So far this week I’ve taken nine — count ’em — nine sales calls at my desk. And those are just the ones that have gotten through. You get them, too, I know.

Almost every one greeted me as though we were long-time friends: “Eric! How’s it going today?” It feels like an attempt to make me wonder whether a long lost friend might be on the other end of the call…a ploy to engage.

Sure…sounding friendly is preferable to the alternative. But the moment is ruined when it becomes apparent that not a single one of my would-be business partners had little more than surface knowledge of our firm.

What each did have was a strong suspicion that I might manage a budget. This was all it took to qualify me as a target. None had any real idea about our business.

The truth is I’m an easy audience in many situations. Maybe because there’s something in me (and most marketers?) that wants to give any pitch enough room to breathe; that admires tenacity; that feels compelled to participate. Plus, everyone that calls has a job, and is working hard to do it.

So I’m predisposed to listen. But I was not a good target for any of these sales calls. The callers were wasting my time; and, to the degree that I let it go on, I was wasting theirs.

The Bridge To A Productive Pitch

It is easy to sit back and take pot-shots. The fact is I know I’ve slipped into my own version of a similar approach when it’s come time to sell an idea or initiative.

So the productive question is what are the keys to a business development, sales, or marketing conversation that resonates as authentic, connects with good targets, and actually grows a practice?

Here are 4 ideas.

1. Forget the numbers game. If you’re just working a list, dialing up the next prospect, you’d better be pushing a commodity everyone wants, have a strong price-play, and have the time and resources to work long enough for the numbers to shift in your favor. On the other hand, do the roll-up-your-sleeves work necessary to identify legitimate and strategic targets, and you’ve changed the game.

2. Make it all about the Target. Unless you’re selling that commodity we spoke of in #1, opportunities to communicate with your targets are about listening — even between the lines, and learning about the base-line business drivers. Practice intentional listening and your target will let you know what’s important to them.

3. Enough talk — deliver some value. Most targets have heard the best sales pitches around. They’ve seen the PowerPoint, watched the video or done the lunch, and gone to the mega-events dozens of times. Know enough about your target to deliver value around something of importance to them, and you’ll have their attention.

4. Build a bridge to the next conversation. A strong bridge is the byproduct of delivering value. And one of the goals of every encounter you have with a target should be to bridge to the next conversation. Even after a deal is closed. An ongoing dialogue is the stuff of clients-for-life.

We all know sales folks that do it right. They do smart targeting, listen, probe in order to learn, and genuinely care about the success of their clients. 

Then there are my callers thus far this week. Smooth pitches, sophisticated collateral and a good phone voice don’t cut  it. And it isn’t because their products or services aren’t good. It’s because they didn’t target smart, and their pitch is a one-size-solution to any marketing or business development need. They might as well be using tin cans and a string.