Cold Calling in the Creative Industry

(originally published in Screen Magazine 5/30/12)

There’s a rumor going around that making direct phone calls to potential clients is an old school approach to sales.  I’m here to tell you that the rumor is true, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I’m of the opinion that clients want to work with people they like.  And what better way to introduce yourself, (and the company you work for) than over the phone?

When I’m putting together a marketing strategy, I always include phone sales.  Of course, email marketing strategies are included as well, but I don’t put all my eggs in that one electronic basket, nor should you.  It’s very hard to embody your company’s personality inside the body of an email, although many young reps are trying that approach.

I once asked an employee to call and introduce herself to a client.  A few hours later, I followed up to see how the call went, but her response was, “They didn’t reply to the email yet.”

Turns out she felt more comfortable introducing herself through an email, maybe in part because rejection is a part of sales, and being rejected with no response to an email, is well, less personal. But then again, so is the email she sent in the first place.

After all, being “personal” is a huge part of what makes a  sales person successful. Being in sales, maybe more than anything else in business is often driven by relationships. And relationships are personal.

So, I thought I would offer some unsolicited advice to anyone feeling a bit apprehensive about making cold calls.

Jim Olen’s Top Ten Tips for Cold Calling

10.  Listen to music.
I hate silence.  I use music as a source of energy, and to remind myself to have fun and enjoy the call.  Sometimes I listen to my “Really Stupid” I-Tunes playlist that features Air Supply, Monty Python, Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond, and an assortment of one-hit wonders from the eighties.

9. Don’t sell. Build trust.
This is sometimes a hard thing for business owners to hear, because it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking success will come with that next job. I always preferred a steady diet of work verses a “one and done” sales scenario.  Maybe your company isn’t quite right for what the client needs at this moment, but remind them that you will be here when they need you. Take time to nurture the relationship and make it about the privilege of working with them rather than merely focusing on a particular project you are bidding.

8.  They need what you’ve got.
Remember, the people you’re calling will need the services you offer at some point.  You’re not cold calling some homeowner offering a deal on long distance services. If you represent a director, make the call knowing that the person on the other end of the line has influence hiring directors even if they don’t need one today.  It’s not like you’re trying to sell music to a package design firm, right?  If you are, it’s time to update your contact database.

7. Go ahead, leave a message.
It’s not the worst thing in the world to leave a message.  Make it quick and confident.  Be personable and professional and let them know how you want to proceed. Will you be calling them back tomorrow, following up with an email, or are you requesting that they return your call when it’s convenient? Be clear that you would actually like to have a conversation with them, so it doesn’t just feel like an obligatory call you can check off your list.

6.  The Soft Sell
The person on the other end of the phone is not going to give you a credit card number at the end of the conversation, so there is no reason to pressure them. Like I said earlier, a cold call should be a simple reminder of your company’s talents & resources. Let them know where to find you when the need arises.

5. The first date
In past columns, I’ve suggested looking at the sales position as if you were on a first date.  Be approachable, pleasant, and charming.  Represent the best you and your company.  Don’t try to accelerate the relationship.  You’re not going to get engaged after the first date, and most likely, you won’t get awarded a project after the first phone call. Let the client/vendor relationship take its course.

4. Change it up.
To keep up your energy and enthusiasm, change it up. Call an Art Director in Chicago and then a Copywriter in Kansas City.  Follow it up with a call to a potential client in New York.

3. Be confident.
Confidence is the key to engaging someone over the phone.  The services you’re offering are needed.  The people you represent are talented.  Pretend you’ve done this cold calling thing for years, and you are not intimidated.  It’s kind of like buying a case of beer when you’re underage.  You have to walk into the liquor store like you own the place, like you’ve done this a million times.  The clerk won’t sell you that case of Pabst Blue Ribbon if you look like this is your first time.  The client won’t have a conversation if you don’t sound confident.

2. Timing is everything.
Yes, there will most certainly be times when potential clients aren’t looking to have a conversation.  You might have interrupted their workflow. Be respectful – their time is valuable.

1. Tell the truth. Don’t over-sell.
The content of the cold call is the most important.  With an understanding of all that is listed above, don’t forget to mention your true intentions such as “I believe we offer a creative alternative” or “Our goal is to exceed your expectations.”

Well that’s it. Good luck. By the way, one note to the people on the receiving end of the cold call: Understand that we value your time. All we’re asking for is one minute. Literally 60 seconds to make you aware of what we can offer. Those 60 seconds can result in a mutually beneficial relationship for many years to come.

Passion, Sales, and First Dates

building sales

Recently I was asked  what was the best way to inspire someone to be a great salesperson, or was it possible to teach someone to have an entrepreneurial spirit.  I responded… “Do they have passion?”

The most important attribute a sales person needs in the creative industry is passion. Although I’ve held many different jobs in the industry throughout my career, the one constant ingredient has been passion. If you don’t have passion, you can’t build trust with potential clients; and trust is at the foundation of all sales.

In this industry, our collective clients work many hours developing, revising, updating, and re-revising a creative concept for the brand.  After finally getting approval for it to be produced, they simply don’t want to hand it off to a vendor they don’t trust.

I represented editors, but didn’t edit myself. I sold the services of graphic artists, but haven’t ever played with Cinema 4D or After Effects preferences. Over the 14 years of owning an original music company, I never learned to play the guitar. That is not to say I didn’t know a great deal about each of these creative fields, because I do. I just believe that with uncompromising passion, some confidence, and great appreciation for the craft, you can represent any creative endeavor. I used to tell my young sales rep that we have great composers, wonderful musicians, and the latest and greatest technology, but so does our competition. So don’t worry about selling music, Your job is to simply build trust.

This same sales rep came to me later and said she was having difficulty grasping the “sales thing.”  She was nervous about making calls and chatting it up with clients at local events.  She didn’t want to come off as a stereotypical used car salesman.  I tried explaining the whole “trust thing” again, but I didn’t think it was sinking in.

We decided to pick up the conversation in the morning.  As I was leaving, I overheard her and another employee telling stories of their recent first dates. I interrupted the conversation because I thought a first date analogy might make more sense with this individual.

I explained that being a sales person is much like being on a first date.  You want to present the best you on your first date. You want to be smart, approachable, and funny.  You need to look good, be confident, and entertaining.  You’re not being disingenuous; you’re simply presenting the best you.

So, I told her from 9-5, work as if you’re on a first date, but instead of representing the best you, you’re representing the best us. Be witty, be confident, be creative, be fun, be charming. Know when to talk and convince them of your strengths, and know when to shut up because you’ve convinced them already. Build a relationship with the client. No one expects to get married after the first date, and you shouldn’t expect to receive a huge check or contract after your first sales meeting. That’s how you build sales.  Do your job well and exceed the client’s expectations, that’s how you build trust.  Make a difference in all of the above, and that’s how you build an entrepreneur.