Improving Telephone Selling Techniques

Last Updated Nov 21, 2007 7:06 PM EST

A telephone can be a powerful sales tool in the right hands. It can be used to generate leads, qualify prospects, and support the field sales force. To be effective, it's essential to prepare for the call, target the right prospects, and plan a structured but flexible script.

What You Need to KnowIs the telephone a tool for selling in its own right?

The telephone can be used to sell low-value items or request orders for repeat purchases. However, for other sales scenarios, it is more likely to be part of a process. It can be used to follow up leads generated by marketing campaigns, qualify leads, or carry out prospecting for follow up by a sales team.

What to DoPrepare for Calls

You need to target your cold calling to the right audience. Market research can help you focus on the general characteristics of your target market, but then find out as much as you can about the company or individual you are going to call in advance. This gives you the advantage of being able to talk about their business and their needs when you call them.

  • Target a small number of companies, say 5–10, that fit your ideal customer profile.
  • Spend a minimum of 2–3 hours conducting research on each company.
  • Include a thorough review of their Web Sites, annual reports, goals and objectives, key initiatives, any news from the past 12 months, markets, primary offerings, information on competitors, and financial trends.

After your research, look for the alignment between your business and the target companies. Determine the value proposition your company can bring to the prospects. Try to identify the business benefits your prospects will get from accepting your product or service offer. Then incorporate this into a concise and compelling message that aligns their business needs with your company's capabilities.

Communicate At the Right Level

In planning your calls, make sure that you talk the language of the contact you want to reach.

  • If you are targeting senior business executives, communicate the benefits in terms such as improved competitiveness or better return on investment.
  • Purchasing managers like to hear about value for their money, simpler ordering, or reliable delivery.
  • Technical contacts would be more interested in terms such as improved performance and greater reliability.

By talking the language of your prospect, you are building an affinity and are more likely to overcome the initial resistance that characterizes new business situations.

Get the Script Right

Once you have completed your preparation, you can build this information into a script that gives you a structure for the call. A basic script on paper can help you progress through the call in a logical way, but the latest scripting technologies can take this a stage further. As well as providing a tool for building call scripts, the scripts can be tied seamlessly to any business applications to automate workflow. Information you gather while following the script can automatically be added to your customer records or other business systems. Some scripts can react dynamically to information you gather about the customer or data you enter to ensure the call is handled according to business rules. As a result, you can spend less time focusing on systems and more time engaging customers in meaningful, valuable conversations.

Make Scripts Flexible

Your script should set out the benefits of your product or service and the reasons your prospect should buy. Include possible objections and your answers to them. Without a script, it is too easy to leave something out or to lose your way in the presentation. You do not need to read a script word for word when you call, but it helps to prepare the framework of the call in advance. When you get through to your prospect, be prepared to share your ideas. Do not talk about your products or service at this stage. Instead, talk about how you can help their business be more profitable, get a jump on competitors, reduce costs, maximize use of existing assets, drive more sales, or whatever other business benefits you can deliver.

Ask Questions

You can refine the scripting process even further by incorporating a range of possible questions about your prospects' needs, rather than just trying to present your own products and services. Questioning gives you greater insight and helps to build a relationship that makes the next stage of selling easier. The only thing that prospects care about is what these features will do for them. In other words, speak in terms of benefits and your prospects will be more predisposed to listening to your presentation. Scripting provides a useful framework for prospecting by setting out a logical sequence of questions. It allows you to refine the process by trying different approaches and testing which key benefits and qualifying questions work.

Focus on Prospecting

It is unlikely that you will make an immediate sale on the first call, unless you are taking orders for repeat purchases or selling low-value products that involve minimum purchasing risk. Your call should therefore focus on prospecting, especially when your company is unknown to the prospect. Prospecting calls should be limited to uncovering new business, identifying the decision-makers, and qualifying for present or future need.

These calls can help you to keep in contact with prospects that you suspect have a future need for your product or services. They are also useful as a follow-up for trade show attendees, direct mailings, and advertising campaigns.

Smooth the Way for the Call

It is becoming increasingly popular to use e-mail followed by prospecting calls as an inexpensive alternative to direct mail campaigns. If you are not comfortable making cold prospecting calls, the e-mail can provide a pretext or reason for making the call. You can use the excuse that you are following up the e-mail. You can also smooth the way for your cold call by sending prospects a small, unique promotional item which prospects are likely to remember when you call.

Prepare an Opening Statement for Your Cold Call

Good preparation helps you organize your thoughts before a call and helps you avoid common mistakes in the opening that would give the person you are calling the chance to terminate the conversation. Some commentators believe that you should never ask, "Is this a good time to talk?" or, "How are you today?"

Instead you should have an opening statement that you can use as a framework to get the conversation off to a good start. You should always introduce yourself and make reference to your prospect's business before discussing any benefits you might be able to offer. For example, if an article in the local paper reports that a prospect is considering a new factory to deal with growth, a firm of architects might acknowledge the challenges and offer a range of relevant services that would give the prospect a cost-effective building with room for further expansion. The caller could then ask a series of questions to qualify the prospect.

Lead into the Next Call

An approach like this demonstrates that your company understands the prospect's business and the challenges it faces. The prospect's perception moves from "they are trying to sell me something I might not need" to "they understand my needs and they are offering something that will overcome my problems." When your company makes the next contact to arrange an appointment, the prospect is much warmer and the conversion ratio is likely to be higher.

Make Appointments Separately

Your initial call should concentrate on prospecting. Trying to set up appointments at the same time could be a waste of time. It is generally better to leave appointment setting calls to the salesperson who will be actually meeting with the prospect. When you do ask for an appointment, ask for it at a specific time, for example, "Would Wednesday at 11 a.m. be a good time to meet?" instead of saying, "Can I meet with you to discuss this next week?"

Manage Calls

If you are running a larger telephone sales operation, it is important to manage the productivity and efficiency of the calls, as well as getting the research and content right. As the complexity of call support systems increases it becomes more and more difficult for telephone sales staff to document exactly what has occurred during the call. Yet this information is vital for the efficient running of the sales operation, as well as the development of a complete view of the customer.

Software is available to simplify and automate many of the processes that affect information gathering, productivity, and your customer's experience. The software can document the actions that the staff perform during the call, giving the management team a clear picture of what takes place during customer interactions. By automating the process, the software can dramatically reduce the time taken to wrap up calls, improving productivity and giving the staff more time to focus on customers.

What to AvoidYou Fail to Build a Relationship with the Prospect

A single phone call is unlikely to lead to an immediate sale. Each call is part of a process that warms up the prospect and builds a relationship that demonstrates you understand a prospect's business needs. You can only achieve that by carrying out thorough research and asking questions.

Where to Learn MoreBook:

Rowson, Pauline, Easy Step by Step Guide to Telemarketing, Cold Calling and Appointment Making: How to Win More Business Through the Telephone. Rowmark Limited, 2002.

Web Site:

Sales Vault: www.salesvault.com