There is no reason to make a cold call ever again, according to Sam Richter, the author of Take the Cold out of Cold Calling: Web Search Secrets for the Inside Info on Companies, Industries and People.
That’s because Google and social media changed how we can gather information before meeting or calling on anyone. So no one would ever need to make a “cold” call. For most advisors, research on the Web starts with Google. But most people don’t know there are hundreds, if not thousands, of shortcuts, tricks and strategies to finding the right information faster and more effectively. And once you have Google figured out, you can then start exploring the “invisible Web,” one that is said to be 10 times larger.
But it’s not just what you know, but what you do with it. In this interview with InsuranceNewsNet Publisher Paul Feldman, Sam shows how just a few minutes of online research will not only seal a sale, but keep clients coming back and giving you the kind of referrals that can sustain your business forever.
FELDMAN: Cold calling has been around since there were telephones. What does cold calling mean today?
RICHTER: Google is the thing that changed everything. If you were in this business 16 years ago, before Google, and it was your first day on the job as an agent, you went to your boss and said, “Hey boss, where do I get my leads?”
What did they hand you? The phone book, right? And they said start at A and you’re done when you get to Z. That’s really cold calling.
In the industry, we all have our own mathematical formulas. Most agents are familiar with the 10-3-1 formula: make 10 phone calls, get three meetings, close one deal. Obviously that’s a proven method, and all of your readers have been very successful doing that. But I believe in how the Internet has really changed over the past 16 years – from the Before Google, or the B.G. era, to the A.G., After Google era.
FELDMAN: What are some of the key differences between the Before Google and After Google eras?
RICHTER: Before Google, a prospect might have given an agent the opportunity to meet for two hours. People used to take two-hour lunches, two-hour breakfasts. Prospects were willing to give that amount of time because they didn’t know anything about the agent. They didn’t know anything about insurance. So they were willing to give two hours out of their day.
After Google, nobody takes two-hour lunches. Nobody even takes lunch with an advisor anymore. One reason is because our prospects and our clients today have what I call buyer’s intelligence. They’re pretty smart about what insurance policies are out there. They’re pretty smart about you and your firm. They’re willing to give you half an hour. So, the old way of cold calling, where you smile and dial, is not going to work anymore.
FELDMAN: So, it’s more about “warm” calling?
RICHTER: Yes, warm calling is finding information about the other person and then making that introduction – that could be a phone call, an email or an in-person meeting –in a way that is relevant to the other person. It’s really just doing your homework on the front end so your first words are about the other person and not about you. That really warms it up.
The thing that you’re looking for would be: How do you know this person? Maybe you have a common background. Maybe you went to the same school, but it was in different years.
Maybe you recently read an article about something that’s going on in the other person’s world where three months ago they could not have cared less about talking to an insurance agent but today they might be really interested. For example, they’re the CEO of a small business and you recently read an article in the business journal where they formed a board of advisors or a board of directors. All of a sudden they might need a directors and officers insurance policy. They just sold their company, now all of a sudden they’ve got all this money and they don’t know what to do with it, so maybe an annuity might be a great product for them.
So, trying to find something that’s relevant to the other person’s world that makes them interested in talking to you – that’s how you turn those cold calls into warm calls.
FELDMAN: When you do all this research and you find a warm prospect, how do you present that information without being creepy? Do you mention personal stuff or should you just stick to business?
RICHTER: You can sense whether the other person is open to a conversation or they want to get right down to business. Most of the time, people are open to conversation, so here’s the language I would use so you don’t come off as a stalker. It’s quite simple.
Let’s say I’m meeting with Joe Smith. I might say, “Hey, Joe. Before I meet with people I like to do a little bit of homework. I just want to make sure I’m talking about things that I think you might find relevant because I know you’re a super busy guy.” That’s the first part of it. What that does is it probably differentiates you from all the other salespeople he’s ever met: “Wow, this guy actually took time to do his homework.” You’re showing the other person that you care.
There’s that whole thing of nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care. I think there’s a lot of truth to that. So you show the other person you care. You show the other person that you took some time.
There’s another magic phrase that I use that is awesome for agents. If you think about the prospect, three weeks ago when the advisor picked up the phone to set up the meeting with Joe, he was saying, “Yeah, I’ll meet with you.” When Joe saw the advisor’s name on his calendar this morning, he was thinking, “Why do I need to meet with an insurance guy?”
So if I go in and start talking about myself, the talk that’s going on in Joe’s head is, basically, “When is this guy going to leave?” But if the first words out of my mouth are, “Hey, Joe, before I meet with people I like to do a little bit of homework. You’re a busy guy and I’m trying to make sure we’re talking about things that I think you might care about.” And then I use the magic phrase “and guess what I found?” Every time I use that phrase, the other person’s head shakes, their eyes get wide open and they wonder, “What did you find?”
“I saw that Business Journal article last week where you’re forming a board of directors – a board of advisors. I think that’s really neat and very wise. I’m just curious, can you tell me why you decided to set up a board at this time?” By asking a really intelligent question, you get past that stalking thing and you gain permission to ask better questions.
FELDMAN: Most people use Google as their primary research tool for Internet searches. What are some valuable techniques for people to make the most of Google?
RICHTER: Any time you’re searching for a proper noun – the name of a person or name of a company – make sure you put it in quotation marks and you’ll get way better results. No. 2, if you’re searching on a larger company, a CEO, a vice president, a manager or director at a larger company, one of the things I recommend is that after you run your Google search results, there’s a little link above the search form on the results page called “News.” What I recommend people do is click on that and try to find a news article about the other person or their company.
Now again, if it’s a larger company you might get lots of articles. There’s also another link above the search form called “Search tools.” I recommend people click on that. Then a dropdown menu appears and one of the items will say “Any time.” Click on that dropdown menu and it allows you to narrow your website results or your news results by date so you can find the most recent.
A news article or press release is always the best thing to find because that’s public information and you’re not stalking somebody. You just took the time to find information.
Another source today, of course, is LinkedIn. There are 320 million people with LinkedIn profiles, and a LinkedIn profile is basically their resume. So you have a person who’s saying, “Hey, look at me. I took the time to create this profile. I want you to look at me.”
I recommend on a LinkedIn search to type in the person’s name in quotation marks. Again, we want to treat it like a proper noun, a single phrase. Then add one word of their company. If I’m looking for Joe Smith at General Mills, I put in “Joe Smith” and then I add the word “Mills” and see what shows up.
Most of the time you’re going to get right to that person’s profile. Scan the profile. Find out where they used to work, because maybe you’ve done business with somebody at those companies. Find out where they went to school because maybe you have a connection. Oftentimes you can see their friends, so click on people they’re linked with. Usually about halfway down the page on their profile page it will show you their connections and list how many shared connections you have.
Click on the shared connections link, and then you can a name. “Hey, Joe, before I meet with people I like to do a little bit of homework, and guess what I found? I clicked on your LinkedIn profile and I saw that we had a shared connection with Susie Jones. Susie and I have been golfing together for years. How well do you know her?” “Oh gosh, Susie and my wife are best friends.”
So you try to engage them again in that warm conversation. There’s no excuse to not do those five minutes online before every meeting.
FELDMAN: That’s a good point that most business owners or people who work in a business will have a LinkedIn profile, and it’s like having your business card and resume online. What about using Facebook?
RICHTER: Facebook is good but a little trickier to search. If your name is Joe Befutnik, it’s really easy. But using the Joe Smith example, when you’re searching Facebook, it’s just not a very good search engine. When you type in a name, Facebook wants to give you a result right away. When you start typing someone’s name in Facebook, you’ll actually see a little dropdown menu that automatically appears, and on the bottom of the dropdown menu it says “See more results for” and then it’ll type in the person’s name you’re looking for.
Click that “See more results for” link and pull up all the Joe Smiths. Then you can scan them and maybe notice the person’s picture. You can type in a city name – try Joe Smith plus Minneapolis. You’re going to be successful probably about 50 percent of the time. What’s crazy is most people, even though they think they set their Facebook privacy controls, they really don’t. And the more you click on stuff within Facebook, the more you could be resetting your Facebook privacy back to default, and default is usually wide open.
Then you can find people’s pictures, the things they like, the restaurants they like, the posts they make and the friends they have. But if you did look at somebody’s Facebook page, you might not want to bring that up. If you say, “Hey, before I met with you I did a little homework. I was looking on your Facebook page, and guess what I found?” For some reason, that’s a little bit spooky.
FELDMAN: In doing research, there’s a fine line in sales between being productive and basically wasting time. Do you have a rule of thumb on how much time you should spend researching somebody?
RICHTER: Yes. I call it the three by five. Spend three minutes trying to find five pieces of information or five minutes trying to find three pieces of information. Ninety percent of the time, that’s all you’ll need and again, just using the tips I discussed earlier, you are going to be just fine for those first few meetings.
You can use Google Alerts as well, although it doesn’t track social media. If you see something interesting about a client or a prospect, send them a note.
FELDMAN: That’s a great way of keeping in touch. Is there a way to automate that?
RICHTER: Most agents are going to have a CRM package. CRM stands for customer relationship management and most CRM systems have kind of evolved into a workflow and a process management tool. So you’re going to onboard a client and then set up triggers that will automatically tell you when it’s time for their quarterly review and their annual review. You can track all the calls and that’s good. It certainly helps you to have a more efficient and profitable business, but you’re kind of forgetting the R part and that is the relationship.
All too often in sales, we show our clients or our prospects a lot of love during the prospecting stage. We take them to lunch, send them a box of chocolates, tickets to a ball game. Then the second they sign the contract, they never hear from their agent again. They never hear from the advisor again until it’s time for the annual review. And what some agents call an annual review, I call a sales call.
You can automate that process and add that information into your CRM system. It doesn’t always have to be business information. One of my clients has a kid who’s the star quarterback for the football team. I set up an alert on the kid, and when the kid throws four touchdown passes to lead his team to the playoffs, I’ll send a note to my client: “Hey, Jim, congratulations. I saw Junior threw four touchdown passes last night to lead the team. You must be so proud. Hope all is well. Just want you to know I’m thinking about you.” And that’s it.
Now, don’t do that every three days. But once every five or six weeks, just drop a client a note.
FELDMAN: In your book, you talk about the four R’s in sales: reading, writing, ’rithmetic and research. Can you tell us a little more about that?
RICHTER: I believe in the A.G. – After Google era – we all somewhat have to become masters of the fourth R, research. Let me give you a quick example of how one might put the fourth R into action.
I know that nonprofit organizations post their donor lists, annual reports and member lists online as a PDF file. Let’s say I’m going to go meet with Joe Smith. I’ll go into Google and I’ll type in “Joe Smith” and then maybe his company name; “Joe Smith” plus “Smith Consulting” plus the city Joe lives in, “Minneapolis.” Then I type in the word “donate” or “donation” in all upper case. When you put “or” between two words in a search engine, you’re telling the search engine you want one or both of those.
And then here’s the magic trick: So I type in the words “file type” and I put a colon after them and “.pdf”. Again, most nonprofits post their annual reports and member lists online as a a PDF file. So I’m saying to Google, go find me a PDF file; inside the PDF file must be the phrase “Joe Smith,” the phrase “Smith Consulting,” the word “Minneapolis” and the word “donate” or “donation.” Let’s say a dozen things show up and I see that Joe gives a bunch of money to, let’s say, a Jewish charity – Minneapolis Jewish Day School or Minneapolis Jewish Family Children’s Services or a synagogue in Minneapolis.
Now how do you translate that into knowledge? I would say there’s a pretty good chance that Joe might be Jewish. How do you act on that knowledge? Well, if I’m meeting with Joe on Dec. 21, I probably don’t say, “Merry Christmas.” Maybe I walk into Joe’s office and say, “Hey, Happy Hanukkah.”
It’s the accumulation of little things that can be the difference between winning an account and not winning an account, because people do business with people that they like.
FELDMAN: You talk a lot about referrals. Can you explain how most people get referrals wrong and how to go about getting them the right way?
RICHTER: Most agents ask for referrals poorly. What do I mean by that? They go to their clients and say, “Hey, do you know somebody who might use my services?” When you say that, you sound really weak.
You feel uncomfortable, you make your clients feel uncomfortable and you make them come up with a name off the top of their head. Instead, go into LinkedIn and Facebook and see who your clients already know. You can see what boards they serve on, which charity functions they attend, and then you can go ask your client for referrals by name.
A study by Advisor Impact showed what percentage of financial service clients would refer if the agent or advisor asked for that referral by name. So instead of saying, “Hey, do you know somebody who could use my services” you can say, “I’ve done a little homework and I see that you know Joe Smith. How well do you know Joe? Do you think he’d be a good fit for my practice? Do you think you could make a referral?”
Ninety-seven percent of clients would make that referral if you ask for that referral by name. Yet only 2 percent of advisors or agents ever bother to ask for a referral by name. We’re still doing it the old-fashioned way – the cold call way – which makes you look weak. It’s uncomfortable for both parties and it’s not very successful.
So, I like to say to agents, “There’s your marketing for the rest of your career.” If all you did was find out who your clients know and ask for those referrals by name, you’re going to be massively successful. And then before you go meet with that prospect, do a little bit of homework so you can connect with them.
Imagine the power of that. If I call you and say, “Hey, I got your name from Susie Jones. Susie and I have been golfing together. She’s been a client of mine for years. She said I absolutely had to call you.” Or, even better, Susie sends an email, “Hey, you need to meet with Sam.” And then, “Oh yeah, I’d love to meet with you. That would be awesome.”
Then we set up a coffee. I do my homework beforehand. I know a little bit about you: where you went to school, your work history, awards you’ve won. Now you’ve become a client. I’ve set you up on alerts. Every couple of months, I send you an article that has nothing to do with me but everything to do with you. Think of how awesomely successful I’m going to be if I run my business that way.
Find out more about how you can ditch cold calling for good at Sam’s website: www.samrichter.com.