Doing Business on the Phone
by Andrew Wetzler
More and more companies are turning to the telephone as a means of complimenting the efforts of their outside sales organizations.
Some companies are using telemarketing to qualify leads for their outside sales teams.
Other firms are segmenting their target audiences into large and small accounts. This strategy enables the outside sales team to focus on the larger accounts/prospects where a field visit is a justifiable investment, while the inside team can focus on smaller accounts best handled over the phone.
Regardless of the precise application, there are several dimensions of the calling process that will impact the results which are realized. I will address two of them in this article. They are:
1. Identifying and reaching the appropriate decision maker.
2. Capturing the prospect's attention during the call.
The importance of pinpointing the person within an organization who can make a decision cannot be underestimated. Telemarketing representatives waste an inordinate amount of time and energy pursuing the wrong people.
Several steps can be taken to improve the likelihood that a rep will make contact with the right person, have a productive conversation and remain enthusiastic about the mission. These strategies—including finding a list with names as well as numbers; leaving messages that encourage call-backs; and asking good questions while focusing on benefits—are outlined below.
USE A CALLING LIST THAT HAS CONTACT NAMES
Although there is a greater cost involved in renting a list with contact names, it is usually worth the extra expense. Having a name provides the telephone reps with an "in" when they place the calls, so that they are not immediately identified as a "cold call" by the receptionist or "gatekeeper." Many times, the name given will not even be for the right person; however, it still can provide the reps with a platform to gain the information that they are seeking.
By having a name to start with, a rep can ask for that individual. If that person isn't in, then the rep should ask the receptionist whether that person is the actual decision maker. If they aren't, then the rep needs to probe to get the right name. This is a critical juncture where a rep often drops the ball. Specifically, a rep may leave a message for a person, without determining whether that is the right person.
The result is often a fruitless exercise of leaving messages for someone who probably won't return the call. Not only does this sidetrack any potential sales that could have resulted from speaking with the correct person, but it also saps a great deal of positive energy from the rep.
LEAVE A MESSAGE THAT STIMULATES A CALL-BACK
Why should a prospect return a call from someone they don't know and have never heard of—in essence, a stranger? The best chance of it happening is if prospects are made to feel—through the type of message left—that it might be worthwhile for them to make the effort. My experience is that this can be accomplished by a message that piques the person's interest, without telling the entire story.
If the rep says too much (I have heard reps actually ask for the sale on the voice mail message they left!), they may scare off legitimate prospects; or a prospect may misunderstand the message, and opt not to return the call.
Also, it goes without saying that people are very busy, and they prioritize their call-backs. The best way to have your message leapfrog to the top of the list is to generate some curiosity through the messages you leave.
ASK GOOD QUESTIONS, FOCUS ON BENEFITS—QUICKLY!
A rep has an incredibly thin window in which to make a positive impression on a prospect. Within the first few seconds, the prospect will decide whether this is a conversation that they will: (a) allow to continue and (b) approach with any degree of seriousness (we've all gone through the motions with a telemarketer before).
I believe there are several ingredients to initiating a successful conversation.
The first step is letting the prospect know that the call will be brief and gaining their permission to continue. There are several ways to do this. A path that tends to produce less than optimal results would be:
"Hi, this is _____calling from XYZ Company. Do you have a few minutes to talk?"
A better approach is:
"Hi, this is _____ calling from XYZ Company. I have some important information that I'd like to discuss with you, and I promise I'll be extremely brief; O.K.?"
The latter is more controlling, less threatening and appears to present more value for the prospect.
The questions a rep asks should be designed to determine if any potential interest exists, so the most fitting benefits can be accentuated.
It's also helpful to lead with open-ended, rather than closed-ended, questions. For instance, instead of asking prospects whether they are happy with the current health insurance plan, it would be more effective to ask which aspect of their current plan they'd like to improve. This presents a potential opening that can be built upon with tailored benefit statements.
Business-to-business telemarketing initiatives can be effective and profitable. However, telemarketing sales reps often flounder because the process controls them, versus having a methodical, crafty and benefits-driven approach of which they are a key part.
It is incumbent upon the manager/supervisor to develop a training agenda that teaches a rep the appropriate skills. This should include the manager/supervisor actually getting on the telephone and making several hours of demo calls while a rep listens on a dual headset. Then, through call monitoring and constructive feedback, a rep can learn to navigate the labyrinth that each call presents in a way that produces a successful outcome.
Following the strategies outlined in this article will help sharpen the program and should enhance the results that are attained.
Andrew Wetzler is president of Andrew Wetzler & Associates Inc., a firm that specializes in tele-sales start-ups, bottom line improvements to existing departments and high impact sales training. He can be reached at (800) 688-TELE.