Let’s make a Yay and Blech list. Raisins, yay; unsweetened cranberries, blech. Netting big dollars on a project, yay. Paying taxes on big dollars, blech. Playing hockey with other old men, yay; Being humiliated on the ice by 25-year olds, less yay.1 Fielding out-of-the-blue requests for projects, yay; outbound calling to replenish the pipeline, blech.
Most consultants dread picking up the phone to call prospects. Pure blech. And I’m not talking about cold calling (which is a truly dreadful approach to winning business). Even reaching out to previous clients whom you haven’t talked to in few years can feel like a horrifyingly distasteful task. Hence, most independent consultants simply don’t do enough outreach. But one phone call can supercharge your new-business pipeline.
After talking with many, many consultants, what I’ve seen is that making the first networking phone call is brutal. People will do almost anything instead of pick up the phone. They’ll send emails (which is tantamount to doing nothing at all), develop a 20-year business plan and shop for cemetery plots before lifting the receiver. Even though we all know that a steady diet of outreach will beef up your business like a pro wrestler on steroids.
However, once you dial that first prospect, the next handful are much easier. Below are ten tips that will boost your ability to make the one call that will juice up your performance: the first one.
- Remember, you don’t have to offer anything. Many consultants avoid outreach calls when they can’t deliver some blockbuster piece of value to each contact. That’s because they’re misunderstanding how outreach works. You don’t have to give anything. Nurturing relationships and connecting with your contacts is inherently valuable.
- Also remember, your job is to listen. Feeling like you have to sound impressive, intelligent and savvy adds unnecessary pressure. Your mission during outreach isn’t to promote yourself, it’s simply to connect. And the more you listen, the more likely you are to build a strong relationship that leads to business.
- Script your voice mail message. Yes, you should leave a voicemail message. Either leave a message that speaks to value (e.g., “I ran into a report that would be useful to you”) or a simple connection message (e.g., “When would be a good time to touch base?”). Either way, penning your message in advance reduces the pre-call stress.
- Script your conversation. What if someone answers the phone?! Have the basics of your conversation written out. It could be as simple as, “Hi <contact>. We haven’t talked in forever. Is this a good time to catch up for a few minutes? Are you still <describe latest position you know about>?”
- Organize your contacts by ‘script.’ Part of the pain in making calls is the mental rehearsal before you pick up the receiver. By grouping your contacts according to script, you’ll know that you can knock out a slew of calls once you start. Examples of similar scripts are previous clients, ex-colleagues, contacts who have recently received a promotion, and so forth.
- Schedule 15 minutes for head-straightening. As part of every time block you’ve allocated to outreach, give yourself an opportunity touch base with the terrific value you offer. Read some testimonials from previous clients or review some of your excellent work. Once you’re standing solidly on your own platform of value, reaching out to others feels like the good deed it is.
- Set realistic expectations –Ten phone calls may yield only a single conversation. People are busy and you’re not the top priority. That’s not a reflection on you or your worth; it’s just the nature of calling someone who wasn’t expecting your call.
- Create a ritual. The research is irrefutable: we accomplish unpleasant tasks more consistently when they’re part of a regular ritual. For most consultants, blocking a set time of day that they’ll make calls is key.
- Call at least once each week. If buckling down to daily outreach is just never going to happen for you, what about twice per week? Still too ambitious? Then commit to at least ten calls, once per week.
- Celebrate your success. Imagine making just ten more calls each week to new prospects. When those calls generate fifty conversations over the course of the year, you’ve probably doubled your pipeline potential. You won’t necessarily see immediate results, but the results will come if you stick with it. And that, my friend, is worth celebrating
What tips have enabled you to pick up the phone to make that all important, first outreach call of the day? Post what works for you below so others can benefit from your experience.
Text and images are © 2019 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.