The Marketing Compass member Walter Blackburn is an experienced business person and expert in presentation skills training. He enjoys using thephone to talk to his extensive network of contacts and clients. Here are his thoughts on using the phone to sell.
Earliest time to start calling: 8am if you’re calling someone in their office on their landline. If you’re calling their mobile I would leave it to 8.30 or even 9 because you don’t know if they’re working from home and most people don’t want to be disturbed there if they’re getting the children off to school or whatever else they might be doing to get ready for the day.
I would be careful calling mobiles if you don’t know them. Most of us are quite protective of our mobile numbers, but I believe it’s ‘fair game’ if I call you on an office landline number. If you already know the person you’ll know when it’s OK to call and whether to use their mobile or landline. For example, one of my clients has back to back meetings every Monday and most Tuesdays so I wait to call him later in the week. He’s a high Mover (see www.empathystyles.com) so he loves to speak on his mobile rather than dealing with email.) If you know the person you will know what their situation is (i.e. do they work from home and what the best time to call is).
The point of calling early is to either get past any protective secretary or PA, or to catch your prospect before they get involved in meetings. If you’re calling someone ‘cold’, i.e. for the first time and you don’t know them, I would start calling them at some time during the day rather than early in the morning or early in the evening (say, after 5.30). It’s only when I’m being rebuffed by a secretary or a PA that I would call them early, say, before 9am, or early evening to get past the protective PA who may not be at his or her desk at that time. Turn it into a ‘warm’ call by doing some research first and make the call appropriate and relevant for them.
You will need to know how to contact the decision-makers in your target organisations – is it by email, by landline, by mobile or through social media? Many people are happy to ‘hide behind’ email and voicemail. Whether you use the phone to communicate with them will be guided by the organisation and the sector. Businesses probably fall into one of 3 categories re the phone:
1. There will be those companies which use email extensively, almost exclusively, and it would therefore be pointless looking for phone numbers.
2. There will be those companies which only use mobiles – literally there will be no landline numbers.
3. And there will still be many businesses which have a main reception with a switchboard to direct calls to the appropriate person.
A lot of business is still done on the phone. So unless you’re just selling from your website you need to be confident and competent on the phone. What that means is that you have to be able to establish rapport, qualify your prospect, find a need, present your offering in a way that meets the need and close on an action step, as well as countering any objections along the way. In other words you need to be skilful in the sales process, either face to face or on the phone, or indeed in email. I’m not saying that you should give your sales presentation over the phone – you need to be doing that ideally face to face – but there will be times when it’s appropriate to do some of it over the phone or in email.
So that means two things: first you need to know the sales process for your product/service and the sector(s) into which you are selling and second you need to get some practice and experience in using it.
Do scripts still work? Yes, but they need to become a guide for you, not to be followed slavishly. The best scripts will form the basis of what to say or what to ask and are used in that way. As soon as you give prospects a scripted conversation most of them will recognise it as such and switch off. One of the reasons for that is that salespeople don’t adapt them to their personality or experience. It’s up to you to understand what you’re doing and how to personalise it for each prospect. Most of us will need some help with creating the basis for a script – we are too close to our own products / services and will tend to present our features and benefits too early rather than asking questions. Having a script means that someone has put some thought into how the call might go, which has to be a plus.
(Since Walter originally wrote this article, GDPR has come into force and this brings a whole new set of implications, including the need to generate more in-bound sales enquiries).