Are you ready to be a more effective salesperson or sales manager?
In this interview Stephan Schiffman covers everything from collecting leads, to placing cold calls, to managing the first meeting, to getting the second meeting, to managing the entire sales process.
Read the Transcript
Who Is Stephan Schiffman?
His name is Stephan Schiffman. He is the author of Cold Calling Techniques That Really Work and it’s the seventh edition. We’re going to speak on that today.
Stephan is also the author of 25 Habits of Highly Successful Salespeople. He’s trained more than a half a million people in over 9,000 companies and that’s incredibly impressive.
So, we have a wealth of knowledge here with us today! Thank you for being here with us today, Stephan.
Stephan Schiffman: Thank you for inviting me. I appreciate that.
Allison: Yes, absolutely.
I figured we’ll just get right into cold calling. I know that people either embrace it and do it really well or they do it really poorly.
How to Cold Call Effectively
Allison: Could you give us some examples of techniques that people don’t do well and then an example of how to actually do it really well?
Stephan: The real key though about cold calling on the phone (and it’s also in sales) is anticipating what the objection is going to be.
When I started, I recorded virtually every cold call that I made. You would play those back and all of a sudden, you realize you’re saying the same thing every time.
You need to know how to turn that around. I learned by doing it how to turn that around. That’s the whole thing. It’s derailing for conversation that the other person is going to have.
In their mind, they’re going to respond to you in kind. It’s anticipated. It’s going to be an objection.
You say to yourself, “What am I going to say to that?”
The average salesperson actually doesn’t know. What they say is, “Oh, OK” and they hang up.
Salespeople should never use the word, “Ok.” That ends the conversation. They need to know how to turn that around. But they don’t, and the call just dies.
Why You Need to Record Cold Calls
Allison: I think you’ve brought out a great point of recording your calls. That way, you know exactly where you’re fumbling yourself. And then you’re going “What could I have said instead?” That incremental improvement is huge.
Stephan: That’s right. You repeat. You listen to your calls. I listened to almost 400 calls while I was doing it just to hear.
My wife and I, we sat there with a tape recorder (which, of course, nobody has anymore). We just listened to the calls…
It dawned on me one day. I was giving a presentation and it dawned on me that everybody says the same thing. They go, “Not interested,” “too busy,” “call me back.” It’s the same stuff all the time.
There really weren’t creative answers. Nobody said they like ice cream instead. That never came up.
Didn’t have to say, “Let’s steal the ice cream store.” That never came up.
What came up was, they’re too busy. What came up was, they’re out of town. What came up was, “Call me back in six months or six years.”
That’s what comes up. Sales reps don’t hear that because they’re too busy anticipating other things.
Steps of a Sales Call
Allison: What are some of the techniques you’d suggest on how to overcome that? How do you get better at that?
Stephan: If you looked at it…
- There’s an opening. That’s what you say.
- There’s their response. That’s what they say.
- There’s a turnaround. That’s what you say.
- And then you get the appointment.
It’s four steps. What happens is the opening leads to the turnaround, to their response.
Right there, if you can’t turn that around, you’re going to lose it, because you have to derail it.
What I’ve learned is that, really, if you just ask a question like:
- “Well, I’m just curious, how did you do that before?”
- “Yes, I’m just curious, when did you do that?”
- “I’m just curious, who did you bring in to do—”
… Whatever it is, it doesn’t make any difference.
All of a sudden, the conversation shifts into a different place. It’s called a pattern interrupt.
And everybody can experience that. If you’ve ever had a fight with your significant other or had an issue and all of a sudden this thing is going wrong, and then the dog barks or the kid cries, the conversation starts in a different way. And that’s really what you’re doing. You’re just starting a conversation over again in a different place.
Working with a Gatekeeper
Allison: Can you give me an example of how— You know, when you initially make the call, you often get like the gatekeeper, right?
Allison: What’s the best getting beyond the gatekeeper script?
Stephan: Ok. Gatekeepers are funny. That’s their job, right?
Stephan: You got to give them that credit. That’s what they do.
What I’ve learned is when somebody says to me, “Well, so-and-so wasn’t available” or whatever they say…
I just say, “Can you and I meet?”
It’s stops the conversation. Because no one ever says that to them.
“Can you and I meet?” No one says that.
Inevitably they say, “Well, no, you got to speak to so-and-so.”
“Oh! Is he there?”
Now, you got a whole conversation. But if I say to a receptionist, “Can you I meet?” They’ve never heard that.
Again, a pattern interrupt. That is not what they expect. No one expects that.
Allison: How often do they meet with you? Does anyone ever take you up on that?
Stephan: Oh, no! No! No! I don’t want them to meet with me. That’s the last thing I want.
I want them to say, “Let me get a hold of John, Jeff, Jill, Jones, I guess.”
That’s what I want.
But when you say that, they’re thrown off completely. They’re taken by surprise. There’s nobody who says that.
Allison: Yes. I love that.
How to Differentiate Yourself
Allison: One of the things that we were talking before we started the podcast was, “How can a salesperson differentiate themselves?” That’s a great topic to hit on next.
Stephan: If you think about it, short of wearing a funny hat, salespeople all look the same and they act the same.
I don’t care, male or female. Look the same, all the time.
You say to yourself, “What is he to say?”
Well, the average person goes into a sales call and starts out by saying, “Let me tell you about my product” or “What pain do you have?” and all that nonsense.
I once had somebody come in and say, “Mr. Schiffman, you have pain?”
I said, “No, I don’t.”
He says, “Oh yeah. You have pain. You just don’t know it.”
I said, “You’re becoming the pain.”
That’s the end of the conversation.
Really, sales is not about finding a solution. It’s not finding a problem.
It is, in fact, asking people:
- What they do
- How they do it
- When they do it
- Where they do it
- Who they do it with
- Why they’re doing it that way
… And then helping them do it better.
Everybody is selling a commodity. Everything is a commodity. There’s always somebody else selling it too. And with the internet, it can be cheaper, it can come from a different place. You have to differentiate by showing that your product, what you’re selling, is going to help them do what they do better.
Most people don’t do it. They just say, “Well, I’ve got this great product. Here’s my pencil.”
“Well, but everybody has pencil.”
“Well, this pencil is black.”
Well, that doesn’t really mean much, does it? But that’s what most salespeople do. They try to say, “Well, I have it in blue.”
“Well, I’ve got blue too.”
It really is showing whether you can help somebody do what they do better. I’ve worked with 9,000 companies and the companies that have been successful really had that ability to explain.
Keep Records So You Can Know Your Numbers
Allison: Yes, and in a lot of the cold calling that I’ve personally experienced, there’s a couple of tips that I learned early on and you cover in your book.
One of them is, “Have a mirror, make sure that you’re smiling, recognize that your energy is coming through the phone. Standing up is another big one for me. If I have a really important call to make, I make sure I’m standing.
What are some other tips that you recommend for people?
Stephan: There’s a number of things.
The mirror, I like a timer so I know how long I’ve been on. I don’t want to extend the clock. A call should be about 3-4 minutes.
Sales is a Ratios Game, Not a Numbers Game
I like record keeping, knowing your numbers. Sales is a ratios game, not a numbers game.
I mean, if it’s a numbers game, then just go out on the street and a go “buy one, buy one, buy one” and eventually someone buys something, which in fact is retail selling.
I mean, retail is standing there with a storefront and saying, “Hey, you want to buy the stapler?”
“No. Well, yes, sure. I guess, if I need it, I’ll buy it.”
But the numbers of people that you have to go through is ridiculous. If you understand ratios, and how the ratio works through…
For example, at the other company…
We knew that every 22 sales calls amounted to a sale. We knew it. The whole sales department knew it. We knew it before we went out the door.
Allison: Is that just an average for that particular company or an industry?
Stephan: My company, so I knew what it was.
Here’s the issue. The issue is sales managers enforce, they don’t teach.
They don’t teach, they enforce. Somebody says, “Go out make 50 calls.”
“What for? What does 50 calls do?”
You have to know what it’s going to produce. Most people – sales managers and sales reps – they don’t know. They just go out.
I had a client today. He says to his salespeople, “I want you to either see or call 70 people a week.”
I said to him, “For what? How many appointments are you going to get from that?”
He didn’t know. Well, then your sales staff doesn’t know.
Allison: What is the intent of making a cold call? Is the purpose of the cold call to get someone to buy something on the phone?
Stephan: No. It’s to get an appointment to meet with that.
Now, there are reasons where they’re telling salespeople who do sell on the phone. That’s different.
But for the average salesperson, the goal is to get in front of somebody and understand what that person is doing. Everybody’s buying your product, they’re just not buying from you.
If you were to go in and say to somebody, “I know you’re buying pencils. How come you’re not buying them from me?” You’ve got a very interesting conversation.
Stephan: They don’t know the answer. They really don’t know the answer.
Allison: Is there ever a time where it is okay to sell right on the phone?
Stephan: Sure. Yes, of course. I’ve written 70 books. Of the 70, there are a couple that are just for telesales. That’s a whole other topic, how to come across properly and separate yourself.
Allison: What is the most effective way someone can improve their ratios the quickest?
Allison: Practice. Because practice does make perfect. Yes.
Stephan: Just practice! But they don’t. I worked with a group this morning and I said, “OK, where’s the script that we do? Where’s the script?”
“Oh, wow… mmmm.”
“No! That was the whole point. We did the script last week. You’ve got to have the script now. Where is it?”
“I didn’t type it, so I can’t read it.”
“If you can’t read it, now we’re fudging it. You can’t do that. You got to know what you’re going to say.
Scripting Cold Calls
Allison: I am a big fan of scripting out exactly what you want to say. You think that that’s a factor of success?
Allison: Okay, cool.
Are there any online communities where you can submit your calls to be critiqued? Is that a service? Do you know of one?
Stephan: Well, no. I don’t know one. I do coach individuals. I do coach companies. I do a lot of work individually with people.
What I find is they think they know. Even when you’re done, they think they know.
A lot of training is just rejected, which is too bad.
That book you have as 5-6 million copies in print all over the world. And yet people will say, “I read your book, but–”
Interesting. Young people don’t read books!
Allison: You can’t say it doesn’t work if you haven’t implemented everything in it, right?
Allison: When I moved into a new market in launching a business, one of the first techniques that I tried was hiring a telemarketing company to do these cold calls for me. They were probably exceptional cold callers. It was probably the list that was bad.
Referrals Are Essential
Allison: What is the best way to gather a list that leads to productive calls?
Stephan: Okay. I answer things pretty straight.
Allison: There isn’t?
Stephan: There really isn’t.
I mean, you could go buy a list, but it’s crap.
You could do it yourself with Google and you’ll end up digging, digging, digging. That’s what’s going to happen.
You cannot find a good list. If you bet your life on it, it’s not going to happen.
Lists are crap, just by definition, because as soon as you’ve got it, it’s outdated.
Allison: What works for people to work from a list that does create successful leads?
Stephan: The best thing is a referral. However, again, people don’t ask for it.
Most sales reps will not say, “Mr. Jones. I’ve done a good job, or I think I did. Is there somebody else I should talk to?”
That’s all you’ve got to say. They don’t say it. So they don’t get the referral. Even though they could get it, they won’t say it.
Allison: Can a referral can come from someone who’s saying no to you?
Stephan: It can come from anybody. But think this way. This is how I did it.
When I started, I really had nothing. I’m going to tell you the truth. So I went to a branch of a bank that actually no longer exists. I said to them, “Do you need sales training?”
And they go, “Well, yes. This couple 1000 bucks… we do, yes.”
I said, “Let me do the work here,” and I did.
Now, I took that branch and went to another branch, and that branch went to another branch, and that branch went to another. All of a sudden, I had the region. Then I had the country. I had the oil industry. I was the largest trainer, or my company was, in the oil industry, in the world.
Because I just took from one company, to the next and the next and I kept doing it.
That’s the way you sell. You just figure out who is using your product and you just get one and then another one and then another one.
Why are you reinventing this? You know who’s buying your products.
LinkedIn, Voicemail, and Handwritten Letters
Allison: Yes, for sure. Are you a fan of utilizing LinkedIn as a resource for making connection?
Stephan: Yes. I would use anything that works. Take it. Whether it’s LinkedIn or Facebook or anything that makes sense, I would definitely use it, and I do.
I use the Chamber of Commerce, I mean, anything that you can get your hands on. The point is, don’t count on anything.
Allison: That’s fair, because you kind of have to do everything to figure out what actually works.
Have you had any specific techniques to nurturing the online relationship to get permission to have the phone call? Any tips on that?
Stephan: Oh, I’ll write and they’ll write back, and I’ll write back, and they’ll write back. In theory, that leads to something. Reality, it probably doesn’t. But people say it does.
I don’t know that anything you do, except picking up the phone, really does it.
I know voicemail is terrible. Nobody answers the phone anymore.
Email is bad because everybody is inundated with email.
What I use is Federal Express. I use the Post Office. I mail things because people don’t get mail. No one gets a letter.
Allison: I’m a fan of mail. I’m a fan of handwritten letters too.
Allison: They’re very effective.
Stephan: I write a letter and say, “Hey, this is what I do.”
How to Start a Sales Meeting
Allison: How do you actually close the deal to get the meeting, right?
Once you have the opportunity to have a meeting and you walk in, what are the first things that you would typically say to kick it off in and move it toward a sale?
Stephan: Remember when we talked about differentiation?
If you’re going to sit there and say, “Mr. Jones, I’m sure you’re in pain.” You’re not going anyplace.
“I’m sure you have a problem.” You’re not going anyplace because you don’t know that. You can’t say that.
So I don’t say that. It doesn’t work as far as I’m concerned.
I sit down and I say, “Mr. Prospect, before we start, before we get into our meeting, would it help if I just tell you something about me and my company?”
Inevitably they say, “Yes.” Because it’s a non-threatening question. So I go in and I give them a little piece about what we’ve done and how we do it. Then I say, “I’m just curious, because I do sell training. Have you done sales training here?”
That’s it! I mean, “Yes / No.”
“Oh! Why not?”
“Really? What have you done?”
That’s all I got to ask. I don’t have to go through all this nonsense because they either have done it or they haven’t.
Well, you are buying a pencil. Same question. “Why?” Same question.
There’s always a reason why people have done what they’ve done. We don’t ask those questions. We just assume there must be some deep, dark secret.
The Power of 12
The other thing is what I call the power of 12. For yourself…
When you bought your home, you asked other people about it. That’s the power 12. A decision maker will talk to 12 other people before making a final decision.
Allison: I didn’t realize it was that many people. That’s a lot of people.
Stephan: That’s right. It’s a lot, which is why you don’t get to anybody. Except you think you are.
“Oh, you’re speaking to the right person.”
No! Even the owner of the biggest company … they have 14 McKenzie consultants surrounding this guy every minute of the day. He didn’t say anything they didn’t write.
Allison: That’s funny.
Best Probing Questions for Sales Calls
Allison: What are some of your favorite probing questions that you like to ask?
Stephan: “Why did you do it?”
“Why did you do that?”
“Why did you move here?”
For example, you’re where you are. I asked you that. Didn’t I?
Allison: Yes, you did.
Stephan: Right away. First thing: “Where are you?”
Stephan: Now I could have pursued that: “Why?” Because it doesn’t make sense.
“Why there?” But you know the reason. You have a reason that you’re in the location that you’re in.
I have a company I work with in Northern Canada. It is beyond cold.
They’re there. I got there and said to the owner of the company, “Why are you here? There’s nothing here.”
“Well, there actually is.”
That’s a whole story. And he told me the story of how he ended up in this ridiculous place in Canada. That’s an interesting story.
Managing a Sales Cycle
Allison: We know sometimes the sale cycle can last a really long time. How do you know when…
Stephan: The longer the sale takes out of its normal sales cycle, the less likely it is to close.
If your sales cycle is a year, that’s it. You can try to condense it, but let’s say it’s a year.
If it goes past the year, it’s over. But sales reps don’t see that. They carry it for five years. “Oh! This is going to close.”
“No, it’s not. Are you serious?”
“Oh! It’s a billion-dollar sale.”
“You’ll be dead first.”
I had a guy call me. He wanted me to change my office.
I said, “My lease isn’t up for 10 years.”
He said, “Can I call you then?”
“Sure! 10 years from now, call me. If I’m alive, I’ll answer the phone. And if you’re alive, you’ll call.”
Allison: Any tips on how to speed it up?
Look, you’re practicing interruptive marketing. You’re cold calling is interruptive marketing.
They weren’t thinking about it. Now, you can get them to think about it, maybe.
But you can’t count on that unless there’s a second meeting. And that’s where it breaks down.
Sales breaks down between the first and second meeting. And it’s because nobody thinks to set up that second meeting.
They go, “I’ll call you in 10 weeks.”
“What do you mean, 10 weeks?”
Allison: That is a really good point.
If there was one particular tip, once you’ve had that first meeting, what is the second step in always making sure you know where your next move is from there?
Stephan: I can tell about their appointment book or Outlook or whatever… if they have enough things in the pipeline, that our second step.
Just second step, that’s all that matters.
The first meeting doesn’t matter. So what?
So you met this person. So what? Nice. OK. What are you going to do next? No idea.
I’m tough as a sales manager but I had people who really did well.
Allison: Yes. I think if you were to ask, “so what” about where the sale goes next, it’s a powerful question.
Stephan: That’s exactly right. That is the answer. If you don’t know, you’re going no place.
How Cold Calling Has Evolved
Allison: Let’s talk about the evolution of cold calling. You’re in your 7th edition of this particular book.
The first edition was in 1987.
Stephan: Hold it up a little higher so people can see it.
I started… I’ll tell you what happened. I was in business for 5-6 years. I said I want to write a book. And I knew cold calling.
So I started writing a book. But I didn’t know how to write a book. So I did what I think makes sense. I bought a book on how to write a book.
Stephan: Why would I reinvent it? Then I bought a book on how to get published.
Didn’t take much. I got published.
There was a guy rather interested, and I got 500 boxes of it. And that book sold out.
I monitored every city where it was being sold. It became a bestseller and it sold and it sold and it still sells in different ways.
But it really came about as me trying to do a better job and just having the book that said, “Hey, I’ve done this.”
Allison: In all of the couple of decades since you’d originally written it, what has changed?
Stephan: Oh, don’t use the word decade.
Stephan: In the years, the few years.
Allison: In the few years since 1987, what’s changed in Cold Calling?
Stephan: You know what’s interesting? I’m getting calls now, which is really strange, to redo it the way it always was, because it’s the same call, except there was this period where everybody went electronic.
It isn’t. It’s not electronic. It really is person-to-person stuff. Selling is still person-to-person stuff unless you want to just buy it on the Internet.
Stephan: I’m getting more calls from more people saying, “Can you help us make appointments, either for electronic follow-up, like a demonstration, or an appointment to actually see people.
It’s going backwards because people are realizing, you can’t sell over the internet unless that’s your business and that’s the way you decide to do it.
Most Common Challenges for Salespeople
Allison: What are the top challenges of the salespeople you train?
Stephan: That’s interesting.
- Separating yourself, differentiating yourself
- Knowing what to ask and when to ask
- Understanding that objections have different meanings depending on when they come in during the sales cycle
If someone says, “I’m not interested” in the beginning, that doesn’t mean “I’m not interested.” But at the end, it could. Alright? Because it’s a different thing. They’re more educated.
And probably the last thing, when all is said and done, is they don’t get up in the morning. They just don’t.
Allison: Tell me what you mean.
Stephan: They don’t go out. They don’t get up.
“I’ll go out next week.”
They don’t go out. Christmas, no one goes out. Why would you want to go out in the cold if you don’t have to?
I remember when I first started. It was terrible. It was in New York City. It was raining. So I decided, I’ll go into a movie. I’ve never done that. I figured no one would be there.
There were a billion briefcases there. Every other sales rep in New York City decided the same thing.
So I walked out. I said, I’ll never do that again. I never did.
Allison: So not getting up… just do it.
Stephan: Stop whining. Just do it.
Face-to-Face Meetings Versus Phone Calls
Allison: Is there more conversion when you have a face to face even if it is video like, like on Zoom?
Stephan: Yes, I think there is. I don’t know that I can prove it or not. But I think there is.
Stephan: I think this kind of contact is better than no eye contact. I think it’s less than if you went and met with the person.
Allison: Is there any resistance that you think people have from meeting by video versus just on the phone? And how do you overcome that if you know that this would be more effective?
Stephan: Interesting question. I don’t think salespeople know what to do.
Stephan: I really don’t. I think the average salesperson just is glad they’re there.
“I don’t even have a plan. I really don’t.”
I say them,“How much money did you make last year? How much money you want to make this year. What’s the gap? How are you going to do it?”
“Well, I’ll sell more.”
That’s not an answer. That’s it? Sell more.
“What are you going to do? How are you going to do that? You worked hard last year. What you going to do now differently?”
Going back to what I said about sales managers… Sales managers are enforcers, they’re not teachers. They can tell you to make 20 calls a day. Doesn’t mean a damn thing.
How Stephan Coaches a Company’s Sales Team
Allison: What is typically the first thing you do when you work with a company?
Stephan: I look at the pipeline. I have very strict guidelines as to what the pipeline is. I mean, incredibly stric.
So I get it clean. I clean it. Knock everything out. Start again. Hold it back.
Second thing is now building back with your appointments, and then the sales call.
The last thing I do…
I ask, “How are you as a salesperson and a manager going to separate yourself out from everybody else who’s selling the same thing you sell?”
Because there’s somebody selling the same thing.
Allison: Do you work with them to figure out what differentiates them?
Stephan: Yes, but most times, they don’t know.
I do work with lubricant companies, oil companies. There isn’t much difference. In fact, to tell you this truth, if they run out of lubricant, they go to the next guy and buy from him. You don’t know difference.
Allison: Its commodity, yes.
Stephan: Yes, really. See, the problem is, most products have to be the same. That is, they provide the service you’re buying. If you’re buying a lubricant, it’s got a lube, right? It’s got to work. Or you wouldn’t buy it.
It’s all the same. How do you separate them out? You’ve got to start to understand what they’re trying to accomplish.
That’s really what the game is, “What are you trying to accomplish?”
Understanding What the Prospect Needs
Stephan: I am boringly the same, by the way. It’s the same message. I don’t vary that much.
I was in Sweden a couple of weeks ago and I’ve got 500 people there. And I do the same message in Sweden that I do in Malaysia that I do in Singapore. It’s the same stuff. Boringly the same message. I’m not boring, but the message is.
Allison: Can you tell me, what are some of the things that you would do to move a sale forward?
Stephan: It’s so simple.
I take a piece of paper. Let’s say this is a prospect, right? I put a little dot on the paper. I’ve put 6, 7, 8, 9 dots (meaning weeks) all in the same place. You can’t even read it.
Allison: Dump it.
Stephan: If you can’t read because I covered it with these ridiculous dots… that’s stupid.
If you can’t read it or you use Post-Its… If you leave Post-Its up too long, this dries out and it falls down. So it’s self-correcting.
Allison: Oh, that’s interesting. That’s an interesting way to look at it too. It dries out until it’s not there.
Stephan: You go, “Oh, yes!” But of course they use computers, so now they have CRMs.
Allison: And it stays there forever.
Stephan: Forever, and it doesn’t go away. And you got to say, “OK, when did you first meet with that person?”
“Oh, seven months ago.”
“Great. When did you speak to them?”
“Oh, seven months ago.”
Allison: I use Post-Its for my planning. We should Pitch 3M: “What is your sales cycle?” and then have the glue disappear over time.
Stephan: I’ve had people call me from 25 years ago, literally. They will say, “I use that now as a manager, but 25 years ago, you made me cry.”
Allison: Bringing them down to reality… it’s a hard place to be.
Stephan: It’s very tough. It’s a delicate balance of which I have no interest in balancing at that point.
Allison: I’ve covered all of my initial questions. Is there any advice that you would like to give our listeners of something that I’ve not yet asked you?
Be Consistent and Persistent
Stephan: Sure. Be real about what you’re doing. Be real.
Is it really going to happen? Or are you just kidding yourself? And at the end of the year, you go, “Oh, what happened?”
You’ve got to follow through and be consistent and persistent in what you’re doing. It’s consistent and persistent. That’s really the key to success.
Allison: I like that. Be real.
Stephan’s Sales Training Podcast
Allison: Stephan, what is the best way for people to either follow you or connect with you online?
Stephan: We have a podcast webcast that we post every day.
Allison: Great. What’s it called?
Stephan: “MasterMind Sales.”
Stephan: Tony Robbins gave me that name so I stuck that up there.
You can see it’s 5-10 minutes long. That’s it. No interviews. No people there. I want you to get it, get out. That’s it. I don’t want you there 40 minutes.
That website and books. There are so many things I’ve done. Just go on web and look it up if you want to.
With that, Stephan, thank you so much.
Stephan: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
Allison: My pleasure.