For Amanda Puppo, CEO of MarketReach, attending her intuitions has brought on two epiphanies that changed the course of her life.
The first came two months prior to her expected matriculation at a law school, which had been her goal for 12 years and was the reason she had studied English. But she had the sudden sense that “maybe I shouldn’t do this” and instead spent four years in corporate America, working for MarketSource and ADP.
At ADP Puppo was thrown to the wolves as a marketing consultant for a neighbor’s office supply company. She had to learn cold calling, a skill that brought her second breakthrough. “While putting together a marketing plan for this company, it hit me,” she says. “This cold calling piece — I know I’m good at it. Let me identify whether this particular marketing technique could turn into a business.”
Her business was born soon after, in 2001 at a chamber of commerce meeting. Then a 26 year old who looked about 21, Puppo stood up at the meeting and gave a 30-second commercial that boiled down to: “We do the cold calling that you don’t have the time or interest to do.” Seven people handed her their business cards, and that was it.
“It was the best day of my business career,” Puppo says. “Nothing compares to the day a business is born.” Her business, MarketReach, based at 168 Franklin Corner Road, focuses on telephone prospecting in different forms, from cold calling to trade show follow-ups, to calling inactive accounts.
Puppo will present “Effective Phone Prospecting through Tough Times: Get Meetings with Top Decision Makers” on Wednesday, February 16, at 7:30 a.m. at the Nassau Club. Cost: $40. Call 609-924-1776
Anyone serious about business growth must have a marketing budget and a well-rounded marketing approach. “Marketing comes before sales, and you need to develop your brand and figure out ways to proactively get to your market,” says Puppo.
The first step in developing a marketing initiative is to look at the big picture and do a needs assessment. Ask questions about the demographics of your target market: What industry do you focus on? What strengths do you offer that your competitor doesn’t? What size company you are looking at as a client? Who are the decision makers in such companies?
One important technique that is part of many marketing plans is phone prospecting, the goal of which is to get as many good, qualified appointments in your target market as possible. But the first thing to remember is that phone prospecting does not imply a single phone call with an appointment at its close. “This is the first expectation you must embrace,” says Puppo. “You can’t make a call once to 70 people and get a bunch of appointments.” But if you follow the process she recommends, which is similar across all industries, you are likely to fill your calendar.
Introduce yourself to the gatekeeper. To get beyond the bulwark surrounding the decision maker, your first step is to establish rapport with the secretary or receptionist who has the power to let you in or block you out. You might begin with something as simple as addressing the person by name. “The sweetest word in the English language is a person’s own name,” Puppo says. So, when the screener answers the phone with “Thanks for calling ABC; this is Sue,” you might open with “Hey, Sue, this is Ellen calling from XYZ.”
Get more information. You may or may not want to get through directly to the decision maker. If you do, you might say, “I’m looking to speak with Larry; can you connect me?” But if you need more details, either about the person you are calling or the business itself, you might want to open instead with “I’m looking to speak with Larry. He’s the owner, right?” Otherwise, the gatekeeper may just quickly transfer you.
To ascertain, at first dial, that the person whose name you have is indeed the decision maker, you might say something like “Hi, Sue. Before you transfer me, can you tell me if Larry Smith is the v.p. of marketing?” If you can get the decision maker’s extension, that’s good too, because it might help you avoid the automated access on subsequent calls.
Meet barriers with respect and assertiveness. So what happens when the receptionist responds,“Can you tell me what this is regarding?” Puppo recommends that you not give in to the salesperson’s instinctive need to bulldoze through the gatekeeper. While treating the person respectfully, you need to also be assertive about your goals. You might say something a bit vague like “I wanted to reach Larry to share some ideas that might interest him regarding his competitors.” Then, when Larry picks up, you would share with him your industry-related pitch, detailing what you do for companies just like his.
Persist but with tact. Sometimes the receptionist has been instructed not to let sales calls through. This is not a signal to throw in the towel. Puppo advises, “In those cases, tactful persistence will win you the key — when you are respectful to the receptionist and you call frequently but not to the point of annoyance.”
Collect information along the way. “The receptionist isn’t the only person you can speak to,” says Puppo. “You can ask for other players in the company that influence the decision maker for information-gaining purposes.” Eight dials to the decision maker are not a waste if you collect information along the way.
Suppose your goal is to speak to a business owner about a coffee-delivery service your company offers. You might say to the receptionist, “Tell me something, Sue. I’ve called a couple of times and know the owner is a tough guy to reach, but you probably drink the coffee there. Or maybe you order the coffee? Or at least you see the delivery guy. So how is that going for you? How has your experience been? Do you guys use glass pots or the one-cup system? How many employees do you have who come in on a regular basis?”
Then comes the piece de resistance: “Sue, I know the owner is super busy, but I’d like to send some information? Do you think that would be better? Can I have his E-mail?” Having collected information about the business and its potential needs with regard to your product, the call with the owner will be much warmer when you finally get through.
Ask the gatekeeper for advice. Suppose you’re at your sixth dial. Now that the receptionist knows you, you can ask her to share with you the correct protocol: “How do I introduce myself to Larry?” Depending on what the gatekeeper suggests, you might use E-mail, direct mail, fax, phone, or all four techniques.
Hold the decision maker accountable for a response. Suppose the gatekeeper says, “Send him something in the mail.” You need to determine whether this is a blow off or is actually a request for information that might lead to an appointment. You might say,“I’m happy to send you something, and I’m going to call back a couple of days after you receive it to see what you thought and answer any questions you have.” And, says Puppo, you might want to be so bold as to add, “and to see if we can set up an appointment.”
Puppo says, “If you agree to send information, you are trying to appease the protocol yet still determine legitimacy. Then you will finalize that call by holding them accountable to reading it and responding back with a yes or a no.”
Follow up quickly. An E-mail should follow immediately, using a template peppered with customization to the potential customer.
Go for the appointment. Once you land a conversation, you should proceed with a consultative sale, asking questions that create rapport. Remember that you are calling to set an appointment, not to tell them everything you want them to know about yourself. The focus should be more on what the customer needs, and only a little on what you can offer.
Try to engage the prospect with open-ended questions — “Tell me about ...,” “Describe ...,” “Share with me ...,” — to help you understand the features as well as the benefits of the prospect’s current situation. It is a fact-finding consultation to determine current levels of satisfaction and what you can do to improve on things. “You are creating interest by asking good questions, presenting yourself as an expert in what you do, and getting a buy-in that the next step will be an appointment,” says Puppo.
If you learned earlier that the current coffee deliverer used to come every Tuesday at 10 a.m. but now comes sporadically — and that when the receptionist calls customer service, no one returns the call — then you know that service is a hot button. So, share the tiniest bit about your company, but make it relevant to service. “They don’t care about your company,” says Puppo. “They want to know what’s in it for them.”
Puppo grew up in Long Island. Her parents are both retired; her father was a police officer, and her mother worked in a retail store. Puppo graduated from SUNY Albany in 1997.
Puppo emphasizes the importance of treating the gatekeeper with respect and establishing rapport, “It’s all part of establishing the authenticity of what you’re saying,” she says. “They know when you’re trying to bulldoze through them. If you respect their process and protocol, they are more likely to cooperate.”