Using the phone for business sales calls

By Customers, Selling, Success, Telemarketing No Comments

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 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).

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Is professional selling dead in the water?

By Selling, Success, Telemarketing No Comments

The world of professional selling has changed. In a connected, information rich world, the sales process has been turned inside out. The ‘hard sell’ is long gone. Today, decision makers know all about sales people. They avoid them by using technology in order to make it more difficult to reach them, i.e. by using voicemail. Think about it: do you like receiving cold calls in the evening when you are at home?

I spent five years as a quota bearing salesperson in central London, when I was in my twenties. My sales career started with Rank Xerox and I spent time at their UK sales training centre in Newport Pagnell. In those days, we were sent out in pairs to bang on doors and ask for compliments slips. This was even more fun when it snowed. We would ask for the name of the office equipment buyer and write down their name (having taken our gloves off). We would then return to the office, call the numbers on the compliment slips and try and get appointments. I was subsequently a coach on the Solution Selling sales training programme. I travelled around the UK and Europe helping to train IT companies in the use of this system.

The problem is that 97% of people in any given market are not looking to buy your product today. So, if you go hunting and are lucky enough to get a response from a decision maker, the overwhelming probability is that they will tell you go away and die (or, if they are middle class: “send me a brochure / send my assistant some information by email.”)

The organisations I work with adopt a pull, not a push, marketing methodology. They package relevant, interesting, timely and useful information and continually present this to the market place. The magic 3% as well as those who are leaning towards the 3% read, listen and watch this information in order to learn about the product or service in question. When they are ready to buy, they contact you, not vice versa.

It takes a considerable amount of thought in order to get sufficient numbers of customers to willingly reveal themselves and engage with the brand. Within an increasingly sophisticated digital economy, much of this work is done online. Smartphones, for example, have become ubiquitous. Have you noticed that many people, especially the young, have them permanently stuck to their hands? (Perhaps this is due to an unfortunate accident with a tube of superglue?) Mobile phones have become an extension of our brains. They can answer virtually any question that we ask them, including the price and availability of many goods and services. Yes, I know that you can’t currently ask Google to quote you for a sophisticated IT system, or for many B2B services and other things. However this will all come, as the machines get smarter.

In the future, who will do the selling? Partly, it will be done by computers using algorithms, voice recognition, chatbots and AI. They will be used to answer questions, organise virtual demonstrations and put together tailored quotations.

It is time to rethink the whole sales process. The answer lies in getting the customers to come to you. This does away with the need for cold calling and other expensive forms of ‘push’ selling. This is not good news for telemarketers and I understand that they and professional salespeople will not be happy with my message.

I think that future lies in relationship building, not the old fashioned sales model. Get them to come to you through brand awareness and information sharing. When customers arrive, focus on long term business relationships.

Telemarketing training

By Selling, Telemarketing No Comments

The central challenge with telemarketing is what the caller should be saying in the first 10 seconds of the call. Overwhelmingly, almost as soon as the telemarketer starts talking, the recipient of the call just wants to get rid of them.

I’m delivering two telemarketing training events this month, for separate clients. Telemarketing is part of the promotional mix (which contains over 300 different techniques). In a digital economy, using the phone to sell is still remarkably effective, if it is done properly.

Sadly, this is not usually the case, as can be attested by virtually all of the cold calls that our office receives. Do cold callers get through to you? How do they get on? How do you treat them?

I spent several years in sales in my early career, with Rank Xerox and their channel partners. I was subsequently a coach with an international sales training programme.  I have always enjoyed learning about sales and practising my skills in this area. This is partly because of the psychology of selling, which is fascinating.

Is sales something that you dread or enjoy, I wonder? Do you ‘hit the phones’ to get more business? Is this working for you?

When people ask me what I do, I tell them about my four step system: 1) Marketing plan. 2) Website review and update. 3) Promotional mix review and relaunch. 4) Sales skills.

On this basis, telemarketing is part of both 3 and 4 on this list as it can be used as part of the promotional mix and also as part of the sales process (i.e to close that sale!)

My Telemarketing training course includes a process which can generate conversations with 50% of the people you call. Sales conversations lead to the discovery of needs – which is where the sales journey begins.

Sometimes, the business people who are interested in telesales training also want to talk to me about other forms of sales lead generation or the many things that connect to the sales process, i.e. their website. Knowing something about strategy, copywriting, digital marketing and the promotional mix can come in handy, when these questions arise.