12 Steps to Successful Telemarketing Calls
Since the national Do-Not-Call Registry took effect, many telemarketers have inundated unregistered consumers with outbound calls. And many call centers have discovered just how crucial it is to have properly designed scripts that are in compliance and distinguish them from the competition.
In today's heavily legislated environment, companies are forced to make drastic changes to their script-writing principles. These changes are made to ensure that their agents adhere to legal requirements while being able to meet demanding production quotas.
Whenever making outbound calls — particularly cold calls — scripts require careful, step-by-step planning to help agents get through the calls professionally and personably.
Throughout the years, I have had many opportunities to visit call centers across the globe, and have identified two primary weaknesses in many agents' call scripts:
- Most scripts do not provide enough focus in the flow for agents to easily channel from the "introduction" to "post close" call phases. Typically, it's expected that the agent "think outside the box," but in reality, that is not always possible when the agent is inexperienced and/or poorly trained. An ineffective delivery will reflect negatively on your company — ultimately causing a decline in sales and customer retention.
- The agent may not know how to overcome the primary fears of his or her prospects. For the past 19 years, I have been teaching my "12 Steps To Successful Telemarketing" to call center agents worldwide. These guidelines provide a road map for agents, giving them options for when the prospect drives the conversation in a new direction. When the steps are followed, your agents' productivity will far surpass production requirements and meet the demanding compliance issues we're facing today.
To demonstrate the process in a real-world environment, here are the 12 steps I used for a company that sells vinyl siding and windows. Before the firm used this script, its agents were generating one appointment every three hours with a 50-percent cancellation rate. With the steps, they were able to make one appointment every hour with a 10-percent cancellation rate.
The first four steps in this process are designed to help overcome the prospect's resistance before it occurs. The "introduction" answers the prospect's immediate question of, "Who are you?" The next few steps tell the prospect why you are calling and help you get his or her buy-in to continue talking.
Agents should start by saying, "Good [evening], this is [full name], and I'm calling on behalf of [company name], which provides [products or services] to individuals in [prospect's area]."
Agents should not pause in their delivery until they see the strategic pause symbol: "...>". This pause keeps the prospect's mind engaged. Agents should always use voice inflection when they see italics.
If the recipient of the call has been a customer before, it's important to cite that history. If not, the agent should immediately say something like, "My company requested...> that I contact you personally."
3. Request for Time
Agents always should thank the prospect: "I appreciate you taking my call." If the prospect is busy, an appropriate response would be, "Why don't I call you back in about an hour? Would that be all right with you." Make this a statement, not a question.
Note: When a prospect flatly replies, "I'm not interested," before you explain the purpose of the call (Step 4), it would be appropriate to say, "I respect that. I would like to provide you with more details about our new home division. Would that be all right with you."
If the prospect sounds positive, and gives an affirmative response, the agent can say: "In order to ensure you receive all the information we offer, I need...> to ask you just a couple of quick questions, if you don't mind." If the prospect agrees, skip right to Step 5.
If the prospect is willing to receive information, but not willing to answer questions, then the agent can say, "Once you've had an opportunity to review our information, we would like to gain your feedback. Does that sound fair enough?"
If the prospect agrees, then it's a two-call close — another agent will have the opportunity to follow up with the prospect at a later date. Otherwise, the agent can close by saying, "Thank you for your time. Hopefully we can be of some help sometime in the future. You have a pleasant day."
4. Purpose of Call
When it comes to making outbound calls, I teach agents what I call the "10-10-80 rule."
Outbound agents always encounter some people — at least 10 percent — who will say "no" to everything, even if you're giving your product away.
On the other hand, agents will encounter another 10 percent who will say "yes." These prospects either happen to be in the market for your product or service at the time of your agent's call or have difficulty saying "no." This type of prospect is what I call the "unreliable yes" — they eventually end up canceling.
The remaining 80 percent of prospects require the agent to conduct a skillful presentation of the product or service. This explains why some agents have a higher conversion rate than others. These higher-producing agents are selling or promoting the same product or service, and have received the same level of training. But what sets them apart from the lower-producing agents and the non-producers is how they deliver their message.
When it comes to stating the purpose for the call, a skilled agent likely would start with: "We have been serving the community for over 50 years. We have an exciting new home division and would like to provide you with more details. In order to accomplish this, I need...> to ask you just a couple of quick questions, if you don't mind."
The "probe" step is one in which the agent asks three levels of open-ended questions that attempt to qualify the prospect, establish his or her wants and needs, and create the need for your offering. Some appropriate questions:
If the prospect provides this information and is not interested in vinyl windows, the agent should ask: "Understanding that vinyl windows are guaranteed to reduce your heating and cooling bills by a minimum of 40 percent...> what are some of the conditions preventing you from looking into vinyl windows as a cost-effective alternative for you to at least consider?"
Most prospects possess what I call "prepurchase/service insecurity," which is the fear of making a decision immediately — on the line — and later regretting it. Steps 5 through 9 of the call script help to eliminate this fear.
Whether the agent is selling a product or service, or trying to establish a lead or appointment for a field representative, the prospect needs to have confidence that this objective is worth his or her time and investment.
If the prospect's answers are not positive at the probe step, the agent should not continue. If the agent does, he or she will undoubtedly face resistance.
If the prospect does respond positively, and is forthcoming with information, it then would be appropriate for the agent to thank the prospect for sharing. An agent should say, "Thank you for sharing this information. I want to be sure I have it correct. [Restate the prospect's answers.] Is that correct?"
This step offers clarification and reinforces the prospect's needs.
7. Benefits and Features
Once the agent is able to qualify the prospect's needs, establish his or her wants, and create the need for the company's offering, the remaining steps are smooth sailing.
At this step, an agent might say: "Based on what you just shared with me, [prospect's name], I recommend you evaluate the benefits of upgrading some of your...> inefficient windows with custom vinyl replacements."
Now is a good time for the agent to reiterate the benefits of the product or service, share customer testimonials and offer an in-depth explanation of the features — enough to get the prospect excited to know more.
8. Get a Reaction
This step is to confirm that you have fulfilled the prospect's needs in Step 7. In Step 8, the agent could say: "So far in what I've just shared with you, how valuable would this information be for you to evaluate?"
9. Trial Close
If response from Step 8 is positive, an agent should now attempt to close. In this instance, the agent is seeking a face-to-face appointment at the prospect's home.
The agent could say, "Evaluating [our product] will at least give you an idea of who we are as a leader in the industry and how we can help you affordably enhance the beauty and energy efficiency of your home...> Our intention is to introduce ourselves to you and provide you with an estimate that is guaranteed for one full year. Does that sound reasonable?"
If, on the other hand, the prospect isn't sure, the agent could use a more challenging "trial close" in Step 9: "Evaluating [our product] will at least give you an idea of who we are as a leader in the industry and how we can help you affordably enhance the beauty and energy efficiency of your home...> Our intention is to introduce ourselves to you and provide you with options to think about. Does that sound fair enough?"
If there are any objections whatsoever, the agent will have to overcome them at this step. The key to overcoming objections is to carefully interpret them, isolate them and outweigh them. It helps to anticipate the most common objections and provide agents with the information to address them. Often, if the agent has not executed each step up until this point, they will encounter resistance and the outcome will be unfruitful.
11. Appointment Close
This step is simply to secure the prospect's commitment. At this point, if the prospect is interested, the agent should thank him or her for the time and consideration, and set up a convenient time to meet or send a sales representative. The agent should use a contained close such as: "I have [day and time] or [day and time] open...> What time is better for you?"
12. Post Close
Finally, at Step 12, the agent post-closes to tighten the prospect's commitment level and obtain any pertinent information needed before disengaging the call. If the prospect just wants additional information about the product or service sent, the agent simply can reply, "I would be happy to. Once you have had the opportunity to review our information, we would like to gain your feedback. Does that sound fair enough?"
If the prospect is pleased with the transaction, the agent can close by saying, "Thank you for your time and consideration; you have a pleasant day."
Script writing is an art and needs careful attention given to the direction, verbiage and style of the presenter. Whether your scripts are written for inbound or outbound calls; if your agents handle customer service, tech-support or sales calls; or if they are making cold calls, these 12 steps should enhance agents' style of delivery and give them greater control of the call.
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Kathy Sisk is founder and president of Kathy Sisk Enterprises Inc., a global consultancy specializing in inbound and outbound call center training, recruiting and outsourcing services. Sisk is the author of "Successful Telemarketing," a handbook on how to set up and manage a successful call center. For more information, visit www.kathysiskenterprises.com, or call her at (800) 477-1278.