Whether you are in sales, business development, or economic development, your core goal is to connect and build relationships with the ultimate decision-maker for your service or product. In the high-stakes world of economic development, that is usually someone in the “C-suite.” Connecting with these upper-level corporate executives in a meaningful way can be a daunting task, but there is one tried-and-true method that still works (believe it or not): the cold call.
How do I know it works?
Camoin 310 has used this tactic to produce leads for our economic development clients for over 20 years. During that time, we have initiated thousands of meetings and arranged conference calls for our clients with interested decision-makers around the world.
Even though it is a labor-intensive way to market, it does provide you with that most valuable category of lead: A personal contact with someone who tells you specifically they are interested in what you have to offer.
Most economic developers wear many hats and have neither the time nor inclination to spend the many hours necessary to cold-call prospects at scale. However, it can be a useful skill to keep in your “bag of tools” for use in the right situation. What is the right situation? It depends on your goal.
Here are several instances where a cold call to an executive could bring valuable results.
- You notice a senior executive from an industry you target speaking at an event you are attending.
- You read an article quoting a senior executive from a company where they explicitly state their company is growing rapidly.
- You read about a company in an industry you target, and they seem like a “dream company”-the type of company that if you could have any company you wanted in your area, it would be this company.
So you have a targeted individual, now you need a plan. But first, ask yourself these questions:
- Are you interested in this company in the long term? (Networking/Relationship Building)
- Or only if they have a potential project in the next 3-4 years? (Active Project)
- What specific attractive assets do you have to offer companies in this industry?
Step 1: Be prepared with a goal and a purpose in your call
Remember to: (1) Write it down, (2) Keep it short and directed, and (3) Practice it.
Step 2: Do as much research as you can to help you prepare for the call
What are the challenges in the industry? What has led this company to where they are in the market? What information is readily available about the executive in question?
Using these first two steps, we can build a tight script to make your call short and directed. Remember: Goal and Purpose, Assets, Research
Step 3: Launch the Call
Here is the part that causes many people to NOT use cold-calling; picking up the phone and dialing the number. It is definitely an acquired taste, and a learned skill, but here are some tips.
Don't get sidelined at reception
Use confidence as your ally here. Confidently ask for the person by name without any pretext or explanation or modifiers (i.e. "Bob Jones, please.") In a decent percentage of calls, you will be transferred without much more hassle. They make ask for your name and company. If so, tell them "I'm not with a company. I am an economic developer for the ABC Region of the State of Wherever." Differentiate yourself from the ubiquitous laser cartridge or phone system salesperson.
Work with the Executive Assistant
You will likely have to deal with an Executive Assistant or Chief of Staff. Don't play games here. You are not getting through without their assistance. Tell them briefly what you are trying to do, and be politely insistent on how you can make the connection.
Example for a Project-Oriented Call
“Hi, good morning, Bob. My name is Jim Stevens. I am an economic developer here in the State of Virginia. We are specifically targeting companies in your industry because we have several prominent manufacturers in our region that have stated they need a better supply of your product. Is your company planning to do any expansion in the next few years?”
In this example, you will notice that we are extremely blunt. It is not lack of manners; it is respectful of someone’s time by not “beating around the bush.” Most companies have received direct calls from economic developers and know the purpose of these types of calls. But because you have stated your reason why you think their company would be a good fit, you have already started the call on a good footing. If the executive thinks there are some possibilities there, they will likely be forthcoming in their answer. If they are not a prospect, you will probably get a polite response that it is not part of their plans, and you have both not wasted much time.
Example for a Networking/Relationship-Oriented Call
“Hi, good morning, Bob. My name is Jim Stevens. I am an economic developer here in the State of Virginia. I noticed that you are speaking at the Manufacturer’s Consortium conference in May. We have a successful cluster of companies in your industry in our region, and I would be interested in hearing about your company and some of your insights on the industry, and also share any information on our region that might be useful to your company in future planning. Would you have some time to meet briefly at the conference for a cup of coffee?”
- Need to send an email? Do so.
- Ask to set up time for a 10-minute call to speak to them.
- Ask for a time when they are generally accepting calls.
- Ask if there is another executive that typically handles these types of conversations.
And lastly, FOLLOW UP
If you have not heard anything in 3 or 4 business days, call and speak directly with the Executive Assistant. If you don't follow up, your request may just die a lonely death. As long as you are not hounding them every other day, most Executive Assistants understand that you have a job to do as well. I usually make it a rule that if I have reached out and left a message/voicemail or spoke to an Executive Assistant three times and have received NO response, I am going to leave that contact alone for a bit (2 months, maybe).
Remember, there is no surer way to determine if a company is a prospect for you than to ask the person in charge.