How to Make an Appointment – Part 2 of 2

True story:

So, after I place a few telephone calls to a prospect, I actually got to the right person and said the following:

“Could you please transfer me to voice mail, I don’t know what to say!”

Prospect response: “(laughter) I get it, I can’t reach anyone either!”

Does it get more fun than that?  And that story became legendary.

Our mission with this newsletter is to offer a few worthy generalizations about contact via telephone calling, voice mail, Gate Keepers, Direct Conversations and Social Media.

So, we’ve figured out that the best, highest-reward approach is to stick with these few concepts: 

  • figure out the number of contacts you have to make in order to hit your appointment requirement,
  • make the contact,
  • don’t spend energy trying to figure out when or how many times to contact,
  • remember that the only purpose of the contact is to get an appointment,
  • always maintain a professional demeanor.

Please note that we are making no distinction between calling and contacting – your pick, but make those contacts.  We’ve expanded on these concepts in Part 1 of our newsletter.

We’re now going to be taking a look at “on the ground” settings through which we encounter prospects on the telephone.  Calling for appointments is where the sales process most often breaks down.  How often?  About one-hundred percent of the time.

Worthy generalizations:

  • Purpose – The call is for one purpose and one purpose only – to get a meeting.  One point to make here, we’ve become more liberal in what we consider a meeting.  It used to be; face-to-face only; now we’re OK with a scheduled telephone call, using Skype or web video technology, etc.
  • You’re not on the phone to sell, or to make a friend.  Everything:  what you say, how you say it, whether it’s a voice-mail message, a message left with an assistant or a direct conversation with your prospect – it’s all about getting a meeting.  Singleness of purpose, single pointed focus is our mantra.
  • Professionalism – Again, whether it’s voice-mail or direct conversation.  Your tone and content must be crisp and professional.  You are valuable and your prospect is valuable.  The links between you must always be equal to the important cargo they carry.


We noted in Part 1 that eighty-six percent of your calls are going to be picked up by voice-mail and it takes one minute and fifty-one seconds to leave a voice mail.  Those are the contemporary facts.  So, you better be good at it.

The overriding principle is that voice-mail is here to stay and is simply a fixture of the territory we’re navigating on our way to goal-fulfillment.  Every interface with a prospect is important and bears our imprint.

Some recommendations:

Always leave a voice-mail.  Get out of the “to leave or not to leave” debate.  Leave one.

  • Begin your message with solid, confidently-delivered items, things you actually know:  like your name, your company, the date and time of this call.  Very briefly state the purpose of your call.  Perhaps you’ve researched and identified a niche or new product that the prospect’s developing.  Say that, and state that your firm’s a leader in providing relevant services to firm’s with similar backgrounds.  You’d like to find an open spot on her calendar to share your experience and insights, and determine if they bear beneficially on her circumstances.
  • Leave your phone number.  Twice.  Spoken slowly.  Professionally.  No jokes.
  1. – If the overwhelming percentage of calls are going to end up on voice-mail, then isn’t this process – day-in, day-out – a mind-numbing, useless waste of time?

A – No.  But we forgot to mention that nobody’s going to call you back.  Ever.  And if someone does call you back, it’s a warning that they’re probably desperate for someone to pull them out of some sort of fire.

Another true story:

So, I place a telephone call to a prospect and leave a voice mail.

The prospect returned my call (are those alarms I hear?) and asks this question:

“Do you have liberal payment terms at your agency?  Our current agent is really pushing us to pay on time.”

My response:  “We don’t have liberal payment terms but another competitor of ours might be able to help you, here’s their number…”  (Alarms cease).

But I digress, how about answering the question?

One of the great salvations and sustaining magic principles for all of us is that THINGS CHANGE.  I remember making forty-four calls to a prospect and having a colleague say, “Why are you doing that?  It looks like a waste of time.”  But I knew two things:

1) it was actually very little time, less than an hour and twenty minutes over an eighteen month time frame, (the 1:51 rule)

2) it doesn’t benefit me or the prospect to unilaterally decide that it’s time to stop,

3) things change.

Sure enough, I called one day and the guy was gone.  I had an appointment with his replacement after two more calls.

On average, things are going to open up for you.  That’s how it works.  I don’t know why it works, that’s not my department.  I just know that it works.  I know that I get almost all of my business from referrals and I started out doing just what I’m outlining here.  One day the prospect’s going to pick up.  The point is, every call is an important call, you and your prospect deserve professionalism, voice-mail or not.  Every message you leave, answered or not, is an opportunity to reinforce your image.  The people on the other end know what you’re up against; they’ve all experienced voice-mail stonewalling.  A percentage of them will eventually want to see you just to make sure that the dogged voice really belongs to a body.  Besides, don’t you think that they want their sales people to act just like you?  Of course.

Gate Keeper

Sometimes your call will be answered by the assistant of your targeted prospect.  This position is a vanishing breed.  Perhaps they’re not really vanishing, they just don’t answer a boss’s phone as often as they used to or type letters for others.  They might be administrative assistants for a group of people.  The Gate Keeper is a wily but potentially very helpful person.  The Gate Keeper is used to the fact that every salesperson thinks that they can cajole him or her into setting up a meeting.  They’re aces at yessing people to death while keeping the door firmly shut and forget about patronizing smoothies.

Gate Keepers are to be dealt with at the same level of professionalism that applies to direct conversation with the targeted prospect.  We’ll talk about phone dialog when we get to Direct Conversation.  Our purpose is to get a meeting with the prospect.

You should identify yourself and your firm to the Gate Keeper and briefly state the purpose of your call (to set up an appointment with the prospect).  No selling.  Make sure you get the assistant’s name, title, direct line, and, if possible, e-mail address.  Then listen.  You’re not the first salesperson heard from and you’re not going to convert a Gate Keeper into lobbying on your behalf with the first call.  Listen to what is said, get any clarifications you need and get off the phone.  It takes time to develop a relationship with a Gate Keeper.  They have important responsibilities and will have to be convinced that you bring something valuable to the table before they’ll recommend that the prospect should meet you.  By listening you might learn about the firm and the prospect’s concerns as they apply to your services.  Take your time.  The Gate Keeper might be able to help you and can certainly crush you.

It can also be useful, once you’ve left a few voice-mails with the prospect, to determine if the prospect does, in fact, work in conjunction with a proactive assistant.  You must tread carefully along the path of “assistant relations”.  Developing a relationship with a Gate Keeper can lead to very useful information about “goings on” within the targeted company, and perhaps can open the door to an appointment with the targeted prospect.  We advise, however, that it’s possible to get “side-tracked” by a Gate Keeper and shuttled off to the freight yard of “derelict solicitors”.  Keep all of your options open.  Don’t invest one-hundred percent in the idea that the Gate Keeper is going to perform magic for you and open the door to success.  There’s great seductive power in having a warm voice to speak with instead of a cold machine.

Make no assumptions.  Get out of the crystal-ball game.  You have now way of interpreting the relationship between the Gate Keeper and the prospect until you learn it from your target.  Until such time, keep leaving your regularly scheduled voice-mails with the prospect while maintaining your relationship with the Gate Keeper.  And stay detached.  Beyond an appropriately friendly professional demeanor, don’t hang any greater emotional expectation on a Gate Keeper than you would on a voice-mail machine.  After their firm becomes a paying client, you can take them both out to dinner.

Direct Conversation

The purpose of a one-on-one conversation with a prospect is to get an appointment.  No matter what direction the conversation takes, it’s your job to bring it back to a scheduled meeting.  The “fill” for every gap in a conversation is, “How’s next Thursday?  Does, ten o’clock work for you?”  There’s no exaggerating this point.

You’re not on the phone to make small talk (heaven forbid!).  You are a professional with goal-oriented responsibilities, and you’re talking with a professional with her own set of responsibilities.  Don’t ask them how they’re doin’.  You’re not there yet.  You’re a voice that may or may not be carrying useful information.  Starting off with a probe into the prospect’s physical or psychological well-being is a flat-footed momentum-killer.  And it lumps you together with all of the other anxious aspirants.  Get to the point in a deliberate, professional manner:

  • your name (don’t remind her that you’ve left eight voice mails, it doesn’t matter now),
  • your firm’s name,
  • the purpose of your call (you’ve learned something about the prospect’s business and you’re an expert in providing applicable solutions or products in relevant situations),
  • you want to see if she is available this coming Thursday at ten a.m.  (Always have a specific date and time available.)

The End, that’s it.

Two things might happen:

  • the prospect will say Thursday doesn’t work. In which case you say to yourself, “Tough luck, I really am a loser!” (Just kidding.)  In which case you find a mutually convenient time,
  • the prospect raises either a condition or an objection.

Ah, there’s an idea for a future newsletter – How to Handle Conditions and Objections.  More to follow on that.

Confirm appointments a few days ahead of time.  Many salespeople are reluctant to “rock the boat” and are fearful or superstitious about giving the prospect an opportunity to cancel a meeting.  This is no longer tolerable as behavior befitting our value:

  • we’re not supplicants who are lucky to be granted an audience. We’re bearers of valuable goods and services in a meeting of peers,
  • our time is too valuable to risk on a trip to a missed appointment, better to reschedule. This is a mistake that I’ve made and it’s one that you never have to make.

Social Media

There are loads of articles on the use of Social Media as a prospecting and sales tool.  .  So, here are the links to a couple of articles in our favorite sales magazine – Selling Power – way better than anything we could come up with:

Always Be Prospecting (a LinkedIn Success Story)

How Sales Leaders Can Profit from Social Media

An Afterword – we think this bears repeating. 

What looks like a daunting undertaking quickly morphs into another energizing feedback loop.  As appointments get booked (and they will), we gain confidence in setting other appointments.  New contacts become referral sources.  The energy we apply to getting these meetings comes back to us in the form of unforeseen opportunities.  Things change.

Most of your prospects appreciate what it’s like to be in your shoes.  As you maintain your professionalism, and stick (impersonally) to the game plan, you’re going to win some of them over.  It just happens.  Getting appointments for sales opportunities can be usefully thought of in terms of getting interviews for a job.  The process deserves the same amount of care and preparation as landing an opportunity to advance your career.  Each call is an opportunity to contribute to the fulfillment of your goals.

Oh yeah!  A sense of humor is helpful.

World Headquarters:

Redmond Group, Inc., 1450 Garden Street, Suite S 701, Hoboken, NJ 07030