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Growing Your Business with Marketing, Week 2: Prepping your cold calls

Posted by Colleen Wainwright on

This is Week Two of a 52-week project/experiment in DIY marketing. Armed with nothing but a copy of the 2009 Grow Your Business Marketing Plan + Calendar and my bare wits, I'm applying the skills you need to grow a business in real time, day by day, and reporting on them week by week. You can follow along here every Monday; check in with my companion blog, A Virgo's Guide to Marketing, for additional links and information.

This week: Prepping Scripts for the Dreaded Cold Calling

If there's one thing I loathe for certain, it's cold calling.

And that's not even true, because I have never, ever made a cold call in my life. Just the thought of it sends a chill down my spine.

When it comes right down to it, I'm not a huge fan of the phone, period. My preferred modalities of expression are in-person and written, circumstance depending. I'm guessing it has something to do with fear of rejection: people are less likely to cut you dead in person, and any kind of writing provides the asynchronous buffer of time. But the reason doesn't matter (much). Cold—or cool, or, if you're really lucky, lukewarm—calling is something you've got to do every now and then if you're going to move out of the sphere you're currently operating within.

Two things got me semi-comfortable with the concept of the not-comfy call. First, the very simple but hugely significant shift of renaming them "research" calls. And second, the notion that while the person on the other end might not be prepared for my call, I can be prepared as time, discipline and terror allow. (There's a third thing, too, which is that I know I'm not a pushy salesman type, but a usually thoughtful, always respectful and occasionally entertaining type, so maybe it isn't hell on the other end. Oh, and a fourth—that as bad as it gets, the worst will be over quickly.)

Research calling vs. cold calling (or "Having a hamburger")

The difference between calling to ask questions and calling to sell something is like the difference between doing a first date the right way—anticipation without expectations, mutual exploration, the potential of having Actual Fun—and the wrong way: or what The BF calls the First Interview, which is what he swears we went on in lieu of a first date. (Personally, I think if there's a kiss at the end of it, that's a helluva good interview, but whatever. I did pick kind of a grim venue, I guess.)

What a research call does is take the pressure off of everyone by keeping things low-key and focused in the present. You're not imaging the huge dollars or the long relationship you're going to have with this client; you're meeting her and exchanging a little info. Or (back to that first interview analogy), instead of projecting yourself into some kind of magical, married future with 1.8 kids, a dog and a white picket loft, you're sitting there, having a hamburger.

Ask questions, don't grill. Be there asking the questions, don't time travel.

Again, this is all theoretical thus far, as I have yet to actually make a cold—er…research call. On the other hand, there are a few things this Virgo knows about, and one of them is when you're doing something new, make like a Boy Scout and be prepared.

Prepping the call: Make like Olivier, not like Ryan Stiles

I've done theater and I've done improv and believe me, unless you are a fearless bundle of encyclopedic knowledge and boundless energy (see Ryan Stiles as Carol Channing), theater is better.

Which is to say, it's about 10 million times easier to work from a prepared script as it is to come up with one on the spot, at least where there is an audience concerned. And whether there's voicemail or a live human on the other end, that's an audience, and you should be concerned!

You can start crafting your script whichever way works best for you: some people like the bullet-point or index card method, where you write down each individual point you want to make as it occurs to you; some people like sitting down and banging out a wildly rambling first draft. If you must bow to the Virgo-perfectionist in you and write it out neatly from beginning to end, fine, but know that this takes a lot longer. And that you should still put it aside and come back to it later for a second (and third) pass.

As I described earlier, I have kind of a weird market I'm going after, since it's basically creative solopreneurs, with actors being a big subset of that. I have a few things in the works with some trade association-type things, so I decided to make my research calls about the actor market: I'll be approaching schools with acting programs about bringing my marketing workshop for actors to their graduating classes.

Here's the script I've come up with so far:

Hey, _______. This is Colleen Wainwright, and my number is 323-634-9930. _________ gave me your name. (Alt: I saw your name in _______/I found you via_________.)

I’m calling to find out who I might talk to about giving a workshop-type thing at ________. It covers real-world marketing and networking principles for actors, and I think it might be a great thing to offer your students to help them make the transition from academia.

If you could point me in the right direction, I’d be your fan for life. Thanks, ________, and again, my name is Colleen Wainwright and my number is 323-634-9930. Have an awesome day!

As you can see, the above was drafted for use in the case of voicemail picking up—which, frankly, I'm hoping it does. (Gotta be honest, and I really don't like the phone, so I'd just as soon ease into this.) If a human picks up, I don't plan to go into robot mode and read straight from the script, but to use this more like talking points.

I decided against giving out my so-called credentials in the voicemail version of the call—at least, the ones where I'm calling with a referral. It adds length (which I hate in a voicemail) without adding real value; hopefully, the fact that someone trusted referred me will be enough.

I'll also have the following email followup script handy, in case I need to get into more detail.

Boilerplate text is a marketer's best friend

After writing your call script, creating a followup email should be a breeze. You still don't get to ramble on in the followup—briefer is almost always better, said she of the 1,500-word blog posts—but you get a little breathing room, plus you can provide links as well as text.

Here's the followup email I created for my acting school gatekeeper prospects:

Hey, ________; Colleen Wainwright, here.

I left a message on your voicemail about a workshop I’ve developed to teach actors the basics of marketing (both online and off) and networking (ditto!).

It grew out of a crazy-popular series of articles on promoting yourself with social media and other basic, free-to-cheap tools that I wrote for my column in The Networker, Casting Networks’ monthly newsletter. (You can read the series here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4; or you can read yourself blind with the entire 2+ year archive, here.)

I’ve gotten tremendously positive feedback from the actors who’ve taken it. I'd love to think that it’s because of my years on the stage and in front of the camera—I was a working actor for almost 10 years. But I’m guessing it’s mostly because sharing this information is like handing them a gigantic self-empowerment stick: there’s so much you can’t control about your careers as an actor, it’s a relief knowing more about the ways you can do something.

I’d be happy to send you a handy-dandy PDF packet o’ info, or to talk to you or whomever handles this sort of stuff for the department. Or both. Yes, both!
Let me know your preferred flavor of contact. And thank you for your time!

Each of the Parts and the "2+ year archive" in the third paragraph will be a permalink to the pages on my site. I'll also include some links in my email signature: to my bio, most likely, and possibly my IMDB page, as well a permalink to my acting articles page, in case their email client strips the HTML. (And my newsletter, since I'm always pimping that!)

Once you've got something like this written, you have what we in the trade call "boilerplate": text you can use over and over to answer questions that come up repeatedly. You may have the beginnings of boilerplate already, residing in the bowels of your email archive. Every time you answer a query about something, consider somehow flagging that for yourself as potential boilerplate—via tagging, or saving to a special file or folder. Then, when a similar question comes up, you can pull up the boilerplate and paste it in, making any small adjustments necessary to fit the question or personalize to the sender.

I have boilerplate text about design questions, pricing, procedure, writing, acting—pretty much any question I get now that I take any sort of time to answer, I tag in gmail (and locally, with MailTags) as "boilerplate". It's a huge timesaver on the back end, and makes me feel a lot better about spending time on an individual email in the first place.

Final thoughts as I head into the breach

I'm still considering adding a brief line about either my background (working actor, paid columnist for major publication that goes out to a large readership of actors) or the positive response to the workshop so far. Per Ilise's instructions, I'm planning to run this script by a friend or two in acting education first. But I'd LOVE to hear your thoughts on this in the comments: if you were getting a call like this, would credentials coming from me make a difference that warrants the extra length of the call

Feel free to chime in about the email followup, too. I can always use a few hundred extra sets of eyes. And if you have any contacts who teach actors, I'll boldly take this opportunity to hit you up for a name. (It really is a fun, useful workshop!)

I'd also love to hear whom you're targeting, and some of your scripts. Anyone brave enough to share in the comments?

For those of you looking for more info about crafting cold call scripts and followup emails, I highly recommend consulting your dog-eared copy of The Designer's Guide to Marketing and Pricing. (What?! You don't have one?) I found pp 114 – 212 especially helpful in prepping my scripts.

  • More in: Cold Calling, Marketing Plan in Action, Posts by Colleen

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