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The Fourth Wall

Imagine that you’re watching a horror film.

In a long, dark hallway, the protagonist stands frozen, cautiously ducking his head, lantern in hand. He’s just heard a noise. He creeps his head forward to investigate, and the ominous symphony music grows louder. The camera crawls closer. Louder. Closer. Now, we’re hovering just over his left shoulder. The music cuts. And then…

“Hey, man, could you stop that? I’m about to get eaten by a monster, and the last thing I need is a camera in my face.”

Tension broken.

This is called “breaking the fourth wall”—when in film or theater, an actor breaks role to remind the audience that what they’re watching is only a spectacle.

Can you see how this might apply to your cold calls?

In your cold calls, you must start by creating constructive tension—and theatrical interest in your solution—by building a fourth wall. You must act as though you were not cold calling, but instead learning about your prospect’s business at a party or over a cup of coffee. The success of this façade hinges on one simple rule:

The language you use to describe your cold call becomes the reality.

The second you admit that you’re a potential seller, your prospect must also admit that she’s a potential buyer. The fourth wall protects your prospect from having to make this admission before she’s learned who you are and what you have to offer. It allows you to establish trust and demonstrate your product’s value before asking your prospect to relinquish her time and attention.

Fortunately, people are so eager to follow social conventions that if at the start of your cold calls you act as though you have zero intent to sell, most will happily entertain this notion until you declare new rules for your conversation. So just ask unassuming questions about your prospect’s business and roll with it.

Roll with it, that is, until you need to tear down the wall.

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When one of the following triggers occurs, it’s usually a good idea to break the fourth wall.

  • Your prospect straight-up asks, “Is this a cold call?”
  • Your prospect requests that you back off (e.g., “I don’t take cold calls” or “I can’t have this conversation with you”.)
  • Your prospect refuses to answer your questions or cede control of the conversation.

Each of these scenarios merits a different “breaking the fourth wall” response, while they all require the same fundamental admission: “Yup, I’m a sales guy.”

Bringing down the fourth wall, the no-nonsense admission to your prospect that you have a product to sell reminds your prospect that you’re human and that phone calls are how you make your living. Your prospect regains a sense of control as she recognizes that she alone has the power to make a purchase. Everyone takes a breath.

Once you master the use of the fourth wall, your product will sparkle and amaze in the theatrical world, and your prospect buys in the real one.

Reality is at your fingertips.

Further Readings: 

1) Don’t Ask Stupid Questions

2) Conversely, Never Give Up on A Good Question

3) How to Keep Your Sales Meetings On Track