What Do Customers Really Want? … Cold-call them!

An effective cold caller makes 3 things happen before picking up the phone. 1. Starts deep-dive homework for information about each participant in the call queue. 2. Gets over the fear of cold-calling busy executives. 3. Studies to become skilled in elicitation, a conversation with a concealed purpose.

During my 35+ years in providing customer research to clients, I’ve employed these 3 things. But, teaching them to others is daunting. Here is where my pupils go off the rails.

  • The pupils do not do their homework before calling the participant. Instead, they call through a muddled list of names in vain hopes of getting an informative hit.
  • The pupils fear that by cold-calling they sound like a salesperson. News flash: When you cold-call you are a salesperson. You dial the participant’s number to help them improve their business. Be proud of this, and the fear and anxiety will decrease.
  • They do not understand that, in general, questions are not a good thing in a conversation with a hidden agenda. Questions draw attention to the information you are seeking. They hinder your ability to gather extra information by moving in other directions in the conversation.

In the following case example, the client was a private equity partnership. They needed to convince a key lender that buying a firm and then reconstructing it was a good investment. My work gathered information the client used to persuade the lender to invest. When the client sold the reconstructed firm five years later, returns on investment were 12%/yr. for the lender and 25+%/yr. for the client.

Case Example

The Adventure of the Technology-Skeptic Investor

Tim must convince a skeptical lender that the lender’s investment will return 12%/yr. Tim is a partner in a private equity firm. His firm uses leveraged buyout to restructure companies. Lenders provide 80% of the buyout funds.

A key potential lender is a financial whiz, but not a techie. He wants evidence that the restructured firm’s technology advantage will return 12%/yr. Tim hired me to gather this information from knowledgable people.

Elicitation conversations with 30 people in the firm’s industry uncovered this information. For example:

“George, 35 years ago, it was considered a black art on how our machines make an acceptable Tier 2 product for the automotive industry. In the past 3 years, using high speed cameras, we’ve discovered the secret. Your client’s Tier 2 supplier has found a lower cost, and proprietary technology, route to making the product. They have an opportunity to become the preferred supplier of the product to Tier 1.”

     VP Engineering … Imperial Tool and Manufacturing Co. Inc.