Prospecting: the First Step with the Screener

The year has begun anew and we’re all back in business. For some of you that slowed down your prospecting efforts during the holidays, you’re likely back into it full swing! Let’s face it- the toughest part of cold calling isn’t making the sales pitch – it is actually getting the opportunity to talk to the decision maker so you can make that sales pitch. So, how do we as salespeople increase our skill and our ratios of dials-to-decision maker conversations? Well, we begin through positive interactions with the screener!

Most decision makers, particularly in larger businesses, are protected by one or even two layers of screeners- a receptionist and an executive assistant. Since they are the gatekeepers for the person we as salespeople need to talk to, it is important that you gain them as allies. In fact, winning over the executive assistant can actually turn that cold call into a warm call when you finally do reach the right person. The gatekeeper often keeps the pulse of the organization, and is a good information resource.

It takes persistence and assertiveness to the reach the decision maker, but being assertive doesn’t mean being impolite. Remember, that receptionist is just doing her job of protecting the boss from interruptions. Make her see that you are necessary.

Calling on the wrong person is a very time consuming task, and you’ll just be annoyed when you find out on the 5th call that the person is not who you need to talk to. Make sure that you verify by the first or second dial, who makes the decisions- not who handles it. Often times, one person “handles” the day-to-day interaction with the vendor, and a different person “makes decisions” on switching. To qualify the call when you are unsure of the decision maker, ask the receptionist for the person you want, by title first. “I’d like to speak to the HR Director or Facilities Manager. Before you transfer me can you tell me who that would be?” If you ask for Joe Smith first, you may be transferred to him so quickly you don’t have a chance to ask if he is the person in the position that you need. If you’re unsure who that person is while you’re in the middle of speaking with them, you may lose credibility. Try “before you transfer me, can you tell me such and such…” That will interrupt the receptionist’s usual pattern of a quick transfer and get your questions answered.

Find out the receptionist’s name. It is one of the quickest ways to build rapport. Receptionists are so often unnoticed and ignored that taking the time to learn her name, and using it, will give you a leg up. Write it in your notes! Get the prospect’s extension too, so that you may bypass the screener once you have the information you need!

Since it often takes several dials to reach the decision maker, take the opportunity to ask questions of screeners and colleagues. Consider these questions “qualification questions”, as well as fact-finding questions: staff size, current situation in the area you’re selling, satisfaction levels, etc. are all up for the asking. Not all screeners will be up-front with information, but many will.

Gain information early from screeners and colleagues of the decision maker, and that will show your “due diligence” when you finally reach the decision-maker. Knowing all you can about the company will help you make a better pitch when you do reach the decision maker. At the same time, don’t get too bogged down with information gathering. Asking questions should occur naturally since you’re making a call to reach a decision maker anyway, so why not take an extra 30 seconds to gather some information along the way?