By Mike Michalowicz, author of “ the Toilet Paper Entrepreneur” believing the greatest business successes come from underfunded, inexperienced entrepreneurs.
Nobody likes getting a cold call from a salesperson. The last time I received an unsolicited sales call I was annoyed and uncomfortable. The very last thing I wanted to do was buy something from a stranger who had just wasted my time. So if sales calls are out, how do you get key decision makers to give you the time of day? Simple: Ask them for advice.
Most people love giving advice because it puts them in the role of expert. By asking prospects for their feedback on your product or service, or your industry as a whole, you're telling them, "I see you as an authority, someone with valuable knowledge, someone I can learn from." Who can resist that? Not many. Even those who would rather not give you advice or don't have the time to sit down with you will at the very least be flattered by your request, and may hand you off to someone else on their team.
There is a right way and a wrong way to use this strategy. First and foremost, your question, your "ask," has to be genuine. While this is a shortcut to getting face time with prospects, it's not a ploy. You must never pretend to want their advice; you actually have to want it, appreciate it and, if warranted, use it. Prospects will be suspicious of your motives right from the start, anticipating your big sales pitch. And that's why you're never going to pitch, sell or even coyly ask if they might someday be interested in working with you.
The ask is much easier if you're following up on a referral. So before you try this, reach out to your network of personal and professional contacts and ask for referrals to people similar to your prospects. Let your contacts know you are looking for honest feedback about your product, service, idea or industry – and nothing more. You'll want to cold call the people on your wish list of ideal clients eventually, of course, but it's best to start on the path of least resistance.
The strategy is simple. First, call one of your prospects and make your request. You might say, "I know I'm asking for something big here, but I'm trying to improve my services/product, and I'm not sure if I'm there yet. I don't know what I don't know. I have nothing to offer or to sell. May I buy you a cup of coffee and simply get some advice from you? It won't take longer than 15 minutes."
Next, prepare a short list of specific questions for which you genuinely want their insight. You might ask, "What would wow a company like yours?" Or, "What could I do to make this product/service better?" You could also encourage prospects to share their frustrations with you. When you ask, "What is the worst thing about your industry," you not only learn what not to do, you also gain a starting point for innovation. If a prospect is frustrated by something your competitors do or don't do, you can do the opposite, thereby solving the problem and filling a void in the marketplace, which is always a good thing.
Take notes. Keep the meeting to 15 minutes, unless your prospect wants to keep talking. And no matter what, never, ever ask for the sale. Don't ask if a prospect would be interested in your product or service. And don't say you'll follow up later. Just thank him or her profusely, end the meeting and go on your merry way.
This strategy doesn't just get you in front of key decision makers. This strategy is a litmus test for your company. If a prospect wants to use your service or buy your product, you'll know. He or she will just ask. And if the prospect doesn't ask, you haven't made a strong impression, which means your next best step is to go back to work and improve your offering. Refine it, get advice from more prospects, and keep refining it until someone asks you to carry on the dialogue.
When a prospect says, "I want to learn more about this," or "Let me know how this works out," you know you've struck a chord and you're on to something. And when a prospect says, "How can I get this (product or service)," you know you've perfected your offering. At that point, the sale is inevitable.