The Telephone – Sales Tool or Club

Often when I suggest to salespeople that they do some telephone selling, a panicky look comes over their faces and you’d think that I’d suggested they pick up a hot poker and put it to their ear!

Part of this fear and disdain comes from exposure to extremely poor telemarketers who are blight on professional selling. Poorly trained telemarketers often use the telephone as a club to beat their prospects in an attempt to get their message across.

Telephone selling differs from “telemarketing.” Because telephone selling is something that every salesperson must do from time to time, we should learn to use this selling tool properly.

Like any tool, there are right ways and wrong ways to use it. Fortunately, you aren’t likely to lose a finger through the improper use of a telephone, but you may lose a sale! Frankly, depending on the size of the sale, sometimes I’d rather lose a finger. I’m not sure what I’d do after I went through ten of those types of sales. Perhaps I’d start on my toes!

In any event, for telephone selling to be effective, it must be done right. Here are some of the keys to effective use of the telephone as a sales tool.

Have a Purpose

You can only accomplish so much over the phone. By deciding in advance what the purpose of the call is, you will be better prepared to accomplish it. Closing the sale is usually only possible with low-ticket items so a more practical purpose would be to prospect for potential users and make appointments.

One of the best ways to accomplish this is to have a script that you are comfortable with. The script should act only as a guideline and not become a canned presentation. This way you are unlikely to forget what you want to say, when you want to say it, and how you want to say it.

Adjust Your Speech Rate

A fast talker is hard to understand and is usually suspected as being slick. On the other hand, speaking too slowly will annoy fast thinkers. As soon as possible, note your prospect’s speech rate and adjust yours to match. This is called pacing.

Use a Pleasant Voice

In general, the higher the pitch, the more unpleasant to the ear. A low, mellow voice is pleasing to the ear and usually avoids attempts to cut the conversation short. Don’t be so mellow that your prospect falls asleep!

Watch Your Body Language

Mellow voice notwithstanding, if you slouch in your chair and have a frown on your face, it will come across in your voice. Sit up when you make your call. Be alert to yourself and sensitive to your prospect’s mood. Smile! Some people actually put a small mirror in front of them so that they can see themselves while they are making calls. Use a headset to free up your hands.

Qualify the Prospect

Be prepared with a couple of quick questions that you can use early in the conversation to ensure that you are talking to the proper person and not wasting anyone’s time. If nothing else, try to determine who the decision maker is and when he or she will be available. Be sure to get the name of the person you have been talking to as you can use it as a pseudo referral. (“Mr. Prospect, I was talking with Bill Adams and he suggested that you’re the person to contact regarding…)

Clear the Time

It is courteous (and wise) to ask if your prospect has a few minutes to talk with you (see below). If he or she doesn’t, use the opportunity to set a time that you can call or visit. You now have an appointment at the prospect’s convenience, one that he is likely to honour.

Have a Good Approach

You must get your prospect’s attention as quickly as possible. Identify your company and yourself and then quickly start talking about something that is of interest to the prospect. (“Mr. Prospect, I’m calling from Quality Systems; my name is Joe Williams. Our company specializes in working with electrical contractors on improving their ability to provide more accurate quotes. The purpose of my call is to find out how much of a concern this is to your company and determine if it would be worthwhile for you to take a look at our system.”)

Ask Permission

People are busy and time is limited. Once you’ve got the prospect’s attention, ask permission to move forward. (“If I’ve caught you at a good time, would it be okay to ask a few questions?”)

Get Them Involved

Don’t be a “fast talker,” be a “smooth listener.” Get your prospect involved and talking as soon as possible. This is the only way you have of determining if he is interested in your products and to find out what it is that turns him on. Have a set of open-ended questions at your fingertips (questions starting with why, what, when, where, how and tell me). Get the prospect talking. One of the dangers of you doing all the talking is that your prospect could end up reading his mail while you’re rambling on and on and on!

Once you get the prospect’s attention and uncover some of his needs, you must quickly get his interest. Giving the prospect a quick glimpse of some of the “benefits” that you have to offer will do the job. (“Because our software estimates a project the same way you do, the learning curve is shorter, and you reap the benefits of more accurate estimating sooner.”) If your prospect learns up front what’s in it for him, he is more apt to listen to the rest of your presentation or at least give you an appointment.

Talk Business

Avoid talking about the weather, sports or anything else before getting to the real reason for your call. After the presentation, this type of conversation may help cement your relationship. In general, don’t waste either yours or your prospect’s time. Talk business!

Be Prepared

Have a sheet of paper in front of you that outlines all the reasons why your prospect should do business with you. Have another sheet that lists all of the objections you are likely to get along with some appropriate responses. This will allow you to have the right words at the right time. Be prepared!

Use the Tool

The telephone is simply another sales tool that you need to know how to use effectively if you are to sell efficiently.