The cold shoulder

Cold-calling is probably the least favourite activity of most sales people – an unpleasant chore to get through. The same can be said of approaching customers in a retail store; it is not a favourite activity of sales staff, hence the customer complaints about being ignored or sales people being ‘rude’ and talking amongst themselves. They are just human – trying to avoid an unpleasant task. Customers have conditioned them to the view that they don’t want to be approached because 9 times out of 10 they respond with a ‘no thanks’ to an offer of assistance.

But if you could master the lessons from cold calling you will find many applications to customer approaches on the sales floor. Let’s consider the basic rules of cold-call mastery:

Attitude: If you start with the attitude that that a cold call is an interrupt someone and try and sell something to a prospect (suspect) you will have difficultly getting started. And rightly so.  You are not meant to interrupt someone in order to sell something to them; people know that instinctively and they know how they feel when they are on the receiving end. The right attitude is to put yourself in the ‘frame’ of being in a position to help someone, and that you are going to do just that. After all, your product or service does fulfil a need, doesn’t it?

The cold call is an opportunity for you to potentially help a client/ customer – so there is no need to be apologetic about the ‘interruption’.

The sales assistant must adopt a similar attitude. Don’t offer assistance – that is simply getting off on the wrong foot. (More about that in another blog some other time.) Be positive in your approach. The customer has already identified a need by wondering into your store.  Be positive and engage with the customer.

The pitch: Your pitch on the phone is not about selling your product as ‘quickly’ as you can before the customer can put the phone down. Your pitch is about securing the opportunity to help your prospect. You simply need to briefly explain the type of needs that you can solve (without selling your solution) and ask the client for an opportunity to consider their needs very carefully in a face-to-face interaction. The retail sales assistant does not start the conversation by selling, but by identifying a need. No comment about the suitability for a product is needed! (In fact, it is silly to make a ‘casual’ comment that the dress the customer is holding up would suit them nicely. Experienced customers would easily turn that into an opportunity to rebuff the sales assistant by claiming the purchase is not for them but someone else. The sales assistant’s credibility is immediately in tatters.)

Instead, engage with the customer by establishing instant rapport, and start to assess the need/want that brought them into the store. That is the first job – not selling product.

The process: Until you have mastered the art of cold calling/ approaching customers, it will still be experienced as a chore, and it therefore requires some discipline to commit to doing a certain amount of cold calling. If you eat a frog for breakfast, the day couldn’t possibly get any worse – or so they sayJ. From our perspective, it is good to get the cold-calling out of the way and over with as soon as possible. (That is until you learn to love it.) Making the calls before 9am is a good idea because:

Decision-makers are usually in the office before then anyway,

But the gatekeepers are not.

Your chances of getting through to the person you want to speak with is dramatically increased. Once you learn to love cold calling, stay disciplined. You could speak to more than 1500 potential customers a year if you make one phone call per hour for each working day.  Each call only takes 20 seconds – any longer and you are making the mistake of trying to sell.

In the retail environment, if every sales assistant approaches one additional customer per hour – and converts 10% of those into the average sale… boy oh boy… how good would that be!

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