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How to Cold Call Prospects Without Sounding Like a Tool

In: How to Sell Yourself

For those of you who don't know, in a former life I used to sell advertising for an international print and online magazine.

Think pencil skirts, a lot of telephone schmoozing, deal negotiations, contracts, national sales conferences and convincing a lot of fucking people they should give me thousands of dollars.

You can imagine the fun I had with this.

Particularly the day a prospective client named Lenny insisted we drink Long Island Ice Teas to talk business, and then proceeded to whip out a Polaroid camera and snap pictures of me without my permission. That wasn't awkward in the least. My director was calling me like a crazed Mexican boyfriend, worried since he hadn't heard from me in 82 years and wondering whether if I got the contract signed. We were thisclose to hitting some important revenue numbers that month, and this would put us over the edge. (For the record, I got the damn contract signed. And then I got the hell out of there.)

Or the time an overall-wearing man in the state of Delaware approached my car while I was preparing for a meeting, and straight up asked me if I wanted to be in a porno. Clearly he didn't notice I'D BE THE LEAST LIKELY PERSON TO DO THAT, EVER. I even had my fake spectacles on that day–you know, to add to the whole you-can-trust-me vibe.

So I drive off in a big fucking hurry, and overalls actually proceeds to follow me in his rusty blue truck, corners me at a traffic light, gets out of his car and runs toward mine to beg me to consider it. Twice. I couldn't lose him until I hit a straightaway.

And people wonder why I carry a knife.

And while, as it seems, one of the more salient skill sets I developed during those years was how to escape creepy men, I also learned a thing or two about talking to people.

And talking to people is important if you're in business, right?

I wanted to bring this up in particular, because a lot of the students that took my recent copywriting workshop were freaked out about how to get their first customers. And while I've developed an entire program dedicated to getting clients, sometimes, the easiest way is just by picking up the phone. Except no one wants to hear that because they don't want to have to talk to people on the phone. It's scary. And nerve-wracking. And what the hell do you say? 

And worst of all,whatever it is you're selling, people are going to be wildly, over-exaggeratedly afraid of you. They might even hold out their arms and make the X sign with their pointer fingers. Maybe they'll spray you with mace–I don't fucking know.

The point? Your prospects' barriers are UP, Berlin Wall style. And that's got to factor into the way you talk to them.

So what do you do when you've got to call someone who doesn't want to be called?

You ignore everything anyone's ever told you about sales.

:: You drop the bullshit jargon you're using that you know makes you sound like a tool.

:: You worry less about being perceived as the utmost of “professional,” and worry more about being human.

:: You ditch the Dick Clark voiceover tone you automatically use anytime you get on the phone.

You can still communicate authority, command respect and demonstrate that you know what the hell you're talking about without using a bunch of meaningless phrases like “We provide quality solutions for _________.” Well no kidding, bubbles. You mean to say your “solution” isn't the shitty quality I was hoping for?

These are the kind of phrases that people think make them sound more intelligent, when in reality, it makes them sound like they've sacrificed a few chromosomes to the gods of I-don't-know-what-I'm-doing-so-I'm-just-going-to-repeat-this-and-hope-you-buy-it.

And last but not least…when you call someone, you don't try to sell them. You aren't at that step yet; you just got on the phone, for christ's sake. At this point, you're just trying to get them to talk to you. That's always step one.

So that said, it's my recommendation to have another reason to be calling your prospect, if you can; a reason that's going to benefit them. This makes step one a whole lot easier because, remember, people are suspicious of people selling stuff. But if you have another reason why you're calling, then you aren't selling them stuff; you're merely helping them out.

For example, if I've just started a new business, maybe I'll decide to put on a free community workshop on X related topic. And maybe I'll call them about that, instead. Or maybe I've set up a fun new campaign around Y. Regardless, what I do will give me a reason to talk to the prospect…and not just try to sell them cold on my services.

The point, rather, is to sound natural. Be genuine. And be as anti-salesy as possible. You don't want your prospects' defenses to go up just at the sound of your voice–you want them to actually listen to what you're saying, instead of trying to figure out how to get rid of you.

And in order for that to happen, you've got to sound like a damn human.

Even when all you want to do is crawl under a rock because some lunatic is snapping Polaroids of you and you HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO REACT.

Not like I would know anything about that.

P.S. I don't really carry a knife. Then again, the first time I came to Chile in '09 I walked around the city with a butcher knife in my purse, just in case. So I guess I can't say that I've never carried a knife. You can just call me Ashley The Blade.

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