How not to win business: a guide for professionals
The ninth in our tongue-in-cheek series is "Freeze at the thought of cold calling"
Once upon a time, Glasgow partners in a big four accounting firm were put through a course on cold calling. First, they were lectured on how to do it and then, to their horror, each was put in a booth, given 10 names and told: “Make those calls!”
One quivering beancounter dialled his first target:
“Hello, may I speak to Mr X please?”
“I am so sorry, Mr X died two days ago.”
“Oh! Thank God!”
One sympathises. Cold calling is daunting. It is, though, an indispensable tool in the rainmaker’s box. Like all tools, it needs careful handling. Approaches must be within the rules (to the extent there still are any). There must be a clear, compelling proposition – what makes your offer different and better? There will be only one chance to impress, so the message and the means of conveying it must be spot on.
The following tips have worked for me.
- Telephone calls are notoriously hit and miss. The chances are you will not get through. Requests for a call back will be ignored. If you do get through, it is unlikely to be a convenient time. Even if your target is musing when you call that nothing would be more life enhancing than an unsolicited offer of legal services from a complete stranger, it can be extraordinarily difficult to establish rapport. Intensive training helps, but are you willing to undertake it? Most are not.
- Approach by email is easier (particularly through LinkedIn), but it often feels intrusive. It can work well if triggered, for example, by important market news, changes in the law, or press coverage of the target, which provide an angle and show you are on the ball.
- In an email-dominated world, a well-crafted letter will stand out and impress. Whether you choose screen or paper, “well-crafted” means:
- Plain English.
- Brevity: a letter should never be more than one page; an email no more than a few short paragraphs.
- An opening that acknowledges you have arrived unannounced. For example, “I have not had the pleasure of meeting you before, and hope you will forgive me for contacting you out of the blue.”
- A concise second paragraph that says who you are and the reputation of your firm.
- An equally concise third paragraph that is clear and persuasive about why the target should meet you. If you act for well-respected peers and are allowed to say so, then do.
- A signoff saying that if you may, you will phone shortly to arrange a meeting.
Tone is vital. Exude commerciality and confidence, without arrogance. I would often sign off: “Feel free to give me a two-word response, but if you kindly give me an hour of your time I am confident you will think it well spent.” People don’t expect solicitors to talk this way. They appreciate the humour, and an acknowledgment that they are more important than me.
Intelligent cold calling works and is entirely compatible with professionalism. Why else do the big four and many others do it? The most valuable contract my firm ever won, worth millions, started with a speculative letter.
So don’t shiver at the thought of cold calling. Be bold. If you “feel the fear and do it anyway”, your reward over time will be the warm glow of success.
Stephen Gold was the founder and senior partner of Golds Solicitors, which grew from a sole practice to UK leader in its sectors. He is now a consultant, non-exec and adviser to firms nationwide.
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