My name is Mike Hillel, and my company is called SunHaven. We are an outdoor furniture design, manufacturing and e-commerce company based in Los Angeles.
We currently supply to some of the largest furniture e-retailers in the US and Canada; Wayfair, Hayneedle, Overstock, Houzz and Walmart.com to name a few.
We are also getting ready to launch our direct to consumer e-commerce store in the next few months and just opened our wholesale program supplying interior designers and home staging companies all over the country.
Getting my business off the ground with cold calling
My previous experience with cold calling
Before I started in the furniture industry, I was trained in sales as an office tenant broker in Los Angeles. My job was to find office tenants needing to either find a new location or renew an expiring office lease, locate a new office space for their business and ultimately negotiate the new lease.
The most difficult (and most important) part of this job was prospecting potential clients and then convincing them to use our services. My compensation was 100% incentive based, so no sales meant no income.
The company I worked for was a boutique brokerage that spent no money on advertising. This meant about 90% of my time would be spent generating leads and cold calling to pitch our services. I used to make between 100-150 calls per day.
Starting with what I knew
When I started SunHaven, I had no clue about funnels, targeted social media advertising and most of the other common marketing strategies used by most e-commerce companies today.
We were also positioned primarily as a B2B business and I did not think social media marketing was going to be the most effective way to market to furniture retailers off the bat.
Naturally, I reverted back to cold calling.
I wholeheartedly believe that social media marketing today is absolutely necessary to scale your business efficiently and developing your brand identity. However, I chose to focus on what I knew best to start.
Cold calling is free
Another plus was that, whereas facebook ads cost money to promote, picking up the phone didn’t cost me anything but my time.
This meant I was able to invest more of our working capital into inventory and building infrastructure.
The first customer
The toughest part of this process was locking down the first customer.
The first customer is generally the most difficult to sell because nobody really wants to be your guinea pig and you are basically just asking someone to take a chance on you.
One thing that really helped my pitch in this phase of my business was being completely authentic and not downplaying the fact that we were a new company.
Instead, I would acknowledge it and then focus the conversation to our mission and how are products would be a better alternative to what was already being offered in the market. Some buyers just completely dismissed me, but luckily we had a couple e-retailers that decided to give us a shot.
In my experience, even if the person does not believe you are going to change your industry, there will always be at least one person to still take a shot on you if they hear the passion in your voice.
Everyone likes a good underdog story, so give them a reason to believe in your company.
The domino effect
Once we locked in our first e-retailers, it created a domino effect with many of the other major players in the market. I would basically just call and name drop all of their competitors who were already working with us. This helped me close them almost immediately.
Dealing with rejection
Rejection is not only inevitable in cold calling and business development, it is necessary to push your company forward.
I believe strongly that if you are not being rejected on a consistent basis you are probably not maximizing your growth potential. That is as true with botched cold calls as it is with failing ad campaigns or products that flop.
Try everything, see what works and what doesn’t, then go all in on what brought you results. That has been our process since the start.
I wasn’t born with thick skin
Some people naturally have thicker skin than others. I am not one of those people. It took me a few years of being rejected on a consistent basis to build up the mental strength to not take it personally – most of the time – and pick up the phone again immediately.
One thing that helps a lot if I’m nervous before a call or a pitch meeting is to think of what the worst case scenario could be. In this case, it’s usually just that the prospect will say no (if you can think of something worse, that’s fine too).
I then ask myself if that situation is something I can handle. For me, 100% of the time, the answer to that question is yes. Once I accept that, I know I have no reason to fear rejection. Even if its only 50% for you, I guarantee you will take a lot more action just by getting yourself into this state of mind.
Persistence is the most important part of prospecting.
First and foremost, it will be very difficult to reach your prospective customer on the first contact attempt. I usually like to call or email the person once per week until I hear back from them. Once you do finally get them to take your call or respond to your email, odds are you will get a lot of no’s, some maybe’s and very few yes’s.
In my experience, since first contact closes are generally few and far between (but always assume that is exactly what is going to happen), the “maybe’s” will drive most of your revenue.
Focus on your warm leads
You are going to have a much easier time converting someone who is already halfway in the door, so focus your energy on following up with these people. When someone gives me a maybe, if I can’t change their mind on the spot, I always ask them when I should follow up.
There is a delicate balance between being persistent and being a pest, so feeling the person out is crucial to determining your follow up strategy. You will have to use your best judgment here.
How to find prospects
My strategy for this has been more or less a combination of google and common sense.
Think about what types of organizations or people would buy your product or use your service, then google it. If your product or service is localized in nature, target your search to businesses in your area.
You can also look through Instagram hashtags, Linkedin pages and Facebook business pages.
Another way to look for prospective customers is to see where your competitors or other companies in your space are selling. Just like everything else, try it all, see what works and go all in on that. This may actually help you figure out what problem your product/service is actually solving and where you need to be focussing your efforts.
Speak with the decision maker
Once you do figure out the companies you want to get in touch with, make sure you are speaking with the ultimate decision maker. This would be the person who has the final say on whether this company will buy your product or use your service.
While you may have to speak with an assistant to get in the door, always remember that the chances of you closing without getting in front of the person with the real decision making power are slim to none.
Finding prospects contact information
This part can be a little tricky, but once again, try everything.
If it’s a smaller company I am contacting, my first move is usually just to call the business directly and ask for the person who makes the purchasing decisions in my category. I have also direct messaged people on Linkedin and Instagram.
For cold emailing, if I know the person I need to get in touch with and can’t find an email address, I sometimes try to guess the format that company uses (i.e., first initial followed by last name, etc..).
I usually try several variations before I move on to something else. I am sure there are better ways to find some of this information; this is just what I have been doing. The aim here is really just to locate the right person and do everything you can to get in front of them. Technology has made this increasingly easier.
Admittedly, I have not been using a CRM to track this, but we are in the process of getting some new database software and transferring everything over now.
I have been using primarily word documents and excel spreadsheets up until this point.The brokerage I worked for used a program called “ACT!”. I think having a solid, centralized system to track your leads and progress is crucial. This is especially true when you start bringing other salespeople in that you want to plug into your system as quickly as possible.
Taking detailed notes
The thing that is far more important than what program you use to track your prospects is what information you take down when speaking to them.
You should take as many detailed notes as possible. Especially in regards to things you discuss that are not related to business. This may include “John is a laker fan” or “Jan has a kid that just went left for college at UCLA.”
These are bits of information you can pull from in your follow up calls to help build rapport. Everyone likes to feel valued and heard and bringing these things up in one of your follow up calls is a great way to stand out and help build the relationship.
When you get them on the phone
First, don’t worry too much about creating the “perfect pitch.”
You can write down a loose framework to reference back to while you are on the phone, but I definitely would not recommend reading directly from a script.
I can guarantee that the person on the other side of the phone will hear it and you will sound disingenuous. I like to get right to the point and tell the person exactly what my company is about and how I plan on helping them solve a problem they are having.
As you make more and more calls, you will find out what works best. You should continue to optimize your pitch as you go.
Be upbeat and stay excited
Another tip, once you get the customer on the phone, is to sound as energetic and excited about your product as you possibly can.
We’ve all received telemarketing calls from people with monotone voices and a completely programmed pitch. 99% of the time that leads to getting the phone slammed in your face.
I know that being upbeat and energetic can be really hard to do when you’ve already been denied 50 times that day, but you have to do whatever you can to get yourself excited.
When I notice my energy level coming down, I try force myself to smile while I am speaking. This sort of tricks my brain and the rest of my body into believing I really am excited to make that next call. I’ve noticed that the tone in my voice actually changes when I put this into practice.
I hope this was helpful to everyone. Good luck out there!
- Michael Hillel, Founder of SunHaven
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