How to Prospect Me: A Lesson from a Bad Customer Touchpoint Strategy

By Jayme Thomason

I’m a company founder, so I get a lot of sales calls. Mostly well-meaning professional services firms like mine calling to inquire about whether I have a need for their services. Most calls I get are benign enough and I thank them for their time and they move on. However, there have been a notable few that have prompted me to think critically about the role of the cold sales call in a company’s customer touchpoint strategy. 

I recently received a call from a large payroll and accounting company. When they called, I was in the middle of editing some copy for a client and was kind of “in the zone.” I must have missed the part where he told me his name and who he was with…or he didn’t bother mentioning it, and then proceeded to ask me for the payroll department. Ummm, 5 seconds of research on LinkedIn would tell you that I am the founder of Brink Insights and therefore a decision maker, and that my company size is 1-11 employees. Do you really think I have a whole payroll department? I politely told him that I handle the payroll for my company. Then he blasted into some script where he told me about their promotions and that he wanted to set up a call to discuss it. Wait. I thought we were ON a call. THEN, he told me that he needed to transfer me to another person to get it set up. Wait, wha? 

At this point, I told him that I would pass for today and gave him my standard, thank you for calling statement. But he wasn’t done with me yet. He started applying the “fear pressure” and told me I was probably overlooking things that were going to cost my company major fees and that his “promotions” would be disappearing soon, so I’d better do it now. At this point, I just wanted to get off the phone with this pushy gent so I could get back to my work, so I reluctantly asked him to call me next week…dang it. Now I have to speak with him again…or screen ALL my calls forever so I can avoid it. 

OK, I’ve done enough picking on this young sales agent, but there are some important lessons to be learned from his approach. In our work, we spend a lot of time dissecting customer touchpoints in our clients’ customer journeys. We document each step, what each touchpoint is, what it’s supposed to do, what the customer needs and how the customer feels at each point. We have a very basic philosophy that informs how we redesign customer experiences and it’s this: each touchpoint a customer has with your company is an opportunity for you to build relationship and/or add value. That’s it. We believe that sales is not a “numbers game,” it’s not a game at all. It’s an opportunity for you to build relationship with someone who didn’t know you before and give them a reason to trust you. If you believe this, then it changes the way you approach your outbound or direct sales efforts.

Instead, here’s what would work on me, and probably other company founders like me.

  1. Spend 5 Minutes Researching Me - It’s easy. Type my name into Google and LinkedIn and read a few of the entries that pop up. You’ll learn that I am in fact still the owner of Brink Insights, a small firm based in Kansas City, and that I’m passionate about digital marketing strategy, that I’ve also founded a software company and do a lot of work with software companies, so I’m probably pretty digitally savvy. Maybe read quickly through something on my blog to get a feel for my voice. What do you do with this intel? 
  2. Build Some Empathy - Spend another 5 minutes and build a quick empathy map. As a founder of a small and growing firm, what might my needs, wants and pain points be? What are the things that keep me up at night? What does my day likely look like? Maybe you can’t discover all the answers, but you’ve spent time in my shoes, which changes how you’ll approach me, plus, you’ll know about my company and experience, so personalizing your approach will make me feel like I matter to you.
  3. Consider the Context - Because you’ve spent some time in my shoes, you’ll know that I’m going about 1,000 mph and that, no, I wasn't thinking about the service you offer right now. Give me a minute to shift gears when you call. Realize that you’ve been thinking about this stuff all day, I haven’t. Speak slowly and let me catch up with you. Maybe something like, “hi, Jayme. My name is Kevin and I’m with Acme Accounting Services. How’s your day going so far? Keeping your head above water there in Kansas City? I saw you got some snow recently. Anyway, I’m calling to talk with you about the upcoming tax season, do you have a couple more minutes?” This could be a nice way to gently take me out of the context I was in and ease me into your world.
  4. Be my Friend - Odds are, I do probably need what you’re selling, but I’d rather buy it from someone that I feel like gives a you-know-what about me and my company. So instead of hurrying me through your funnel at your pace, forget about the funnel for a minute and give me something that you know I need and will build some trust with me. Oh, and maybe make me feel smart? How about, "I bet as the founder of a small company, you’re probably planning on handling your accounting yourself, is that right? Just for savvy founders like you, we created a step-by-step guide that will help you plan and ensure that you don’t miss anything, cause I'm sure you're a little worried about that. Want me to send you a copy? Great, which email address works for you?”  
  5. Give me a Minute - I make a million business decisions every day, and while I’m not slow about them, I do need a minute. I’m practical, deliberate and, because you Googled me, you know I’m a strategist, so I need to analyze your company, offer, your competitors, etc. Maybe you end the call with a no pressure, “I hope our guide is helpful for you. How about I call you in a couple weeks and see how you’re getting along with it?” 

Now imagine a scenario when I'm up to my eyeballs in tax paperwork at midnight some night, I bet you I'll remember the company that tried to give me a hand with it.

If I’m honest, I’m not one for making cold calls myself, but I won’t deny the power that speaking with someone, voice-to-voice has in building a relationship. In fact, we use direct calling as a part of our customer touchpoint strategy. The key to using this strategy well is changing the way you approach it. It’s not a “smile and dial” numbers game. It’s a person to person interaction that has great opportunity. But cold calling strategies go very wrong when they are not about building relationship. If your calls feel cold, apply pressure or feel, in a word, smarmy, you will not receive a warm response. If you learn about me, understand what my business is and does and give me something I really need, that’s way more likely to work on me and work well for your business.

I’m curious. Does your company use outbound sales calls? Have you used any of these, or different strategies to make them feel warmer?