1660317291159 Mastercoldcallscareeradvice

Career Advice: Master Cold Calls

March 18, 2022
Honing phone skills with vendors is important

I remember my first cold call. I phoned a pump vendor as part of collecting at least three bids per corporate standards. (Now, I know I really must contact five or six because some won’t be interested or can’t supply the equipment or services I need.) I had calculations and physical properties but was woefully unprepared to answer the questions posed by the inside salesman. I felt embarrassed, as I should have.

Dealing with vendors, constructors, service engineers, and design firm salespeople is something you need to master. As Deck Shifflet (Danny Devito) said about ambulance chasing in the movie The Rainmaker: “Well, you better learn quick or you’re going to starve.”

A cold call is meant to inspire contractors to help you. So, prepare beforehand. Here’s what you’ll need: 1) a scope of work (SOW); 2) authorization to implement a project; and 3) a list of qualified companies that can do the work.

An SOW should be simple unless your project is more than $5 million — then you really should hire an engineering firm to write it. If you can’t summarize what you’re doing in less than 30 pages, you’ve bitten off more than you can chew; find an engineering firm.

Look over your SOW. Is it understandable to your audience? Does it cover everything a vendor needs without giving away trade secrets or making your company look foolish? Is everything thought out? Have you considered all the intangibles, temporary equipment storage, etc. Don’t be afraid to be a little vague if you don’t know something that a vendor can figure out easily once on site. After all, you hire a firm because it knows what’s needed to do the job. Don’t give away the store if you want to test its competence. And most of all, do you have a hook — a lucrative potential contract? Read through the SOW several times.

That brings me to my second part, authorization. You should have your supervisor’s permission to pursue the project. Write an engineering report; this will segue into an SOW. Review it with your boss. If the person you report to decides you don’t have time for the work, file the SOW, don’t throw it away. Things have a way of circling back in our business. (However, keep in mind that a postponed project often requires significant updating, as I noted in June 2021’s column, “Keep Cool When Thawing Projects.”)

I’m sure you’re wondering how to find qualified companies. Websites can help. Check the “Thomas Directory” at www.thomasnet.com. Google and several other sites also are useful. The hard part is reading through the qualifications of a company to determine whether it meets the needs of your project. Also find out which firms are recommended inside your company for such projects.

Once you’ve identified candidates, create a list on a sheet of paper or spreadsheet: company name, contact, qualification, comment. Comb through websites. Google those firms on your list. Is the company a good match?

With this backgrounding, you’re set to make cold calls that are productive for both you and the vendors contacted.

Realize, though, that the path to successful recruitment of a contractor generally isn’t a straight line. First, you may have to resubmit the SOW more than once to match the capabilities of the contractor you want to hire or you may have to break it up into subcontracts. A detailed SOW may not be possible, so the type of contract may change. Second, you may have to weave through layers of corporate mandarins to finally get to the person who can submit a bid; don’t lose these contacts. Third, in some cases, you may have to badger the person to get a bid out. Fourth, your timeline might not match that firm’s timeline. By the way, if the company can’t handle or isn’t interested in your project, ask the contact to suggest other firms worth approaching.

The second time I called a vendor I was much more polished. I had written an introduction and a segue into the SOW. My script even included: “Do you have any questions (Name)?” I also had developed a “Questions and Answers” sheet; this turned out to be very helpful. I did a dress rehearsal a few times. My preparation paid off. The vendor was enthusiastic; we met the next day.

About the Author

Dirk Willard | Contributing Editor

DIRK WILLARD is a Chemical Processing Contributing Editor.

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