In a long and varied career, I have spent a few decades in coaching, sales, sales management, IT, and running my own businesses.
How to Approach Sales Customers on the Phone
If you are new to B2B sales or have been around sales for years, you may often have been given a list of previous customers or just a list of buyers and decision-makers to make sales appointments with. This should be fairly straightforward, but it can sometimes go wrong. Here are a few tips to set you on the right path when booking sales appointments.
You may have often heard that ‘sales’ is a ‘numbers game'. In other words, you need to ‘sell’ your product or service to a lot of prospective customers before you unearth a small percentage of those people that actually become customers. The first step in the numbers game is often to contact people by phone to make a sales appointment.
Make Your First Contact Effective
This key, first contact with any prospect cannot be overstated–the more successful you are at setting up sales appointments, the more of those prospects you are likely to convert into customers down the line. So, the higher the percentage of appointments you make over the phone should, in theory, exponentially increase your overall sales. At this initial stage of the numbers game, you need to be consistently raising the ratio of ‘appointments gained’ to ‘appointments rejected.’ The honest truth is that you will always get a lot more rejections than acceptances – that‘s why it called a numbers game.
When you are trying to make a face-to-face appointment with a prospective client over the phone, applying these simple tips should help you ‘up your batting average’ and get in front of more customers more often.
How to Make That First Call
- Always remember, even before you lift up the telephone, that your only goal at this point is to make an appointment to get in front of the customer/prospective customer. That’s it! Never try to sell to the customer over the phone.
- If you have the opportunity, review any customer’s details/records and have them in front of you while you are making the call. For example, if they have previously contacted your company or even been a previous customer.
- Before the call, visualise a positive outcome. The call won't always go how you expect it to go, but in using positive visualisation before you call the customer will put you in a better frame of mind. Using visualisation will ultimately give you a better chance of success. Doing the opposite (that is, thinking in advance that the call will go badly) will probably have the opposite effect, and the call will go badly - so don't do it.
- Put on a happy face. Smile as you dial the last number of the telephone number; this will help you start the exchange with a friendly attitude. If you can, be facing a mirror when you make your calls, as this will remind you to smile.
Cold-Calling Etiquette: What to Say
- Tell them your name and who you are. Be brief and do this right at the beginning of the call.
- Use third-party references if you have them. For example: “Tom Jones at Jones Foods suggested I call you…”
- Immediately after telling them who you are, let them know that you know they are busy (they invariably will be). By letting them know that you are aware they are busy, you are subconsciously telling them you are respecting their time. Subsequently, they are less likely to be defensive immediately.
- Tell them exactly and succinctly why you are calling them. Remember you have already let them know that you value their time, so don’t waste it, get straight to the point. Ask if they have a few minutes to talk; if they have, then all is well, but don’t keep them on the phone for an hour. Remember, the goal is simply to get a face-to-face meeting.
Dos and Don’ts
- Don’t use a ‘script’ to read from. Using a script can make you sound ‘robotic’ or ‘lifeless’. However, do have a short list of ‘bullet points’ you may want to mention during the conversation.
- When you are speaking to the prospective customer, use simple and uncomplicated words. Also, match the speed of your voice along with that of the customer; the same goes for your tone of voice. This ‘mirroring’ of tone and speed of speech will help in building some early rapport with the customer, but don’t overdo it, or they may think you are making fun of them.
- Don't use technical jargon, the latest buzzwords or cuss. Technical jargon is a turn-off to most people, buzz words are the same, and cussing/swearing is a complete no-no, even if they start cussing and swearing.
How to Ask for an Appointment
- Often you can outline a broad and very brief benefit of your product, and immediately follow it with a qualifying question: e.g. “Our new product is proven to save our customers money, is that something you are interested in?”. Remember, don't go into a sales pitch. If you get a positive response, ask for an appointment.
- When you ask for an appointment, give the customer options: e.g. Ask, “When is the best time for you, this Friday morning or next Monday in the afternoon?” This type of question does a few things, it makes sure you are leading the conversation, and it also subconsciously lets the client know that you are well-organised and that your time, as well as theirs, is valued. By giving them a choice of options, you give the customer something solid to focus on. They can then look at their schedule and decide which one of the options is better for them. Nine times out of ten, they will ask you to come in on one of the days you suggested. Even if both options turn out to be no good, you have the customer thinking seriously about the appointment. So, give them another couple of options to choose from or ask them which day would suit them best. However, don‘t accept their suggestion if it is on the next day; this will undermine all their perceptions of you keeping a full diary.
- At this point in the call, try to avoid using 'closed' questions, that is, ones that will allow the customer to respond with a 'Yes or 'No' answer.
- Let the customer know that you are writing the date in your diary right away and re-confirm the appointment back to them. This will prompt them to do the same.
Remember: Your Goal Is Simply to Get in Front of the Prospective Customer
If the customer is sceptical about the reason for meeting up with you, then focus on what benefits the prospective customer will derive from the meeting. Can you help them solve a problem or offer advice? Remember, no selling the product over the phone.
I hope these quick tips help the next time you are making sales appointments over the phone.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Jerry Cornelius
Jerry Cornelius (author) on May 31, 2019:
Hi Liz, You are correct, this article is not about cold calling (especially to the general public, which I agree is an issue in the UK). You're right it's about following up on leads or indeed making calls to buyers/decision makers in industry who will be expecting a call from a representative of their suppliers or potential suppliers - so it is more from a business - to - business perspective which is my background. On re-reading the article, I haven't made that particularly clear, so I'll amend it once it's finished in the approval process.
Liz Westwood from UK on May 31, 2019:
I am guessing that you are referring to calls following up on leads rather than cold calling in this article. I have no problem with following up on leads and you make some great points in this article. In the UK cold calling is a problem.