Know Who You’re Talking With

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find it fascinating to listen in on other people’s telephone conversations, at least the half of the conversation I can hear.

I was sitting idly in the office recently when my partner took a phone call from a salesperson. I knew it was a salesperson because after she announced our company name her response to the caller was, “I’m fine thank you.” Now this means that whoever was on the other end of the conversation had asked that all-to-common grabber of an opening, “How are you today?”

Now those of you who know my partner know that she can be, and often is, the customer from hell. On this day she was in a pleasant, even playful mood, so she let the salesperson go on with his pitch.

It turned out to be a competitor that was calling. To avoid embarrassing anyone, I’m not going to name the organization.

Within a few seconds Lorraine asked the caller, “Why should I take YOUR training?” Apparently not receiving an appropriate answer, she asked if the person knew who he was calling.

He replied with “SalesForce Training & Consulting” (our former company). He was then asked, “Based on the company name, what do you think we do.” “Training,” was the response. He was getting warm. “What kind of training,” Lorraine asked. After a very brief pause he answered, “Sales training.” Bingo, we have a winner here!

Lorraine took the liberty of pointing out that we were his competitor and asked, once again, why would we want to take their training. “Well, everyone could use a refresher,” she was told.

When she pointed out that the only reason we might take their training would be to collect competitive information to build a DCA (Differential Competitive Advantage) or USP (Unique Selling Proposition), he seemed singularly unconcerned.

Seeing as he was so determined to be helpful, Lorraine asked him for his pricing and other competitive information that might be useful. He was very obliging.

He was still determined to close a sale despite our best efforts to beat him off with a verbal stick.

Lorraine terminated the call by sincerely thanking him for offering to allow a competitor to take his program but she felt honour bound to decline his kind offer, as she would only be taking it to collect competitive information. Thanks, but no thanks!

Lorraine’s only comment to me after she hung up the phone was, “Do you believe that!” I wouldn’t have believed it hadn’t I heard her end of the conversation.

There are a number of lessons to be learned here:

  • The person who answers the phone may not be a prospect or even a suspect. It could be a receptionist who may have absolutely no interest in what you’re selling. Find out who it is you’re talking with.  If it’s not someone who is interested in what you’re selling, find out who you should be talking with.
  • Don’t sell until you know the person is interested in what you’re selling. Your first few moments on the phone (or face-to-face for that matter) should be to catch the other person’s attention and interest. The person must be ready to listen.
  • If you find that you’re talking to the wrong person (and talking to a competitor usually qualifies as talking to the wrong person), don’t compound the problem by putting both feet in your mouth. As soon as you find yourself with one foot in, try to take it out without making a sucking sound and terminate the call graciously.
  • When someone tells you she’s not going to buy,  believe the person. Persistence is one thing; stupidity is quite another. There’s no use trying to sell a milking machine to someone who raises bulls. Sometimes “No thanks,” simply means no thanks. Move along.
  • Stop asking strangers, “How are you today,” when you call. You don’t really care how they are and the person on the other end of the phone knows it. If you can’t come up with a  more original opening  than that, get out of the business.

Now, I will admit that this was an unusual, if not amusing, situation that Lorraine found herself in. Unfortunately, it is all too common as well. Not calls from competitors necessarily but calls from poorly prepared and poorly trained salespeople.

So, in addition to knowing who you’re talking with, make sure you know what to say and how to say it. More on this in upcoming articles.

Until next time remember, sales professionals don’t sell; they help people make an informed buying decision.