When I was in college, I worked as an intern at benefits management firm.

On day one, my supervisor led me to my desk, handed me a script and a Rolodex with about 2,000 leads, pointed at the telephone, and said, “Start calling.”

I still have nightmares about that summer.

I know. Salespeople must learn to take their lumps. For every “yes,” you hear some “nos.” Still, I couldn’t stand being the unwanted pest. I wanted to be like Norm, the character on Cheers, the guy who always received a hearty welcome when he walked in the room.

Good news, tele-prospectors: You don’t have to be an unwelcome pest. You can be a welcome guest, just like Norm.

Here’s how: Use an email marketing system to qualify prospects before you call them. Such systems allow you to track who opens your emails and who clicks which links. Many systems also include surveys. Survey respondents can explicitly tell you they’d like to know more about your product or service.

If you focus first on survey respondents who expressed interest, then on people who clicked, and finally on people who opened the email but didn’t click, you improve your odds of reaching someone who welcomes you. You call people who know you and have shown interest in what you sent.

Many of our clients use this approach successfully. Here are two examples:

A nonprofit wanted to launch a planned giving campaign. It included an item about planned giving in its newsletter, with a link to read more, and it delivered a survey asking respondents to indicate whether they’d like to learn more about planned giving. Development called prospects to schedule a meeting, focusing only on those who expressed interest in the survey, clicked the link, or opened the email.

They met with far more qualified prospects than they had projected, and they received commitments for two major gifts. This happened with far less time, effort, and cost than if they called an unqualified list.

A financial planner used a similar approach to qualify prospects. He sent an email to all clients that included an article summary (and link to read more) about a particular service he offered. The email also included a survey asking whether respondents would like more information about the service. The planner called those who asked for more information, clicked, or opened.
“Those clients were happy that I was attentive to their needs. I scheduled more appointments than I could easily handle. And it generated new business,” he said. “If I had simply gone down the entire list of clients, I would have wasted my time and theirs.”

This article originally appeared in St. Louis Small Business Monthly for which MarketVolt’s Tom Ruwitch writes a monthly column. 

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