Throwing a Punch to Break Through Sales Walls

By Tom Wood, vice president, sales, E-S Plastic Products

To be successful in sales, sales team members need to be able to take a punch… but sometimes, they need to throw one!

A few years ago, a high-profile target customer toured an injection molding plant. A supplier survey and a full-plant audit followed, with the result that the company became an approved vendor. Then, personnel changed, and the target customer champion moved on. The molder spent more than a year trying to gain traction with nearly a half-dozen interim buyers until, finally, “Jim” became the dedicated contact. In the next 10 months, the molder received one quote/EAU of only 400 parts, with feedback that the pricing was “high.” Clearly, progress was stalled with this potential account, but the molder remained persistent.

Then, the firm learned a major development was in process. The target customer was moving all of its tools from a competitor, resulting in a significant opportunity… if only the molder could break through the wall of silence from the contact. Three weeks of voice messages and emails to Jim were ignored, without the courtesy of an acknowledgement. It was complete radio silence. Sound familiar?

It was time for the molder to throw a punch.

On a Friday morning, at 7:15 a.m., the following email was sent to the target customer contact:

Dear Jim,

We have tried to connect with you regarding the tooling transfer package.

We are an approved vendor, so I am confused as to why we can’t review the situation with you. I was going to keep my connection with Mr. X (company CEO) out of this, but that is where I am going to go to next.

Please contact me.

The phone rang 22 minutes later, with caller ID showing that Jim was on the line. It went unanswered to voice mail.

Two minutes after that, an email arrived. It read, “My apologies for not getting back to you. When can we talk?” The molder responded with a Microsoft Outlook appointment request for a half-hour teleconference on the following Monday afternoon to debrief.

Later that day, another phone call was received from Jim, with a voice mail asking if the molder had time to talk now. The call was returned.

The first few minutes were awkward, starting with an apology from the molder for the aggressive email, without mentioning the CEO. Jim explained that six other companies were hounding him to discuss the opportunity, so he was not returning any requests to talk or meet. The balance of the phone call was filled by discussing the target company’s strategic sourcing plan, the molder’s company history of getting certified and their mutual interest in doing business. A commitment to stay in touch was made, and a relationship of mutual respect was established. In the end, the business ended up transitioning to an existing, established vendor… but the molder now had an opening so the company would be in position for the next opportunity.

At this point, readers of this article might be wondering how the injection molding firm knew Mr. X, the target company’s CEO, and why he was not engaged or approached directly. The answer? Mr. X was a third-degree connection on LinkedIn.

The molder had no intention of contacting him. However, conventional communication tactics were going nowhere. Getting the courtesy of a response from the target customer required a bold move.

Four Strategies to Reach Unresponsive Sales Prospects
What are some other strategies to reach unresponsive potential customers?
1. Draft a short email with the “ask.” Send it at an odd hour – early morning, later at night or over the weekend. If there is no response, wait at least a week or two and then resend it with no additional message. Typically, around the third time the same email is sent, some form of response will be received.

2. Network to find someone who knows the target contact. Suggestions could include material suppliers or other colleagues within the organization – anyone whose name could be referenced or who could help make the connection. Mentioning the name of a mutual connection or receiving a personal reference can create an opening dialog.

3. Leave a voice mail, if other methods aren’t working. The voice mail shouldn’t be wordy. Instead, it’s the salesperson’s best elevator pitch, using positive action words. Follow up with a short email with a tag line at the end that says, “Please hit REPLY with a brief response.”

4. In sales, everyone has his or her own unique style. Be creative and try something that fits each individual’s personality. The molding company in this story had a style that tended to be direct and more aggressive, but I once knew a fellow sales rep who found success in sending a package to a prospect with baby shoes inside and a note that said, “Every relationship starts with baby steps. Please take my call.” This was corny to me, but it worked well for him.

Customer relationships start out unidimensional, with the salesperson doing all of the pursuing and the heavy lifting. The individual the salesperson is dealing with sees no value in connecting with yet another supplier company… YET.

The challenge is to create a value proposition message. Create a sense of urgency and create value in the eyes of the prospect to motivate action. Many times, the one-sidedness is awkward, and a salesperson can feel like he is getting punched in the gut. Sometimes, a salesperson needs to punch back. n

Reprinted with permission from Inside Rubber