- Blog post
Sales prospecting when you have unexpected free time
The old-fashioned face-to-face cold call just isn’t standard operating procedure for many salespeople.
But even for those who normally sell by appointment, it can be a good way to make use of time that would otherwise go to waste.
For example, you arrive at your customer’s office for a 10 a.m. meeting, only to find that he’s been called out of town. Or you have two appointments in the area with a few hours of downtime in between. Do you climb back in your car and head back to the adult day-care site called the office? Or do you use the opportunity to gather information about new sales possibilities?
You may or may not be able to get a meeting with a new prospect. But even if all you do is talk to the receptionist and pick up the literature in the lobby, you’ve gathered useful information that can help you qualify them or approach them later.
And the odds of getting a meeting may be better than you think. Sales consultant Tim Breithaupt says he gets to talk to a decision maker about half the time on cold calls. As Woody Allen says, “80% of success is showing up.”
Here’s an approach that Breithaupt recommends:
- Introduce yourself to the receptionist. Explain who you work for and what your company does. Say that you’re making a cold call. (Don’t try to skirt the issue.) Ask for the receptionist’s help. Most will be willing to point you in the right direction.
- Ask for information. Who should I talk to? Who is that person’s manager? What kinds of customers do they serve? Are there brochures or other collateral material available for review?
- If the gatekeeper gives you contact information, take some time in the lobby to review the material.
- Call your new contact from the lobby. Why ask the gatekeeper do what you can do yourself? If Bert’s your contact and Susan is his manager, talk to Susan. It’s easier to work downhill if necessary.
- When Susan answers, introduce yourself and explain that you had some free time and that you’re calling from the lobby. Ask if she has a second to exchange business cards. If she doesn’t, ask to set up an appointment.
- Ask if Bert might be available to meet with you for a few minutes now — and confirm that he has decision-making authority and a budget. Ask whether Bert will consult her before making a decision.
Breithaupt calls this technique “corporate cascading.” It’s powerful stuff. If Susan introduces you, Bert will be receptive to meeting you. He won’t be upset with you for going over his head because you’ve never met him before.
If Susan’s not in? Try to meet briefly with her executive assistant, who can provide lots of information and may be willing to book an appointment on the spot.
If not, ask the assistant to check with Susan for available meeting times. Then when you call back, you can set up the appointment with the assistant, who may be easier to reach than Susan.