The telephone–our oldest selling tool is still a good way to get the job done.
The very first telephone call was a harbinger of things to come.
Most everyone knows that Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, but you may not know that his first words on the instrument were to his assistant, Thomas A. Watson.
The message was something like, “Mr. Watson, come here. I want you.”
Even fewer people know that Watson curtly responded, “I’m busy. Can’t it wait?”
And it’s been hard to get people on the phone ever since.
All kidding aside, the telephone can be real rough on salespeople these days. Sellers have to navigate a host of challenges, including:
- A national Do Not Call Registry
- Prospects and customers use voice mail to screen their calls
- A ringing telephone is considered an interruption and often ignored
- People use caller ID to ignore calls from unfamiliar phone numbers
- People use caller ID to ignore calls from familiar numbers
- Many folks are no longer fans of voice mail, which makes it hard to deliver a message via the phone
Play “Beat the clock” when selling by telephone
There used to be a popular TV show called Beat the Clock.
The goal on the show was to finish a task within a limited amount of time. It was a popular concept and the show ran for 18 years in various iterations.
Salespeople would do well to play “Reverse Beat the Clock” and keep the prospect or customer on the phone long enough for something good to happen.
How long is that? Well, someone at your company probably knows how many minutes on average that it takes to close a sale, right? And hopefully, someone can tell you how many minutes on average that it takes to get an appointment.
Once you know these types of metrics, you can set up guidelines for your version of Beat the Clock. If you don’t have any research to go on, you can start by just trying to keep all prospects on the phone for at least five minutes.
Of course, you need to be sure that you’re having a quality conversation during that time frame. Here are some tips:
- Make it about them
- Ask “open” questions that cannot be answered with a “yes” or a “no”
- Go social (“What are you doing for fun this weekend?”)
- Try to be helpful regarding a specific need
I also recommend establishing some self-imposed quotas for the number of outbound calls per day.
Selling through conversation
People are wary of salespeople and have become increasingly irritated by people who sell over the phone.
The key to persuasion, particularly by telephone, is to “sell without selling.” Some salespeople refer to this as “selling through conversation.”
Think of your next outbound call as something other than a sales call. Just replace the verb “selling” with another “ing” word. Words that end in “ing,” by the way, are called gerunds.
So, instead of selling, try substituting another gerund:
- Building the relationships or getting to know someone
- Getting an update
- Helping someone plan for the future
- Solving a problem
Do not call people to:
- Sell them something
- “Touch base”
- “Check in”
- Engage in passive dialog
Assuming that your crucial conversations will provide valuable information, you should store that intel in something a bit more elaborate than a spiral notebook.
CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software is the best place to document your calls. This way all information on your prospects and customers will be in one place.
What kind of notes should you be taking during these telephone conversations?
- General questions about how things are going
- Specific questions about business matters that you can help with
- “Who else do you know” type questions
- “What other organizations do you belong to?”
- “What events do you like to attend” (business or personal)?
- “What do you think will happen with [such-and-such]?” (Keep the topic positive)
Tips for selling by phone
I made a living selling by telephone for almost eight years.
The job was 100% commission-based, so I learned lots of solid persuasion techniques in a hurry.
Telephone selling, sometimes referred to as “inside selling,” is challenging because the seller must work without visual cues. To compensate for this communication handicap, a salesperson needs to be especially attentive when talking with the prospects.
Example: When a person who is selling face-to-face writes something down, the prospect see this and may be impressed that the salesperson cares about details. But a person selling by phone must announce her actions by saying something like, “I’m writing this down.”
Here are some other tips for selling by telephone:
- Practice “cluster calling” so you can make a bunch of calls in a short period of time. Usually the first hour of the day is best for this.
- Work from a quiet place that makes you seem organized. Of course, I recommend actually being organized. Use a noise cancellation headset when you can.
- Never interrupt a sales call unless it’s an emergency. After all, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, right? A hair salon here in town has a receptionist who answers the phone with the phrase, “It’s all about you” and then says, “Please hold.” Oops! The goal is to be 100 percent in the moment when selling. Don’t multi-task when talking to prospects and customers.
- Use other communication modalities to reinforce your telephone talks. Email, social media, FedEx deliveries, handwritten notes, and personal visits are a great way to supplement your messaging mix.
- Use word matching and style matching to really connect with people. Listen carefully to the words the other person uses and then use a few of those words when you speak to them. Style matching involves trying to model the other person’s pace, volume, tone, etc.
Read this article on why selling, like fishing, is a two-step process.
Under-appreciated features of your telephone
Three-way calling can be a gift on certain telephone calls.
This easy procedure involves bringing a third person onto your call. A three-way call can be used to move the conversation forward, connect people, clear up misunderstandings, and generally keep things interesting.
Search YouTube for quick tutorials on how to do three-way calls on your land line or cell phone.
Another under-appreciated feature on your telephone is the hold button–every salesperson’s secret weapon. It seems counter-intuitive to work so hard to get a person on the phone only to put him on hold, but a telephonic timeout can be very handy when you need to gather your thoughts.
You can also use the hold button if you lose control of the conversation and need to refocus.
The second under-appreciated feature on your phone is the hold button.
Working with voice mail
Salespeople who work by phone will encounter lots of voice mail. Instead of becoming frustrated, top sellers use voice mail to make impressions and move their agenda forward.
Be strategic when leaving voice mail messages. Say things that will entice the person to return your call. If you say, “I’ll be at my desk until 2pm today,” the person is more likely to call you before 2pm.
Here’s another voice mail tip. Sometimes it’s good to talk to someone other than the person you’re trying to reach. When making outbound calls to a business, you can “zero out” of voice mail to speak with someone who gives you clues about the best time to reach your contact person.
Remember that if you talk like a salesperson, you’ll be treated like one. Avoid sales-speak such as “Call me when you get a minute.” Don’t minimize your position by saying things using the word “just,” as in “I was just calling to say “hi.” Instead, begin by saying, “I’m calling for two reasons today…”
Put your best face forward
Video calls are a fantastic way to build relationships and they make phone calls a lot more fun.
Many of the people you call are doing Facetime sessions with family members, why not ask prospects and customers if they will do video calls with you?
Make sure your lighting is good and that your background is clutter free.
Relatively speaking, the telephone may be an older communication tool, but it’s still very effective when you employ the above tips.
As Gary Vanyerchuk says, “The more others go Jetsons, the more you should go Flinstones.”