In my 20-year sales career, I've been challenged with that excruciating prospect of picking up the phone and cold calling or telemarketing for new business.  You have about 20 seconds to gain someone's attention.  And that was back about 15 years ago for me.  Things have changed big time with the advent of email and instant messaging.  What are you doing to get noticed and gain that appointment with the new account you are targeting?  Have you noticed that hardly anyone answers the phone these days?

As I am out in the field, talking to partners, I hear the same thing over and over.  "We can't get the meeting, we are struggling with demand generation and cold calling".  In my previous role, I had the privilege of being involved with Ingram Micro's VTN (Venture Tech Network).  During the chapter meetings, we shared ideas and best practices.  In between, we could reach out to the chapter members to seek advice and ask for help with various challenges.  When I asked for cold call scripts and ideas to gain access to new customers, I was met with the sounds of chirping crickets.  I got to thinking that this was not just a problem with my team, but universal for a lot of VARs. 

I am in the process of working on a sales strategy for my VARs in North Central.  I thought this would be a great place to showcase some ideas that have worked for me.  I'd also love to hear from you.  Email me at lhughes@microsoft.com with any creative ideas you have employed to reach a new customer. 

One scenario that comes to mind, that I have shared with many sales reps, is a customer that just wouldn't give me the time of day.  They were actually a current customer and I became aware that they were contracted for a maintenance agreement that was far too excessive for their actual needs. Plus, they had just purchased another company and had inherited some old gear in the process.  I knew they were wasting money, but no one seemed to care.  If I could just get their attention, I was confident that I could easily identify many other areas where money was being wasted through an assessment of their current fleet of equipment.  I had hit my point of ultimate frustration and finally decided I had nothing to lose by going right to the top of the organization. 

I knew the CEO's name, but I didn't have his email address or phone number.  I looked at the various business cards I had collected from employees at this company and took a shot that it would be formatted in a similar fashion.  The next step was to think like a CEO.  What was keeping Fred awake at night?  Then I had an epiphany!  I would peruse the company's website and look for anything troubling that may be impacting the organization and worrisome to Fred.  I popped into the "Investor" link on their website and low and behold, there it was; a  press release to shareholders, promising a return to profitability.  After some further digging, I also discovered that this company had been cutting staff, much to Fred's dismay. 

I took the information and reworked it, incorporating my company into the subject line, and putting a spin on the content.  I referenced the pain that his company was suffering at this time and pointed out to him that by participating in my assessment, I could identify waste in the company, streamline processes and eliminate redundancies (a good thing in this case).  I suggested that if they continued to conduct business in the same manner, his claims of a return to profitability would probably not come to fruition.  I explained that I had been attempting to engage with members of his staff, but was being met with closed doors and asked him point blank, "Where do you suggest I begin?"

It was a bold move and I stared at my "send" key for a long time before finally summoning the courage to blast it off to Fred.  I held my breath and hit "send".  That was at 4:48 p.m. on a Thursday evening.  The deed was done and there was no turning back now. 

When I returned to work the following day, much to my surprise, or maybe even shock and awe, my plan had succeeded!  I had a response from Fred.  The time stamp read 11:45 p.m.  His message to me was simple and to the point, "I am traveling until 12/17.  Please give me a call later that week.  Thanks."  You can bet I did my happy dance after reading his message, and got busy putting my next steps together.  I made arrangements to have my Sales Director and Facilities Management VP in the meeting with Fred.  I got a signed contract for a full-blown assessment and replaced a lot of aging, non-productive equipment shortly after our meeting with Fred.

My suggestion to you is to take this same approach with some of your "wish list" customers.  Go right to the top.  C-level executives are visionary and are thinking about the business in a completely different fashion than the Network Admins and sometimes even the Directors.  Research the company, find out where they are having issues, and communicate your message in an assertive manner, with complete conviction in your solution.  However, research in moderation.  Some people have been known to spend far too much time in this exercise.  Keep it short and sweet. 

What have you got to lose?

Here's one of my fave quotes: "It is never too late to be what you might have been."

 Cheers to great success!

Lisa Hughes . Partner Territory Manager . North Central Area .