Over the last few years, I have made regular attempts to start a physical fitness regimen by going to the gym and eating better, but those attempts are short-lived. Many of you have followed this path or know someone who has. Starting and committing to the program is hard, and finding something else, anything else, to do instead is easy. A few well-intentioned visits to the treadmill later, the time between workouts increases, and soon you stop working out altogether.
Like exercise and better eating habits, too often, we find that advisors understand the need for improved sales process and skills and want to make a change to the way they approach cold appointments but fail to commit.
This whitepaper is designed to be a guide that helps producers evaluate and improve their methods by sharing best practices for handling cold appointments—formed from our 20 years working in the industry—and by backing those principles with from-the-field examples.
Today, one of our very best “handlers” of our appointments still tells the story of when he started working with PT. It begins with “For the first three months I really got my nose bloodied.” He goes on to explain that he was accustomed to working with referrals, but the adaptation process to cold appointments was challenging. He says that learning to succeed in these unique sales scenarios has been invaluable because of the impact it has had on his business.
Let’s start with how we define a cold appointment. In our world, a cold appointment is a meeting that has been set on behalf of the producer and that the producer will not touch or meet until the day and time of the appointment. Today we connect all of our clients, new and existing, young and not so young, with an outside sales coach to teach them how to succeed in these scenarios, but our understanding of the struggles in the field started with interviewing our clients to learn what they were doing on the appointments, what was successful, and what was not so successful in moving forward to another appointment.
We learned the following:
- Spend time reviewing the details provided on the appointment. Not 10 minutes prior to walking into their office, but well in advance.
- Leverage your staff and centers of influence to see if there is a link between you and the prospect.
- Research the individual and the firm. Use the obvious tools – company website, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google, etc.
- Set an expectation for the meeting. Don’t put the prospect on the defensive or in a position where they may be surprised.
- Work to find their mandate for the topic at hand and what is keeping them from reaching it.
- Always ask for the next meeting. Set expectations for the meeting and what needs done prior – a to-do list.
- Don’t contact the prospect for any reason prior to the appointment. Let your appointment setter own it until you meet.
- Don’t overwhelm the prospect with information. Remember the goal of the meeting is to get another meeting and not to tell them everything you know.
- Don’t expect them to be ready to act on the first appointment other than to agree to meet again for specific reasons and next steps.
- Don’t treat them like a referral or an appointment from a center of influence. You are at square one.
- Don’t get too personal. Like any relationship, time is needed for it to develop.
Over time, it became clear to us that we needed someone who could provide high level advice and coaching and not simply do’s and don’ts. The typical client for us has 20 plus years of experience and rarely lacks product knowledge or expertise, but it has likely been a long time since they have been on cold appointments. We sought out an outside sales coach to consult with our clients and help shorten the curve and reduce the number of bloody noses.
With the help of our sales coach, we have expanded the knowledge base and provide our clients with a much higher level experience while vastly improving our ability to influence productivity.
The high points of conversations between our sales coach and clients:
Your process: This is not a meeting agenda. This is about having a tight, disciplined process for what you do and how you do it. Equally important is your ability to communicate it – what you say and how you say it. Business owners and decision makers want clarity and they want to know and understand your expertise.
Set questions: It is acceptable to have a list of typical questions you want to ask to help you get to know a prospect and to learn what makes them tick. The first few times you do this it may sound a little scripted. That will pass. You may also find you need to change them if it isn’t working well, which is fine.
Set a meeting agenda: This has a lot of different names. Some groups call it an up-front contract. The keys are to make sure the prospect knows you are more than comfortable with being told no. You may also tell them no. It is about whether or not it is a good fit for everyone involved. And this is the point to let them know at the end of the meeting if all involved agree more conversation is warranted that you will look to then set the next meeting before you leave. This will also help the prospect relax with the understanding that the only decision to be made today is should we talk again.
Find the Mandate: Getting to the mandate—the why—and what is holding them back is vital. Otherwise, their desire to act and move forward will not exist. Most will simply be left with what it will cost to work together.
Conversation vs. Content: The initial appointment is about a conversation not about product. Bring a pen and a tablet and a business card. No charts or fact sheets or sales slicks. Just have a conversation.
Consultative vs. Selling: Says it all, but old habits can be tough to break. Think about how you receive information. Do you want to work with someone that is truly trying to help you solve a problem and take advantage of opportunities or someone that has something they want you to buy?
Listen: We have all heard the numbers. Listen 80% and talk 20%. It is sometimes hard to do. When you have a great solution or approach there is a tendency to want to talk more. Slow down and you will get there.
It is OK to Ask: If you don’t ask, you won’t know. Whether it is about their budget or their decision making process – just ask. If they won’t share the things that are important for you to know then it most likely isn’t a good fit.
There are lots of other areas to remember and work on to be effective. We find that many producers have a tendency to retreat into the comfort of refining products and services rather than improving their sales skills with new clients and communication skills with current client. Sales and communications are a great way to separate yourself from others. We all have been around the individual that we want to buy from. The person that not only has the product knowledge and delivers great service but is able to get to the deeper issues that most affect us and what we care about will be the most successful. For some that comes naturally, but for most of us we have to work at it!
The PT Services Group opens the door to new prospects and new business for the financial services and insurance industries. Since 1992, we have specialized in appointment setting, business intelligence, and data collection for these very unique industries. With locally hired sales associates, experienced in interacting with C-level executives and high-level decision makers, The PT Services Group uses proprietary techniques to break through screens and voice-verify business intelligence. Connect with us today to learn how we can open new doors for your business, or contact John Pojeta, our VP of Business Development, to discuss how The PT Services Group can benefit your business.