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Why The Phone Is Still The Salesperson's Best Friend

by Alf Nucifora

Talk to anyone who sells by phone and you'll hear a common complaint about the difficulty in making contact with the prospect. Breeching the impenetrable walls of the gatekeeper and voice mail has now become an almost impossible feat. Unquestionably, the problem exists. But neither the cause nor the solution lies with the prospect. As Shakespeare would advise, the answer lies in ourselves.

Why are we road blocked?

Talk to sales prospects and they'll tell you that their compelling need is for a new solution, a better way, a more efficient and profitable result. The trouble is they rarely hear that language from salespeople, particularly those who make the approach by phone. The problem is that all phone salespeople sound alike, reciting the same canned spiels and repeating the same mistakes. The litany of errors is exhausting to recount but a few should be recognizable to those who have had to endure the phone pitch:

  • The bored, uninvolved caller who is obviously dialing for dollars. These paid-by-the call operatives could just as well be working an assembly line given their lack of emotional involvement in the sales process, and the product they represent.
  • The lack of listening…not being attuned to the personality of the person on the other end of the line…plunging ahead obtusely with the prepared line and ignoring the vibe, which, incidentally, is generally communicated by the prospect within the first thirty seconds of the call.
  • The lack of preparation for the call…not researching the prospect in advance (that's why we have web sites)…expecting the prospect to waste his/her time in educating the caller about the need.
  • The trite attempts at establishing rapport with the prospect ("And how are you today, Alfred?")
  • Little things, like reciting a return phone number too fast.
  • The overpowering need to talk about themselves rather than the prospect. ("We're the #1 leader in the stump-grinding business!")

Getting them to take or return the call

As angry, cynical and jaded as prospects may be, there is always an opportunity to get them to take the call, listen to the message, even return a voice mail request, as long as the most important question is addressed…"What's in it for me?"

According to Renee Walkup, a leading sales consultant, and President of Atlanta-based SalesPEAK, Inc., the telephone represents an overlooked opportunity to recapture the sale, as long as you follow the common sense rules. With face-to-face selling now facing the impact of reduced travel budgets, and online sales suffering from its inability to establish a personal rapport and relationship with the buyer, the good ol' telephone can stake out valuable ground between the two.

In her new book, "Selling to Anyone over the Phone," Walkup offers solutions that are both effective, yet commonly ignored by the phone salesperson. A sampling ...

  • Have a strategy in place before you dial. What are the expected objectives and outcomes from the call? You only get one chance to make the right, first impression. Don't blow it. Be prepared for a fallback plan of attack in the event that your call is intercepted by a gatekeeper or voice mail.
  • Take a test drive. Call the prospect after-hours to read the tenor of the voice mail message. That message will often speak volumes about the personality of the prospect. Is he aggressive or passive? Is she courteous or abrupt?
  • When you make phone contact, match your style to the personality of the other party. For example, if you're talking to me on the phone, you'll get the message very quickly that I'm an egg-timer phone person, two minutes and we're done. No time for formalities or foreplay. Please respect my time.
  • Move quickly to build a relationship. If you've prepped for the call, the platform already exists for dialog. Ask appropriate questions and be prepared to listen intently for buying interest, irrespective of how nuanced those signals might be. Strip away the clichés and be prepared to get down to business. Be what most callers are not…professional. That's the prospect's expectation.
  • Before dialing the number, focus on the call and center your thoughts on the customer. Clear the desk of distractions. Turn off the audible incoming email warning on your computer. Do what the pros do, allot a certain amount of time each day exclusively for calling. Lock the door and shut out the rest of the world. Successful phone selling is not for the uncommitted or the undisciplined.
  • Learn the little tricks. For example, if contacting a C-suite type, call early or late in the day. From 8.00 to 5.00 they're in meetings. Surprise is still the best offense.
  • Don't give up. Most phone salespeople do. It may take a dozen calls before you hit pay dirt. Who can forget Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) calling Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) every day for six months before he receives the a much-coveted audience in the business cum morality movie, Wall Street. And remember, their failure to return your voice mail message should not be cause for affront taken. They're busy people. To quote Michael Corleone, "It's business, not personal".

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