Ron LaVine (pronounced, “La V-i-n-e,” like “grapevine”) is the CEO and founder of Accelerated Cold Call Training Incorporated which is based in Oak Park, California just north of Los Angles. Ron has been delivering his Mastering the Art and Science of Cold Calling workshops since 1997 and has helped well over 150 clients in a variety of industries, and thousands of sales reps across 29 cultures worldwide to improve their outbound cold calling skills, boost sales revenues and get in front of decision makers over the phone.
Question: Ron, let’s start with the basics. Why cold-call training?
Answer: Good question.
First off, before we begin with cold call training, let’s step back and look at the term ‘cold calling.’ The term has received a bad rap, and it’s really misleading. You can call it introductory calling, warm calling, intelligent calling or even referral calling, but at the end of the day, somebody has to call someone they have not met before, introduce themselves and their ideas and both people need to determine if the cold caller’s ideas can be of service to or help the person they are speaking with to gain a competitive advantage or avoid a problem. Or even a potential problem the prospective decision-maker may not even be aware of.
That process over the phone has usually been defined as quote-unquote cold calling. What it all boils down to is this. Although this is a simplification, cold calling or whatever you want to label it, whether is it done over the phone or in person, and when it is done correctly and skillfully, is simply introducing yourself, your company and your ideas to another person. To someone that you have not met before, to understand how they currently do business, so you both can mutually determine if you and your company can be of service to them, by helping them do a better job at what they do. Then finishing the conversation by agreeing on what the next step should be, such as an appointment to continue the conversation that was started.
Now, back to the question of ‘why cold call training?’ In 1995, after many years of cold calling and selling all types of products and services for other companies from consumer electronics to industrial tools to software, I discovered and developed a simple, repeatable, cold calling system that consistently helped me to get through to decision-makers, get them on the phone and get them to agree to take time and date specific action steps such as meetings or appointments. The best part about this cold calling system, was that it was easy-to-learn, easy to implement and easy to teach others how to do it.
After working for 5 ½ years for a major software company that was acquired by an even larger software company, I was laid off one December 1st along with 400 other people. I was recently married and suddenly I didn’t have a job or career. What was I going to do next? Well, I had created my last job with the software company as a Sales Researcher finding money for the sales reps by generating sales intelligence out of thin air. Later on I was promoted to the Sales Research Director.
So when I got laid off, I did what I did best at the time which was to find money. I became a cold calling consultant whose job it was to cold call on large corporations, find opportunities and then set appointments with executives.
After 1 ½ years of doing this, a different division of my former employer who had hired me as a consultant contacted me and said, “could you show us how you do what you do over the phone?” Then another company I was consulting for did the same thing followed by another and soon I was in the training business and I have not looked back since.
Question: Who needs cold-call training? Let’s talk about the roles, and the size and type of the organization.
Answer: Who needs cold call training? I believe that any person whose role in sales is to find new opportunities or what I call to find money, whether they are a field or inside rep, business development or lead gen rep, in any size or type of organization… if they need to pick-up the phone, and call to find and speak with decision-makers, then they need the skills to learn what to say and how to say it or, in other words, how to cold call effectively and efficiently to produce results.
Me personally? I train all those types of reps across many types and sizes of organizations and industries across the board. I’ve trained one man shops to Fortune 500 companies. I’ve worked with salespeople who sell complex technologies to those who sell educational materials to those who are not necessarily selling, but rather are positioning their company to be recommended as the supplier of choice.
For example, let’s say a printing project comes up for bid and a fine paper company wants their paper chosen or let’s say when it comes time to build a skyscraper, an engineering company wants to be chosen for the construction of the building. I specialize in teaching these people how to reach the people who have the final authority to make the decisions as to which supplier will be used and which one will not.
Although my clients come from a wide range of sizes and industries, they all have one thing in common. They all need to find money. They need to learn the skills necessary to be able to cold call more efficiently and effectively. The bottom line is they need to ultimately produce more revenue for their employers. That being said, and although I’m biased because I teach cold calling, I am a firm believer that cold calling skills training is a must for anyone who makes outbound cold calls into any organization.
Question: Without naming names, tell us about some of the companies you’ve called into in the past, what were some of the challenges or issues they faced?
Answer: I’ve called into many different sizes and types of companies in a variety of industries and they all have one similar challenge in common, which is how can we do more with what we have, or how can we do business better, gain a competitive advantage or avoid a problem or potential problem.
Here’s a new flash. Our prospects in particular don’t care about anyone but themselves and their company. So we, as sales reps need to use the word you, your, and your company, as much as possible, when it comes time to developing our sales messages for our prospects.
Our sales messages need to speak to and be all about the person who is receiving it because in all honesty they do not really care about us. You may have heard this before and it’s true. First and foremost, prospects are concerned about what’s in it for them and their company. So don’t beat around the bush. Get to the point. Tell them what they want to hear.
Once you’ve gotten their attention, explain how you can help them avoid the pain of taking the wrong action or inaction or how they can gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
Question: Talk about cold calling fear and reluctance…
Answer: Cold calling fear and reluctance is a complicated subject because it requires that we think differently about what is taking place in our minds, right after the call we made does not have the outcome we expected.
It might be a scenario where, we hang up the phone and begin to think “Hey, that call I made was just terrible. But I thought I said the right words, the right way and in the right order.”
Or the thinking could be “I said the words just like they told me too, how come I didn’t get the appointment? What did I say or do wrong?”
Then we start thinking to ourselves, “Not only must I have said or done something wrong, but I’m afraid to do it again because I might think those terrible thoughts again and therefore I’m reluctant to pick up the phone and make the next call. I don’t want those same thoughts to enter my mind all over again because then I think I’ll feel even worse.”
So now the self-talk going on in our minds is making us think and feel even worse. And on and on it goes into a negative spiral. More fear, more reluctance, more bad thinking and the end result is fewer and fewer calls.
The solution to cold calling reluctance and fear is to STOP and BREAK that negative thinking right away. Instead of thinking “Hey, that call I made, was just terrible… ” we need to STOP! and think to ourselves… “What could I have said differently or better that may have made that call a better call?” followed by “Why don’t I try saying something different on the next call and see what happens? Gee, that could be kind of fun. I might learn something new that works.”
Now you’re turning cold calling into a type of game. Each call becomes a learning experience. It’s a whole different way of looking at each call.
When I’m cold calling, I like to see how much information I can get on every call. That’s part of the game I play. If the call doesn’t quite work out as planned, I can still say to myself, “it wasn’t a total loss, look at how much information I collected.” Now let me get onto the next call to see how much better I can do if I tweak what I say and the game continues.
I think a good way to handle fear and rejection is to say to yourself, “Okay that call didn’t go as I planned. Now what did I say that I can improve upon by saying it differently on the next call?” Then challenge your mind to find ways to improve what you say on your next call rather than think about the rejection you experienced because a call didn’t work out as you planned.
By reframing in our mind how we feel about each bad call, as an opportunity for improvement to make the next call even better, there is no room for fear and rejection. You simply move on and place the next call knowing you will do better or learn to do better.
Question: How do call scripts or what you call guides and the opening value statements help?
Answer: When an actor does a movie, what do they use? A script, right? Why? Because if they did not, there would be chaos and the movie turn out terrible (and even though movies use scripts some still turn out terrible… )
A script, or what I call a cold calling conversational guide, is designed to provide the rep with exactly what to say and to whom and also what to say in different situation should the call move in different directions. Scripts are a necessary means of making sure a cold call comes off as planned or begins to meet the objectives decided upon prior to the call.
Question: Who are the “inbound lead time wasters?”
Answer: Although I do not deal with inbound leads very much because my training workshops focus on outbound cold calling, I do recommend reps call the inbound lead after they have had a chance to do some homework on the person who inquired and their company.
You do have to be careful about how you handle inbound leads because some can be time wasters and others can be legitimate leads. You never know who has the decision-maker’s ear or if it is even one of the decision-makers who is part of a committee that is inquiring.
The other part of the equation depends on if it is an inbound lead who is hitting your website and filling out a form or if they are calling into your company and transferred directly to you because you are in sales and they are requesting information on your products and services.
Both are still somewhat cold calls, in the fact that you have never met the person before, however at least you know a little bit more about the person who filled out the form and have a more time to prepare.
Either way, before you can start asking questions, you need have a list of qualifying questions prepared in advance. The basics are:
- What is their need, problem, challenge or what some people call ‘the pain’ or what, in essence, prompted their inquiry?
Next I need to understand if their inquiry fits into my target market or, in other words, does what their company needs match up with what my company can provide and if not, who can I refer them too?
On the other hand, if there is a fit, then, after listening to why they inquired, I’ll begin to explore with them exactly what is their need, how urgent is their need and if their need is urgent, whether or not they are they willing to act now.
If we make it past these steps then it is onto:
- Who is the final decision maker or who are the decision-makers in the case where a committee or group will make the decision?
- What, if necessary, are the timings for the evaluation, decision making and the implementation?
- Has budget been put aside for this acquisition or is there access to budget?
- And finally in the case of a technology sale, do they have the right technology in place to take advantage of what we have to offer?
The best way to handle inbound leads is to tread very cautiously. Get them comfortable by concentrating on them, what they do, why they inquired and why they think you can help them. Ask one question at a time.
Too many questions at once overloads a person and they don’t know which one to answer first and it becomes uncomfortable and even frustrating. Ask a question. STOP. Wait for a complete answer. If you need to, put your finger over your mouth so you can’t speak. You never know when you might start to talk over them while they are still answering your question and by then you may have missed something important. Train yourself to STOP and really concentrate on them and only them. Then feedback your understanding of what you thought they said before asking your next question. It is a little technique I call Q/A/F/Q – question, answer, feedback, question.
Question: Please talk about some typical performance improvements you’ve been able to deliver. And what are the metrics used?
Answer: According to one of my clients, the year they used me to train their reps, their sales tripled from $9 million to $30 million. Another company said, after I trained all their business development reps, sales were up 39% and they weren’t even finished with the year. Both these clients attributed their sales increases to my unique cold calling system.
Another metric used is the number of appointments set by reps who have attended my workshops both during and after the workshop. I’ve gotten emails or letters from sales management saying: “In the first week, our appointment volume increased over 25%” or “I’ve seen a 20 to 30% increase in meetings due to this methodology” or “Our virtual contact center lead generation performance has tripled while the Inside Sales group has doubled its results in setting qualified appointments.” These are all very gratifying and I’m very grateful to receive them.
I also get emails from past students telling me about the dollar amounts of the deals they closed where they used the skills they learned during my workshops. I received an unsolicited email one time from a former student. He said he got an appointment with the CEO which led to a $6 million deal. Another former student left me a LinkedIn recommendation saying he used the skills he learned to help him close the largest deal of his career, a $2.8 million deal at a major insurance company.
In fact, someone from sales management in one of the top three largest technology companies in the world (and I can’t tell you who but I can tell you that the company has three initials in their name) left me a recommendation saying in part that his qualified pipeline increased by 219% after my workshop. I’m very thankful when I get these types of recommendations, emails and letters.
How fast the client’s training investment pays for itself is another metric used. One client wrote, “We more than paid for the costs associated with Ron’s training in less than 3 months’ time.” Another wrote, “We sold more during the calls then we invested in the training. Now that’s ROI!”
Yet another sent me an email saying, “Ron, I just wanted to let you know that a New York City rep closed a $208,000 deal in December that paid for your entire cold calling program for the entire year.” I really like reading those emails.
To sum up, the main metrics used to measure the success of the live cold calling workshop are the increases in the dollar amounts or percentages of sales, increases in the numbers of appointments set during or after the workshop, the dollar amounts of the deals closed as a result of the skills learned during the workshop and how fast the training workshop pays for itself.
The lesson I teach my students is to constantly remember to ask for testimonial letters and recommendations right after you complete work for a client. With over 55 testimonial letters on letterhead from clients and over 170 recommendations on my LinkedIn profile from sales reps and sales managers who have been through my workshops over the last 16 ½ years, I try to practice what I teach.
Question: Any final thoughts?
Answer: I know there are a lot of people out there in sales who think the days of cold calling have come to an end and I disagree. Because as long as someone has to introduce themselves to someone they have not met before and understand if there is way they can help the that person they just met to gain a competitive advantage or avoid a problem or potential problem then there will be always need for cold calling.