CR and cold calling 1 accessing the prospect

A lot of business-to-business selling starts with a salesman telephoning companies to see if they're in the market for whatever he's selling. Some call this 'telesales', some call it 'cold calling', and some call it 'hell on Earth'. So how can cold reading techniques help in this situation? To see how, let us briefly reconsider what's happening in the context of a typical psychic reading. Specifically, let's focus on the main goal of whoever is giving the reading. We can summarise the psychic context like this:

Players: Psychic, client. Context: Psychic service.

Goal: to be perceived as having access to some significant form of insight, advice or communication.

With different players, in a different context, the goal will also be different. However, the fundamental techniques for achieving that goal can remain the same. Now consider the salesman working through his list of target companies. All he really wants to do is access the relevant buyer or decision-maker, and ask them a few questions. In many cases this will be very straightforward. He calls, he gets put through to the right person, and he finds out what he wants to know. However, in a few cases he might come up against someone who, for whatever reason, tries to 'block' what they perceive to be a 'nuisance' sales call. We can summarise the new context like this:

Players: Salesman, various Employees in companies he calls.

Context: Cold calling companies, trying to reach relevant buyers or decision-makers.

Goal: to win co-operation, and access the right person. Not to be seen as a nuisance.

If the salesman comes up against a 'blocker', cold reading techniques may be no use whatsoever. Then again, our salesman has nothing to lose by trying. So he waits a while, then calls the main switchboard and tries a Fuzzy Fact:

"Hello, I hope you can help me. I've got a message here to return a call from someone in your company, but the name's a bit of a scribble. Jones, Johnson, James... I can't quite make it out. All I know is it's to do with buying training courses or sorting out training requirements. Do you know who it could be?"

This completely changes the basis of the dialogue. The conflict between gaining access and blocking access is gone. Instead, it's now just a conversation between someone trying to do a good thing (return a message promptly) and someone else whose job involves facilitating this process.

The salesman mentions names (James, Johnson) which are fairly common and which could sound like either first names or surnames. If the relevant decision-maker happens to have a first name or surname that matches, or sounds close, then the salesman will almost certainly be put through immediately.

If not, the person taking the call will probably come up with the right person, but query the names the salesman mentioned:

"Well I can put you through to Larry Brown, who handles most of that kind of thing, but I can't place a Jones or Johnson."

At this point the salesman can either just glide over the 'wrong' names he mentioned, or he can apply one of the Win-Win Game techniques listed earlier, such as 'Wrong small print, right headline':

"Hang on... 'Brown' did you say? That's the one. I've got it now. Sorry, I was looking at the wrong file. Could you put me through and I can see why he was calling?"

And so, with a little luck, the salesman gets through to the decision-maker. Of course, the salesman told a small lie in saying that he was returning a call. With a little luck this point will simply get overlooked. Alternatively, the decision-maker may query this. Our undaunted salesman can use another 'Win-Win Game' approach, such as 'I am right, but you do not know':

"I'm pretty sure I didn't call you, in fact I've never heard of you."

"Oh, that's puzzling. Well, it may not have come directly from you, but someone from your company definitely asked us to call you, because I've got this note here in front of me. I don't know... maybe from your head office or another branch or a colleague of yours? I'm relatively new here and picking up some loose ends, so I'm afraid I don't have all the details. Just to make sure I'm not totally on the wrong track, you do sometimes train people in Java don't you?... "

(Java is just an example. It's a kind of web programming technology.)

If the salesman doesn't fancy that approach, he can reach back into the Win-Win Game bag of tricks and try another ruse, such as 'I am wrong but it doesn't matter':

"Oh, you didn't contact us? I'm sorry, I was honestly under the impression I was supposed to call you back. It's probably a bug in the database, but your name came up in connection with Java training - you sometimes source Java training for developers, dont you?"

Whatever route he takes, the salesman has achieved his goal. He has accessed the relevant decision-maker and has been able to ask his questions. Variations on a theme

Another possible way past an unhelpful secretary or switchboard 'blocker' is to use a variation on the Jargon Blitz. The salesman talks in such complicated terms that the 'blocker' feels daunted, and decides it's simpler to just put the salesman through. It might go something like this:

"Sorry, the person concerned does not take unsolicited sales calls. If you want to send us your sales literature, it will be given due consideration."

"Okay, thank you, I will. Just to make sure I send you the right information, can you tell me if you handle distribution of network processes with RMI or CORBA, and the necessary Java/C integration, or alternatively whether you mainly develop Java applications with UML and perhaps JCORBA/ EJB component design? Or should I ask someone else — it will only take a minute and then I'm gone."

Faced with this kind of syllable soup, many 'blockers' will rapidly decide that they have better things to do, and in any case the decision-maker is paid to deal with this kind of stuff...

"...er, you know what? I think you'd better have a quick word with our Mr. Brown - but he's very busy, so make it quick".

This scenario of the unhelpful person trying to 'block' the sales call is relatively rare, and the suggestions made above might prove futile. Nonetheless, this first example serves to illustrate the general theme of this section. First, we analyse the context in terms of the Players and principal Goal, and then see if there is scope for cold reading techniques to play a part.

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