The Upfront Contract

Why is cold calling is do damn hard?

I’ll tell you why.

Cold calling is so damn hard because your prospect hasn’t agreed to talk to you.

That’s why.

In fact, when your prospect picks up the phone, she hasn’t agreed to anything. She hasn’t agreed to be polite. She hasn’t agreed to listen. She hasn’t agreed to a freaking thing.

How much easier would your cold calls be, do you think, if at the start of every call, you began with the following rule in mind?

If you can compel your prospect to agree to something, no matter how small,
larger commitments will be more likely to follow.

Psychologists call this rule the “foot in the door” principle1.

You might feel like the whole purpose of your call is to elicit one big commitment: to convince your prospect to schedule a sales conversation with you. However, when you break down your call strategy, you’re really seeking a series of smaller commitments, aren’t you? The small commitments you ask of your prospect might include:

  • Allowing you to proceed with your cold call in the first place.
  • Honestly disclosing her business challenges and interests to you.
  • Agreeing that your product might align with her challenges and interests.
  • Opening her calendar.
  • Reserving time to speak with you further.

With this in mind, at the outset of your calls, seek overlap between these two categories of commitment:

  • What you would like your prospect to agree to, and
  • What your prospect will actually agree to.

This overlap forms your “upfront contract”—the set of rules you and your prospect establish for the remainder of your call.contract-1229858_960_720.png

And how do you establish an upfront contract? Baby steps.

For example, to begin your upfront contract, show respect for your prospect’s time by explicitly requesting it at the start of your call. Some cold calling experts also like to acknowledge that the salesperson’s call is unexpected. Some methods of requesting time include:

  • “Do you have a minute?”
  • “I know I’m catching you out of the blue here. Do you have a minute?”
  • “I know I’m an interruption. Do you have 30 seconds for me to tell you why I’m calling?”

If your prospect gives you the green light to proceed, ask your second upfront contract question (more on that in a sec).

If your prospect gives you a “No, I’m busy,” then try to engage your prospect by briefly stating the purpose of your call – which is to see if your prospect is involved in solving pain X – and ask when would be better for you to call back. If your prospect replies, “Some time next week,” don’t accept that response. Nail down a specific time to call your prospect, and tell your prospect that you’ll send a calendar invitation for 5-10 minutes on the phone so she can expect your call. When you call at the scheduled time, you’ll find that your prospect will pick up the phone about 50% of the time, and because you previously demonstrated respect for her time, you’ll start the call with a new level of mutual respect that will make genuine business conversation easy.

If your prospect gives you neither the green light to proceed nor a busy response (maybe you got, “It depends on why you’re calling.”), assume a green light. “It depends” means that your prospect is giving you the opportunity to earn her time. Respect that opportunity by proceeding swiftly with your conversation.

Never ask your prospect for time twice. Repeating a request for time undermines your confidence, wastes both of your time, and all but encourages your prospect to end the call.

When you ask for time, your goal is to show respect, not to grovel.

Now, onto your second upfront contact question. Relevance. Ask your prospect to confirm for you that the basic pains you solve apply to her. For example, you might say, “I saw your title online, and I figured that you might be responsible for training the new sales reps on your team. Is that right?”

There’s a side-benefit to this approach: your relevance question implies the purpose of your call, so in the previous example, when the prospect confirms that she’s responsible for training new reps, so also subtly agrees to proceed with a conversation in which training new reps is the topic.

Do you think that these two upfront contract questions – asking for time and establishing relevance – might help you keep your prospects on the phone and engage them in meaningful business conversation? If you hit the right balance between a) what you want your prospect to commit to, and b) what your prospect will actually commit to, you might be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Yours on the grind,












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