Cold Canvassing, The Way It Was Done

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Learning a Lesson from the Old Guys A travelling salesman’s car broke down and he had to sleep at a farmer’s house. The farmer invited the salesman to have dinner with him. The salesman, however, was appalled at how dirty the dishes were. Afraid to eat, but not wanting to sound rude, the salesman asked, “Are you sure these dishes are clean?” “They’re as clean as Cold Water can get them.” Answered the farmer. “When in Rome.” Thought the salesman, as he began to eat, in spite of the filth. The farmer’s dog came in through an open door. Seeing the salesman, he began barking ferociously. The farmer shouted at the dog, calling him by name. “Cold Water! Stop barking or I won’t let you clean the dishes.” We have all heard thousands of jokes about the travelling salesman. But have you actually known a travelling salesman? I had the good fortune of reading the memoirs of an uncle, by marriage, who had been a real travelling salesman, in the days just before World War Two. He drove from town to town, calling on factories, without an appointment, selling burglar alarms. As you can imagine, it was a tough job. He had to pay all of his travel expenses, fuel, food, and hotel bills. He had to carry product samples in his car. And of course, he got a lot of doors slammed in his face. He was also bitten by dogs and occasionally rough-handled by security guards. The sale required a lot of trust because many companies at that time paid in cash. And, of course, there were any number of fake salesmen ready to bilk the customers out of their money. The job did have a bright side, however. With cold canvassing, calling on businesses without an appointment, the salesman had the opportunity to make a face-to-face impression on the prospect. In a cold call, on the phone, you have about three to five seconds to peak a prospect’s interest. In cold canvassing, face-to-face, you have more like 15 seconds to hook them. On your second round of cold-calling, it is very likely that a prospect will not remember you. But on a second round of cold canvassing, there is a good chance that the client will remember you. Hopefully the client will warm to you, and by the third time through the area, he may reward your persistence by giving you a brief meeting to present your products. Although you may not want to become the proverbial travelling salesman, you may want to incorporate cold canvassing into your business model. You could devote one day a week to cold canvassing. Chose a geographical area, part of your town or neighborhood and begin knocking on doors. The effectiveness ratios in cold canvassing, at least on the first pass, are very similar to those of cold calling. You will be stymied by gatekeepers, business owners who are out of town, or too busy to speak with you, all of the same issues you encounter in cold calling. So, it is a numbers game. Challenge yourself to hit 80-100 doors per day. On the first round through an area, cold canvassing may just be a welcome diversion from being on the phone all day. On the second and third rounds, however, the effectiveness will increase dramatically. If you space out your visits you may get some of the prospects who initially said “no” because they didn’t need your product or service at that time. Now they are ready to buy, and it is easier for them to buy from you, who has just walked into their office, rather than to go to the store and buy. Additionally, you will have an advantage of the person who is cold calling the same business, offering the same product, because the customer feels he knows you now and can trust you more than a voice on the phone. If you are in relationship sales, where you would be both opening and maintaining the account. A good selling point would be, “Mr. Jones you aren’t even my client yet, and I came to see you three times. Can you imagine how much better I will take care of you once you become a client?” Or, “I can assure you that you will get excellent service. As you see, I am on a regular schedule where I come through this area every second Wednesday. So, I will stop in and help you with any problems you have.” Recently, in New York, I had the good fortune to be able to go into the field with a sales outsourcing company, called Unlimited, whose entire business model is built around cold canvassing. Unlimited outsources sales for Fortune Five Hundred companies. It is cheaper for these companies to use Unlimited than to hire their own sales people. Unlimited has thousands of salespeople in the field, in various cities, selling everything from long distance services and office supplies, to credit card processing systems and time card machines. The sales reps have a long day. They attend a one hour training session, beginning at 7:45 in the morning. They canvass from 9:00 to 5:00, with the goal of hitting 60-100 businesses per day. The company maintains sales statistics, which state, for every 100 doors, the salesman will get in front of 12 decision makers, and close 3-4 sales per day. Closing 4-5 deals out of 100 doors means that by the end of the day, each of the sales people has had 95 doors slammed in his face. It is a lot of rejection for a commission-only salesperson. At the end of the day, they return to the office and have a two-hour training session. The sales manager, Hector, is a master of motivation. He uses humor and energy to keep his people UP. To keep from saturating an area, but to avoid missing selling opportunities, each rep is assigned two territories, which he works for a period of two months. He works one week in territory A, followed by a week in territory B. the next week, he is back in territory A. By the end of two months, he should mean that he has seen every account three times. This gives ample opportunity for decision makers who are away on business, too busy or who are legitimately interested, but had just placed an order with another firm. As for the others, once they have said “NO” on three occasions, it is a good bet that fourth visit wouldn’t be productive. At the end of two months, the reps get a new set of two territories. The company uses a proprietary sales system, with has structures and procedures for everything. This is an important lesson for salespeople. Many salespeople work independently, and so they lack structure. The most successful salespeople are the ones who impose strict rules and rigid schedules on themselves. Several of the big hitters in the company told me that the bulk of their sales came at the end of the day, after 80 or more doors, when most people would already have quit. One big seller, Yancey, told me he made four of his five sales on his last four doors. No matter what sales techniques you use, sales is a numbers game. The more people you call, see, visit, or mail, the more sales you will make. You have to keep your energy up and move forward with a positive attitude. The cold-canvas salespeople had an expression, they said, “Treat every door the same.” This means treat the potentially big customer the same as the potentially small customer, because you never actually know the size of the order until you close the deal. Also, you don’t know what you may close on a given day. I would rather close a small one, than close nothing. “Treat every door the same” has a second meaning: When you knock on your one-thousandth door, you must pretend it is the first door of the day. No matter how many times you have heard “NO” that day, the chance of hearing “YES” at this door will increase if you smile, projecting confidence and energy.

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  • Joseph Needham
    Joseph Needham
    Over the years canvassing has gotten a bad reputation mainly due to those who are performing the canvassing not being properly trained with the right skills necessary to do their job.  Making someone upset at their own front door will always have a negative impact on the prospects as well as have a negative impact on the next poor fool who knocks on their door.Training canvassers with the proper skills necessary to do their job will not only increase their individual results, but it will also make the job of the next canvasser a little easier.  I consult with companies on the right techniques for canvassers to use and have a good track record on increasing the productivity of those that canvass.  Feel free to learn more about canvassing by going to my website at
  • Kane Dwyer
    Kane Dwyer
    Great Article! I have recently become involved in a network marketing company and I day to day am cold prospecting to find people who are interested in buying products or possibly joining my network, and this article has helped me tremendously. I began by trying to work independently of the marketing and sales structure that my organistion had set out for me, but after reading this I went back to basics and followed the system and my confirmed appointments have doubled, so it's true that the most successful people follow strict procedure. I would also like to add that what has really kept me going is having a crystalised reason for what I am doing, I look at the big picture and each day remind myself that every single "no" I get, I am one step closer to reaching financial freedom. Another thing is to believe in what you are doing, I truly believe that by inviting people to see my products and marketing plan, I am paying them a great service and giving them the opportunity to improve their lifestyle, and this creates great posture when I prospect people. Potential clients know the difference between someone who is out to help them as opposed to someone who is just out to make some cash for themselves. I never forget that when I find people who have a need for what I have to offer,I have found a win/win situation. At the end of the day, the most important factors of cold canvassing is self-belief and consistency.

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