thing you could be speaking about at that moment. If you show that you don’t care about the topic, then neither will they. Boredom is the death of intimacy.
Are you uninterested in or lack knowledge about your audience? That doesn’t matter. You must either find something about them that interests you or be able to flawlessly imitate interest. The audience absolutely must feel that you find them worth your interest if they will allow an intimate connection to be established. Do your homework about your audience and find something out about them that interests you; become knowledgeable about the people you are speaking to. If your audience is small, you may potentially discover something about them on an individual level. If your audience is large or you don’t have the means do find out much about them, then research the company they work for, or the area they live in, or the culture they come from, or their demographic, or their interests. There is always, always, always something you can learn about your audience that will help you become interested about them.
Are you disdainful about your audience? Then fix that attitude, fast. It doesn’t matter if your experience or qualifications leads you to think you are somehow better than them. Your audience will pick up on your disdain within moments of you starting to speak. Something will betray you – the words you use, the posture you adopt, your tone of voice, a way of behaving that you never considered. Once your audience picks up on this, they will reject you and everything you have to say. If you are approaching a speech or conversation with feelings of superiority or disdain, then you again need to research your audience and learn something about them that you can respect. Intimacy cannot exist without respect, and respect is the antidote to disdain.
Are you in a foul mood? Then do something before you meet your audience that improves that mood. Go for a walk, meditate, look up funny pictures of cats. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it makes you feel better. If you are surly, your audience will become surly. No one wants to connect with a cantankerous swab.
Are you an anxious or nervous speaker? Learn some techniques to control your anxiety. Stage fright is normal, but you must appear confidence. Audiences want to connect with strong, confident speakers – speakers who look and act as though they can help them solve their problems. Learn how to project confidence externally even when you are quaking internally.
You, speaker, need to set aside your own state of being and focus entirely on what will create the desired state of being to those you are speaking to. So what if you felt that you just delivered the best speech of your life and that you really felt a connection with your audience? The real question is, did your audience feel the same way?
There is something magical about receiving a hand-written note. Assuming that the content of the note is desirable, they give a sort of warm fuzzy feeling that can only be approximated by flowers or a box of chocolates.
As communication now is all about instantaneous delivery, hand-written greetings – especially when delivered by mail – are rendered more charming by their slowness. They tell the recipient that the writer took the time to scratch out something on paper rather than pounding it out on a keyboard; that the writer bothered to put the note into an envelope, was willing to *gasp*pay for a stamp to send it, and find the now-rare-species of Mailboxus to deposit the note.
Hand-written notes have personality. As the quality of our handwriting deteriorates, our hand becomes less perfect and more packed with personality and quirk. There may be scratched-out words and spelling mistakes galore. These are things that would be unforgivable when written in a program with spell-check but strangely charming in this context. They boast greater sincerity (whether real or no) then something printed out in perfect computer-based font. Our array of digital fonts can never provide the same communication of sheer character than a single hand-written note.
One of the best business relationship building weapons I have in my arsenal is a pack of old-fashioned Thank You cards. I go through quite a lot of these. There are always occasions where you can send someone such a card. Thank people who have taken you for coffee or lunch. Thank professionals who have gifted you with time in one way or another. Has someone gone above and beyond what they promised you? Send them a thank-you card. Did you receive a referral? That’s another thank-you card occasion. Send them out with abandon. They feel great to send and wonderful to receive. But the rub is that they must be an actual card, with a hand-written note, mailed to the intended recipient.
If you are concerned that sending out such cards seems too familiar, too grannyish, or too feminine, despair not! There are so many varieties of these cards out there that you can easily find ones that suit your personality, the character of your recipient, or even the specific reason for the thanks. For my business-related thank you cards, I prefer to go for a more masculine colour scheme, font, and colour. Personal thank you cards run the gamut from elegant and feminine to bold and a little hyper. It is actually rather fun picking out the most appropriate card from the pile.
Including postage, each thank-you card ends up costing me about $2 and takes about ten minutes to write. They invariably have more impact than any thank-you note sent over email. It’s cheaper and faster than taking someone out for coffee, and the warm feeling lasts much longer.
I’m on the fence about this one. In several online groups I belong to, issues surrounding social media communications strategies abound. There are endless LinkedIn discussions about how to improve your corporate Facebook or Twitter presence, how to humanize your company with Instagram, how to develop a social brand, and how to attract “real” followers instead of ghosts and bots. There is a huge amount of effort put into the maintenance of these online presences. More often than not, I’m left wondering if the payoff is work it.
Facebook has become a very popular marketing platform on which companies can make coupon or sample offers to the public, often in exchange for the individual clicking the “like” button on the company’s Facebook page. Company advertising and announcements will then be incorporated into the individuals News Feed, purportedly exposing them to more advertising than they would otherwise. Is this really effective? I’d love to hear the metrics on difference in sales and profits that this advertising strategy takes. I for one, have Liked many a company’s Facebook page. I’ve done it to get samples, freebies, high-value coupons, and to enter contests. I then proceed to hide the company’s updates from my News Feed so that I don’t get bombarded with additional ads. Once I receive the thing that I want (and in the case of coupons, I only get offers for products I buy anyway), I immediately Unlike the page. Rinse, wash, repeat. So far, my buying patterns have not changed. But how many people do respond positively, becoming regular consumers of the product?
The same goes for Twitter. There are some fascinating things going on with that particular platform. Professionals are having public discourses, opinions get exchanged, celebrities of various degrees experience foot-in-mouth syndrome, news bits get passed on. I do follow a couple of individuals/companies, primarily because they regularly post links to interesting business articles. A lot of the tweets, however, are completely irrelevant and I end up ignoring them for weeks at a time.
One of the local TV stations has been running internet ads featuring various young professionals and hipsters going on about the fabulousness of social media. One of said hipsters is a young woman in a headband and 1980’s style aerobics gear stretching on a yoga mat. At one point she says “I get all my news from Twitter . . . it’s about conversations.”
But is it really? Are Twitter and other social media platforms that encourage status update and single sentence summaries of our state of mind really about conversations? I’ve heard people make that claim before, but I’m not entirely sold on it. Certainly back-and-forth exchanges do take place, and can be interesting (or fascinating along the vein of a 15-car pileup). But can these exchanges, with the planning and posturing that is afforded by asynchronous responses, really be conversations? I don’t know. They can be fun, for sure. They also provide a way to give glimpses into personal states of mind through thought-of-the-moment type posts; this can humanize a professional and let their audience or clients see a more personal side of them in a controlled manner.
All of this can add a dimension to our perception of other people, but does it really work as a communication strategy on its own? Regardless how enthusiastic I feel about a social media platform at any given point in time, I’m always left asking that question. In the absence of other, meatier communication channels, can Twitter stand on its own as a way to connect with your audience?
I’m not sure. I don’t know if I’ll ever be sure. That being said, I’m going to start up an Up Front twitter account anyway – for all of those thought-of-the-moment bits that drift through my brain.