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Up until 2012, the primary way we acquired new clients was by calling them out of the blue. It was treacherous, grueling, and stressful…but in the end, rewarding.
I started this company in 2010. Prior to Elite Strategies I had a few different jobs and earned money online through affiliate marketing. I also owned a glass company but I’ll save that story for another day. I had never done sales and certainty had never done it over the phone.
Luckily my bestest friend in the world runs a mega-phone room, and gave me some great tips on how to get started.
Disclaimer -There are different regulations depending on where you live, don’t take any of this as advice as a matter of fact lets just call all of this a fictional account.
Disclaimer #2 – This is my personal experience and I am not qualified to teach sales, take all of this with a grain of salt or two.
Day 1, Week 1
I had 8 employees or “contractors” hired to come in and make cold calls that showed up the first day.
The very first person to make the very first call closed a deal. A martial arts studio in Palm Beach wanted to try out Adwords so we took him on for $400 down and $100 a month. It was listed as “A1 Martial Arts” in the phone book. I still have the voided check hanging in our office.
Our first check, from our first call ever dialed, first employee, first day.
By noon 6 out of the 8 people had quit. One of them fell asleep but the other one was hungry for more, and was dialing away.
Our last employee ended up staying for a few weeks, but had also eventually quit.
I was really worried and knew something had to change, no one wanted to work for me because no one believed in what we did.
I tried paying a base salary but ended up losing thousands because people weren’t really making calls, or just wanted to collect a paycheck.
Something had to change.
The biggest problem was no one believed in what we did, so people ended up quitting or just not showing up.
One day a friend of mine (who is now our MVP VP) came into my office and said the place he was working for was about to get shut down, and needed a job.
He was already aware of what we were doing and decided to give it a shot.
Within his first 2 weeks he had brought in several clients, which ended up staying with us for over 2 years.
You Suck, Seriously
The name of this game is constant rejection. Let’s do some math:
You make 150 calls per day.
Out of 150 calls maybe 20 actual people will talk to you.
10 of those people are not interested at all.
5 of those people are not qualified.
The 5 that are left might be interested (on a good day)
And on a really good day you might close a deal.
That said, you need to remember that there is going to be a lot of rejection. Constant rejection.
People are going to tell you to go f-yourself all day long, and to never call them again.
You are the lowest of the low, you are below an email spammer. You are a “telemarketer” and everyone hates you.
If you are ok with this and can deal with constant rejection, you can proceed to the rest of this post.
The pitch, otherwise known as a script is a key element in the sales process. In our situation, it was more of an outline than an actual script you read.
Over time we modified the pitch to fit the responses we were getting and managed to create a very doable pitch. Even today we use parts of the pitch when speaking with clients.
(Note: I would have included our old pitch for download but it is so old, and irrelevant it is embarrassing)
Sample SEO Cold Calling Script
This is an actual example of an SEO cold calling script that we used for over a year. Over time we modified this script for different areas, demographics, and industries to help improve our close ratio.
A good pitch only works well if you are a good salesperson. You also have to be at least somewhat educated about SEO, although some of the best SEO sales people I’ve encountered are the least savvy.
This is also a very key piece of media in your arsenal.
A sample entry in your rebuttal sheet would look like this:
Objection: “No one searches for me on Google”
Rebuttal: I’m looking at 4 sample keywords in your industry and area and can tell you that from these keyword searches alone that over 750 people are looking for you right now. Every minute you wait, you are missing out on new opportunities to gain new customers.
Over time, you identify more objections and come up with great rebuttals. Keep a Word document open and ask your workers to help you make your list better.
Otherwise known as a secretary, office administrator, or assistant. This is the person who stands between you and a deal.
This is the person who is trained to never, ever, ever under any circumstances patch a call through from someone like YOU.
This person gets dozens of calls every week from solicitors, many of them are selling SEO services as well.
“There is no product. There is only sex. Everything is sex. Do you understand that what I’m telling you is a universal truth?”
-Robert California, The Office
Although hilarious, this quote is so true. The sex part is a little sleazy so think about it this way:
Forget about SEO or whatever you are selling. If you want to sell someone you must find a way to their heart. The salesman that came to my office and closed a deal on his first day on the first call and knew nothing about our product was able to do this because he knew how to sell HIMSELF.
Learn about personality types. If they are an alpha-male don’t tell them what to do. Let them tell you that they need SEO and let them teach out all about it. If they are a more passive individual they will need guidance and to be told what to do.
If you want to get passed the gatekeeper you need to find a way into his or her heart. Connect with them as an individual. Ask them questions like “What do you think about Facebook?” and other general, open ended questions. Talk about something that is going on in their community. A lot of the times you will get shut down no matter what, but other times you will get the chance to let them know that you are trying to help them, and hopefully get in with their boss.
Small business owners normally answer their own phones, so if you get a hold of the business owner right away you are most likely dealing with a smaller contract (not always.)
Always lead the conversation towards the close.
More or less, there is none. Cold calling a business over the phone is totally legit, but if your operation is more than just a few people you want to get yourself an exemption with the Department of Agriculture, at least in Florida anyway.
It helps if you get BBB accreditation and link up with your local Chamber of commerce.
We did not use lead sheets or yellow pages. We used pages 2-5 of the SERP results. Those are the companies that most likely needed SEO the most and it played very well into the pitch. Our pitch played into the fact that they wanted to be on the first page of Google.
You can buy leads, scrape the YP, purchase lists, and so many other things.
Maybe we should have put more emphasis into this but really we just looked for people to call in the categories we wanted to after.
Categories and Niche Targetting
In the beginning, there were niches we stayed away from for a number of reasons.
We stayed away from lawyers because they had a history of bullying us out of our contracts.
We stayed away from high competition categories such as lock smiths and bail bondsmen because we found that they received so many calls from SEOs, we didn’t want to play in that arena.
We also stayed away from huge metropolitan areas due to the amount of competition.
For the most part, we stuck to medium sized cities and service industries.
In our office was a huge stack of what we called “lead sheets.” Forget a CRM, we were all paper for the first year.
In order to qualify someone as a potential buyer, you would need to collect information from the lead. This would normally be:
First / Last Name,
Level of Interest
There are also questions you can ask to qualify an individual such as: “If I told you we could drive more customers to your website, is this something you might be interested in?”
If they answer yes, they are most likely qualified as an individual.
You want to collect all of this information so at the very end of the sale all you need to do is get their credit card information. You don’t want to be fumbling around trying to get their billing address at the close of a sale. Once you are able to get someone to agree, you don’t want to give them time to go back.
Our first boiler room, I mean office. Humble beginnings. Coffee, desks, and a whiteboard.
Talking to people that do not want to talk to you all day takes its toll on you. The phone sales industry has one of the highest turnover rates in the country. At one point we had a core group of people, but the rest of our desks were nothing but a revolving door of people just looking for a quick sale and a fast paycheck.
A spiff is a “small or immediate bonus for a sale.” An example of a spiff would be “$100 to the person who generates the most qualified hot lead sheets today.”
A spiff is more of a quick-win that you can get day to day.
Contests are different than spiffs in the fact that they run over a longer length of time.
When we had a full room we would also run different contests very similar to spiffs such as winning a new computer or a TV.
All employees need positive reinforcement, but cold callers need more of that than other types of employees.
Providing coffee, pizza, catered lunches always helps as well.
Cracking the Whip
It is very important to implement quality control, even if it is just a small operation to give yourself something to shoot for.
Would we fire someone if they consistently made less calls but still closed deals? Of course not. In this industry, you take what you can get.
Everyone must sign a contract, everyone. No contract, no paycheck. It is as simple as that.
From a business perspective your company is worth nothing without a roster of signed contracts. You definitely want to get your hands on an air-tight contract that will protect your company.
The contract also makes it clear that you mean business. Its easy to get someone to give you a credit card and take a payment, but 6 months down the road you want to be sure that you still have them on board.
Talk to your lawyer for more information.
Follow Up Call
The follow up call is to seal the deal. This is when you answer any questions and talk about the details.
This is also when you prep them to get access to their hosting information and vet them to see if they qualify for add on services.
Our #1 drain on customer service was dealing with hosting credentials. Most small business owners do not have this handy and you will have to walk them through getting it or do it for them. You also might have to deal with their cousin Joey who designed the website and who is hosting it, so be prepared for that.
The Truth & A Way Out
None of this matters unless you do good work and work your ass of for your clients. If you don’t fulfill your promises you will have cancellations, charge backs, negative reviews and will eventually get shut down or sued by someone.
Cold-calling is only scummy if you don’t do a good job.
The ONLY reason we have been able to shut down our outbound call center is because we now have a steady stream of referrals from all the great work we’ve done over the years.
Right now, we literally can’t keep up with the amount of incoming inquiries we have. When business owners find out that you are making their phone ring and creating buzz about their business, they are going to tell their friends about you.
Hello I'm Patrick Coombe and I'm the CEO and Founder of Elite Strategies, an agency I started in 2009. One of the main reasons I love blogging about SEO is the research it takes to come up with the posts. It allows me to not only write about what I love, but to learn more about the industry in the process. I hope you enjoyed this post, if you did consider sharing it or even better linking to it!
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