Yes, 97 percent of all business calls now go to voicemail, according to sales strategist Jill Konrath.  I yearn for the days in sales when I could actually talk on the phone with a person rather than with a machine.

Recently, I was going through my database, making cold calls.  For the most part, I was leaving voicemail messages that ended with “Call me back to set up a 30-minute appointment so that I can show you how we can help you improve your business.”

As you might expect, nobody called me back.

Time for a Radically Different Approach

I developed a new program, not to get into new companies and give sales pitches but instead to simply provide lunch and valuable information to their employees.  While the employees were enjoying their food, I would present a session on “Time Refuses to be Managed: How to Manage Yourself Instead.”

Something marvelous began to happen!

For my first presentation, the CEO of a $54 million defense contractor attended the session. (When do you get the audience of the CEO for an hour on a first sales call?)

Because she felt she was in a safe, relaxed environment (rather than in a high-pressure sales pitch), she came up to me at the end of the session to ask for my help!  We just had a follow up one-on-one meeting with her that resulted in a contract of nearly $50,000, all for the price of a few pizzas!

Next, at the next presentation, the vice presidents attended for whom I had left those same cold call voicemail messages (that were, of course, not returned).  At the end of that presentation, they were brainstorming ideas on how we could establish a partnership.  The vice presidents have already asked us to submit two proposals.

I had a follow-up call after a third presentation.  It was the lowest pressure and most productive initial sales call I had have been on in my 25 years of sales!

It’s human nature – if somebody feels you have already done something for them, they want to reciprocate.  In this case, the potential client (who works for a Fortune 500 company with “General” in its name) was falling all over himself, writing a testimonial, giving me the regional manager and national manager contact names.  “But let me call them first for you,” he said.  Simply amazing!  I will use his testimonial on the subsequent oversized postcards I will be mailing to secure additional lunch and learn presentations.

“99% Information and 1% Promotion”

The original Macintosh evangelist Guy Kawasaki says, in this current economy, to be effective, you need to provide “99% information and 1% promotion.”  Once customers feel you have provided content, they will listen to a small sales pitch.  But certainly not the other way around.

Salespeople would feel less stress and be more effective if they were to use a method like this:  Initially provide value to the prospect.  Get them to trust you first.  Show that you’re not just another “Slick Willie” watching out for yourself and your commission.

It’s amazing how many sales seminars and conferences still teach the same old manipulative tricks (e.g., ABC – Always Be Closing, The Seven Keys to Overcoming Objectives, The Thirteen Ways to Seal the Deal).  Customers are now way too sophisticated to fall for the devious tactics of the past, especially astute members of Generation X and Generation Y.

Seth Godin, author of the marketing best seller Purple Cow says the key to selling success is to cheat.  “Find somebody who has done something remarkable in an industry even more dull than yours,” Godin advises.  “It won’t take long, and then just do what they do.”

What topic could you offer to benefit employees of a local organization?  Give them something of interest from their perspective, not yours.

Let’s say you sell insurance.  You could give a presentation to college students who will soon be entering the workforce (and looking to buy insurance on their own).  You could deliver a session on “How to Become a Millionaire by the Age of 30.”  Then include in the presentation all of the steps necessary to have a secure financial future.  Rather than delivering an insurance “sales pitch” to just one person, you can reach dozens or even hundreds of potential clients at the same time.

Once you’ve built trust and a relationship with them, they’ll want to buy from you.  You won’t need to sell them.

Sales can actually be fun again!