The sales connect is the most transferrable skill to master. If you master the connect, you can begin mastering so many other important life skills -- sorority rush, dinner party schmoozing, networking events, and even the first date.
In sales, the connect is your opportunity to make that first impression on your prospect -- the first time that you're catching someone live on the phone. And the last thing you want is for it to be the last time. So, what should you say?
A connect call is about getting to know your prospect. Think about when you meet someone new at a dinner party -- the first conversation you have is about introductions and learning the basics without being overbearing or creating a tell-all confessional too soon. Similarly, in the sales world, we use a connect call in order to begin understanding whom we’re talking to, what she cares about, and whether we have anything in common that we can get value out of discussing. We ask questions to find out what she's working on, how that fits in with her company's greater business goals, what's tough about her day, whether that's something we can help with, and whether she even wants anyone's help in the first place.
The goal of a connect with any person is to strike up a good conversation, get to know what makes them tick, and walk away knowing whether you want to continue that conversation at a later point in time. The goal of a sales connect call is exactly the same, with an added emphasis on determining whether there's any way you can help a prospect with a need that her business has prioritized addressing.
A Few Clarifications
Before we jump into the methodology for running a sales connect, it may be helpful to describe some common pitfalls that should not find their way into your connects. OR ... before discussing what a connect actually entails, let’s highlight what it should never become.
The connect is NOT an opportunity for an elevator pitch. Remembering this takes discipline, because many times the prospect will insist that you provide one. If the prospect asks you for a high-level sale, give them a high-level overview instead. Resist the urge to talk about your product for 20 minutes straight. Practice conveying what you do in 2 sentences or less; then learn how to pivot back into your intended playbook.
Secondly, this is NOT an opportunity to budget-qualify someone as quickly as possible. There are no shortcuts in a strong and thorough sales process, so I’d encourage you to over-invest in the front end of the sales process here. The last thing you want to do is to pass on a potentially qualified opportunity because you’re trying to cut to the chase too quickly. How would you feel if you met someone at a party and they asked you what your salary is within the first few minutes of conversation? Keep that in mind, and don’t jump the gun.
The Connect Call Playbook
The art of the connect is to uncover a prospect’s pain points and determine whether there’s any way you can help address these struggles. This is achieved through a combination of expressing genuine interest, active listening, and abiding by the guidelines in the following playbook:
Keep your introductions short and sweet: “Hi, this is Dannie calling you from HubSpot.” (PAUSE)
A brief pause after stating your company name allows you to gauge your prospect’s reaction to/familiarity with your company. Does he sound happy to hear from you? Does he recognize your company name? Does he sound like he’s anticipating a sales pitch?
2) Address Resistance
When you're calling someone who's not expecting your call, her natural reaction is to feel guarded. She is assuming you're calling with an agenda, and will often be eager to get off the phone. Addressing resistance allows us to earn permission to continue the conversation, despite this initial reaction. Try the strategy of ‘going negative’ on a prospect from the very outset of the phone call by saying something like “sounds like I caught you at a bad time.” Nine times out of 10, they’ll swoop in to save you and insist that now is actually an okay time. At that point, you’ve earned yourself permission to continue the conversation.
3) Leverage Past Prospect Activity
How did you find this prospect? Had she downloaded a whitepaper from your company’s website?
Use the prospect’s recent actions as a conversation starting point: “I noticed that you downloaded our ebook on XYZ best practices. What were you looking for help with when you stumbled upon that ebook? What’d you think of it?” By referencing something the prospect has done, you are creating relevancy and are showing her that you've done your research and reminding her that she was, indeed, looking for help with something your company created content around.
4) Build Rapport
Be a human first, and a salesperson second. Your prospect's day may be extremely monotonous, and your phone call should be an opportunity to liven it up. Spend some time building rapport by bonding about anything you can find in common (and do your very best to find some unexpected commonality that’s more creative than today’s weather). If you have your prospect’s website open, look at what city they’re located in. Have you traveled there recently? Did you go to any fun restaurants while in town? Did you notice anything particularly charming about the architecture? Did your prospect grow up there or relocate for work? Have some fun getting to know the stranger on the other end of the phone. The more you can establish some sort of commonality, the easier it will lower the prospect’s guard and ask some probing questions down the road.
5) Gather Context
Now that you’ve built some rapport with the person on the other end of the line, take the opportunity to naturally segue into some questions about their business and their job role. Here’s an example: "So like I said, I'm on your website, and now I'm checking out your services page. Looks like your company specializes in XYZ services, is that right? What's your role at the company? How long have you been there? Are you liking it? Interesting -- so what does your day typically entail? Does your company focus on selling to any specific industry verticals? Interesting -- how'd you choose those?"
The more context you have, the better you can paint a picture of the world your prospect is operating in. Who do they like doing business with? Can you help get them in front of businesses like that? You need to be able to visualize as much of their business context as possible in order to choose which positioning statements have the best chance of resonating with them -- and in order to keep the rest of our conversation as relevant as possible to their priorities.
6) Introduce Positioning Statement(s)
The purpose of a positioning statement is to make your prospect say, “That’s me. How did you know?”
Positioning statements help you show your prospects that you understand their pain points. You’re showing them that you’ve been around the block and that you’ve seen similar companies go through similar struggles. The implication is that you've found a way to help them through that struggle. This should pique a prospect's interest and convince them that they could learn from you. Here’s an ad-lib example: “A lot of time, when I talk to companies like yours, they’re really good at ________, but they struggle to ________ for the following reasons: _____, _____, or _____.”
Positioning statements are not one-size-fits all, and it's all too possible that the one you tried out doesn't resonate with the prospect. Have a list of three to four different positioning statements on hand, and use them as a chance to do two things: 1) show active listening by paraphrasing their current situation as they described it, and 2) determine whether they can relate to scenarios you’ve helped similar companies address. Use tie-down questions at the end of a positioning statement to determine whether you’ve successfully identified a pain point worth digging into. For example: “Can you relate to that? How so?” Now it’s time for the prospect to do some more of the talking.
7) Dig Deeper Into Pain Points
While positioning statements may lead the prospect to certain conclusions, short, open-ended follow-up questions allow prospects to continue the conversation and articulate their struggles in their own words. The shorter the question, the more freedom you provide your prospect for putting things in her own words. Here are some good ones: "How so? Tell me about which part of that statement resonated with you. Is that a big problem? Do you have a plan to fix this? Do you think that'll work?"
Asking an open-ended question after you hear a prospect affirm that a positioning statement resonated with her allows her to open up and do some talking about her challenges. This helps paint a picture of the context they're operating in, and allows you, the salesperson, to start getting a better idea of how you may be able to help the prospect.
8) Validate Desire for Help
"That's something that I've helped a lot of similar companies overcome. If that's something we could give you some guidance about, would you be open to receiving and implementing our help?"
Use a soft tie-down to make sure that you're not about to spin your wheels providing unsolicited advice in follow-up calls or meetings. You will be using different forms of tie-downs throughout the sales process to confirm that whatever you're about to help the prospect with is a top priority to invest time and money into, and this is your first shot at getting this affirmation.
If you're feeling particularly bold, you can even ask the prospect what's held him or her back from getting any help up until now. This will begin to help answer the critical question: "Why now?"
9) Suggest Concrete Next Steps
Be specific here. Set expectations properly. If you operate on a monthly sales cycle, encourage the prospect to take a follow-up call that same week. If you’re going to set up a GoToMeeting for your next phone call but don’t intend to demo your product, make sure the prospect knows what you do plan to cover during the next call and why that will ultimately be valuable for him. Try this: “I hope this conversation was valuable to you. Do you want to schedule some time on Thursday of this week to dig a little deeper into what you're hoping to achieve within this facet of your business? That can give us a better opportunity to mutually assess if and how we might be able to help."
See what you did there? You reminded the prospect that this conversation was about him, not about you. You set expectations about what you’ll cover during the next call. And even more importantly, you pointed out that sales is a two-way street, and that both parties should be mutually assessing one another to determine if it’s a good fit.
Practice Makes Perfect
The more you practice the connect playbook, the more you’ll realize that every connect call can really follow a similar methodology. If you’re nervous about trying it out on a prospect first, then try applying the connect playbook to a real-life situation as you’re making new friends or forging new business connections. When you’re ready to practice the connect in a sales setting, use this methodology to structure your notes. Are there parts that you find yourself repeatedly leaving blank? That’s probably an area that feels a little less comfortable for you, and therefore an area that’s worth doubling down on during practice. No two connect calls will ever be exactly the same, but mastering a repeatable structure should make every new sales job a little bit easier.
Have some tactics that have worked for you? Disagree with any part of this methodology? Share your comments below.
Originally published Aug 21, 2013 6:00:00 PM, updated October 15 2020